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The big 2014 Old Dominion football preview: Points in both directions

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

In the seven years since Bobby Wilder was hired to built ODU's football program from scratch (literally), he has aimed high and reached even higher. With reasonable defensive competence, his Monarchs could immediately challenge in C-USA.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. "Aim High"

There's obviously no guarantee that Old Dominion's move to FBS -- in its first complete, official season in 2014 -- will pay off in the long-term. There's no assurance that head coach Bobby Wilder's defense will ever get up to speed against FBS offenses. There's no certainty that the program, planted in the middle of Norfolk, Va., with minimal room for growth, will be able to accommodate the growing demands (financial and otherwise) of big-time (well, mid-major) football. Obviously.

But it's hard not to be intrigued.

In 2007, ODU hired Wilder to resurrect a football program that had been dormant -- in the literal sense, not the wasn't-very-good sense -- for nearly seven decades. In ODU's first two seasons (2009-10), the Monarchs went 17-5. In their next two seasons, they went 21-5 and twice reached the FCS playoffs. In their provisional FBS season last fall, they went 8-4.

There have been minimal growing pains, but no expansion-franchise struggles. In five years as a football program, ODU has gone 46-14. ODU survived the transition from gestation to FCS with no problem, and initial signs (competitive losses to ECU and Pitt, an easy win over Idaho) suggest that the transition from FCS to FBS might not be particularly painful either.

Wilder's slogan since he took the ODU job has been "Aim high." The Monarchs have certainly done just that. They moved to FBS, they're trying (trying) to get a 30,000-seat stadium built, and in a short amount of time they surpassed a number of well-established FCS programs. But with a full FBS and Conference USA ahead of them in 2014, everything now gets a lot more difficult.

2. This could be fun

You can't say ODU wasn't entertaining in 2013. The Monarchs did only go 1-4 against FBS competition, but ODU games featured a combined 76.3 points and 971.2 yards (614.6 passing) on average. ODU scored at least 38 points seven times and allowed at least 35 six times. The Monarchs allowed 99 points in two FBS games to start the season, scored 201 points in a three-week span against FCS teams, and allowed 80 points to North Carolina in the season finale.

In 2014, ODU's stellar offensive line has some rebuilding to do, but with an experienced quarterback and options galore at receiver and running back, the Monarchs will move the ball. Meanwhile, the defense is deeper and more experienced, but its issues against FBS teams were deep enough that they will almost certainly not be resolved in a single offseason. There will still be points and yards in 2014, plenty of points and yards.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-4
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
31-Aug East Carolina 40 38-52 L 44.5 - 34.6 W
7-Sep Maryland 63 10-47 L 23.8 - 52.1 L
14-Sep Howard N/A 76-19 W N/A N/A
21-Sep The Citadel N/A 59-58 W N/A N/A
28-Sep Albany N/A 66-10 W N/A N/A
5-Oct Liberty N/A 21-17 W N/A N/A
19-Oct Pittsburgh 54 24-35 L 24.9 - 35.4 L
26-Oct Norfolk State N/A 27-24 W N/A N/A
2-Nov Rhode Island N/A 66-14 W N/A N/A
9-Nov Idaho 116 59-38 W 31.1 - 38.5 L
16-Nov Charlotte N/A 42-14 W N/A N/A
23-Nov North Carolina 38 20-80 L 22.3 - 60.8 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 42.3 N/A 34.0 N/A
Adj. Points Per Game (5 games) 29.3 N/A 44.3 N/A

3. The offense was ready

ODU played five games against FBS competition in 2013 -- three against ACC teams, one against a future conference mate (ECU), and one against a Sun Belt team (Idaho). The Monarchs averaged at least 5.2 yards per play in four of five games and at least 6.1 twice. They also scored at least 24 points three times and at least 38 points twice. They were mostly shut down by Maryland, but it's safe to say the ODU offense was FBS-ready.

The defense was ... less ready. Injuries played a serious role in a late-season fade, but the D certainly wasn't very good at the beginning of the season either. The Monarchs allowed at least 5.9 yards per play in all five FBS games, allowed 8.5 and 47 points to Maryland, then allowed an incredible 10.6 per play and 80 points in the season finale against a red-hot North Carolina team; the UNC game got so badly out of hand that the teams agreed to shrink the fourth quarter to only 10 minutes. UNC scored its 80th point 41 minutes in, then went out of its way not to score again.

The defense was bad, then got worse, in other words.

With new defensive assistants and some (intended) immediate-impact signees in the 2014 recruiting class, the defense should improve. But it could improve by quite a bit and still be quite a liability.

Offense

Note: The advanced rankings that exist below are culled from ODU's five games against FBS competition -- obviously not a large sample size.

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL N/A 35 44 51
RUSHING N/A 8 5 80
PASSING N/A 66 67 36
Standard Downs 57 51 64
Passing Downs 20 30 25
Q1 Rk 38 1st Down Rk 60
Q2 Rk 61 2nd Down Rk 18
Q3 Rk 38 3rd Down Rk 111
Q4 Rk 117

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Yards/
Pass
Taylor Heinicke 6'1, 210 Sr. NR 340 486 4022 33 8 70.0% 8.3
David Washington 6'3, 220 So. 3 stars (5.5) 22 31 259 4 0 71.0% 8.4
Shuler Bentley 6'0, 195 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)





4. Hello, world

He was named the Old Spice Player of the Year for the state of Georgia in high school. As a true freshman at ODU, he threw 10 touchdown passes in two FCS playoff games. As a sophomore, he won the Walter Payton Award, the FCS' Heisman. As a junior, he threw for 4,022 yards and completed 70 percent of his passes with 33 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.

Taylor Heinicke is really, really good. And as a senior, he will have his largest stage yet to prove it. He's reasonably mobile and insanely accurate, and while his size isn't optimal, he should have quite a chance to make an impression on NFL scouts this fall. And when he leaves after the 2014 season, ODU appears to be in pretty good hands when it comes to a successor, too. David Washington and Shuler Bentley were both rather well-touted recruits, and Washington performed well as an understudy last fall.

ODU's offense is as high-octane as they come. Including sacks, the Monarchs attempted nearly 45 passes per game in 2013 (despite holding leads in most FCS games), and Heinicke was able to complete nearly three quarters of his passes while still taking shots downfield to players like Larry Pinkard and Antonio Vaughan. ODU stretches you wide, then attempts to pierce you vertically. Heinicke appears to be the perfect weapon for Bobby Wilder and offensive coordinator Brian Scott.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Colby Goodwyn RB


104 483 12 4.6
Taylor Heinicke QB 6'1, 210 Sr. NR 93 348 5 3.7
Cam Boyd RB 5'6, 175 Sr. NR 76 450 5 5.9
Antonio Vaughan WR 5'8, 175 Sr. NR 28 92 1 3.3
Gerard Johnson RB 5'9, 200 So. 2 stars (5.3) 57 372 5 6.5
David Washington QB 6'3, 220 So. 3 stars (5.5) 29 124 1 4.3
Malik Moseley RB 5'11, 190 RSFr. NR



Ray Lawry RB 5'10, 183 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)



Vincent Lowe RB 5'7, 175 Fr. NR



Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Catches Yards Yards Per Catch
Larry Pinkard WR 6'0, 190 Sr. NR 68 1020 15.0
Antonio Vaughan WR 5'8, 175 Sr. NR 60 843 14.1
Blair Roberts WR 6'2, 195 Sr. NR 46 560 12.2
Zach Pascal WR 6'2, 210 So. NR 41 534 13.0
Marquel Thomas WR


35 414 11.8
Colby Goodwyn RB


34 273 8.0
Cam Boyd RB 5'6, 175 Sr. NR 24 206 8.6
Melvin Vaughn WR 6'2, 240 So. NR 19 149 7.8
Jakwail Bailey WR 5'11, 185 Sr. NR 18 127 7.1
Kirk Spellman WR 5'10, 175 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 7 102 14.6
Gerard Johnson RB 5'9, 200 So. 2 stars (5.3) 6 59 9.8
C.J. Bradshaw WR 5'10, 190 So. NR 2 13 6.5
Nick England WR 6'0, 180 So. 2 stars (5.4)


Kevin Privott WR 6'1, 175 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2)


Jusse Yorke WR 5'11, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.6)


Marques Little WR 5'9, 170 Fr. 2 stars (5.3)


5. Taylor's got options

ODU distributed the ball wonderfully in 2013, and there's no reason to think that will be any different this coming fall. Nine players caught at least 18 passes last fall, and seven return, including two big-play threats in seniors Larry Pinkard and Antonio Vaughan, who combined for nearly 11 catches and 155 yards per game. Senior Blair Roberts is a solid possession man, sophomore Zach Pascal was exciting for a freshman, and this foursome is joined by FIU transfer Nick England and three-star JUCO transfer Jusse Yorke, who is turning heads this spring.

The receiving corps is loaded with big(ish) and small targets. While leading rusher Colby Goodwyn is gone, it's difficult not to be optimistic about what remains in the backfield; senior Cam Boyd and sophomore Gerard Johnson were bigger-play threats than Goodwyn, and three-star freshman Ray Lawry could quickly play a role.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 117.8 2.96 4.41 41.2% 87.5% 16.9% 132.0 4.1% 6.0%
Rank 8 62 3 43 2 35 35 51 51
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Jack Lowney LT


43
David Born LG


32
D.J. Morrell RT 25
Josh Mann C 6'2, 310 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 23
Connor Mewbourne RG 6'4, 290 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 10
Tyler Fisher LG 6'3, 312 So. NR 6
Troy Butler C 6'3, 305 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 4
Kyle Bottoms LT 6'5, 300 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0
Andrew Maddox LG 6'5, 300 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0
Tyler Compton C 6'4, 300 So. NR 0
Ely Anderson RT 6'6, 290 Jr. NR 0
Davis Farmer OT 6'5, 320 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2)
Raul Martinez OL 6'5, 285 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Brandon Tyson OL 6'1, 320 Fr. 2 stars (5.3)

6. The line was (past tense) outstanding

Despite a lack of breakaway threat at running back, ODU's rushing numbers against FBS competition were quite strong. That the Monarchs were spreading defenses out and featuring a pretty mobile quarterback certainly didn't hurt, but the blocking itself graded out quite well. Again, this is a small sample size, so we shouldn't draw conclusions too strongly, but in five games ODU ranked eighth in Adj. Line Yards and 35th in Adj. Sack Rate. That's the good news. The bad news is that three of the reasons for the line's success are gone.

At the end of the 2013 season, ODU's line had amassed 143 career starts; those responsible for 100 of them are now gone, including both tackles in a pass-happy offense. The interior line should be solid, anchored by two-year starting center Josh Mann, and three-star JUCO transfer Raul Martinez could be an immediate-impact guy, but it would be a shame if a drop-off up front prevents a loaded set of skill position players from thriving.

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL N/A 122 123 121
RUSHING N/A 117 114 126
PASSING N/A 122 124 92
Standard Downs 123 123 101
Passing Downs 120 119 119
Q1 Rk 119 1st Down Rk 123
Q2 Rk 126 2nd Down Rk 126
Q3 Rk 125 3rd Down Rk 118
Q4 Rk 34

7. The stats match the anecdotes

If all you knew about ODU's 2013 season was the 80-20 final score of the UNC game (it certainly made headlines, as did the abbreviated fourth quarter), your view of ODU wouldn't be altogether inaccurate; the defense wasn't always that bad, and the offense was often a bit better, but defense was a disaster for the Monarchs in 2013.

And in looking at the players and stats in this piece, it's not difficult to see why. ODU's defense was terribly young and banged up. Its secondary either wasn't good enough to make plays on the ball or was overwhelmed by the sieve in front of it.

ODU was able to rush the passer reasonably well; or at least, middle linebacker Richie Staton and corner Eriq Lewis were able to blitz well. Staton had 10.5 tackles for loss and four sacks as a freshman, which obviously bodes well for him when it comes to overall potential. Lewis, meanwhile, chipped in 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks among just 16.5 tackles in nine games.

Unfortunately, any gains that could be made from ODU's 78 tackles for loss were wiped away by a line that got pushed around a bit too much and a linebacking corps that couldn't keep anybody healthy. By the end of the season, ODU was down to two healthy scholarship linebackers, and while Staton certainly made his share of plays, there were too many breakdowns among the front seven for ODU to put up much of a fight against a decent offense. (And to be sure, there are plenty of decent offenses in Conference USA.)

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 82.8 3.54 3.39 51.1% 68.4% 17.9% 90.0 4.5% 8.8%
Rank 123 121 74 126 73 82 80 60 25
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Terrell Reid DE 6'2, 265 So. NR 10 25.5 3.7% 6.5 3.0 0 0 1 0
Preston Smith DT 6'2, 270 Sr. NR 12 22.0 3.2% 4.0 2.0 0 0 2 1
Andrew Everett STUD 6'5, 230 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 21.0 3.0% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Dominique Guinn-Bailey DT 6'4, 280 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 11 16.5 2.4% 3.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Chris Smith NT 6'1, 310 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 12 16.5 2.4% 2.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Scott Wiggins STUD 6'3, 225 So. NR 12 16.0 2.3% 5.0 2.0 0 2 0 0
Alex Johnson DE 10 12.5 1.8% 4.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Galen Evans (2012) DT 6'3, 310 So. 2 stars (5.2) 11 11.0 1.5% 3.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Jude Brenya DE 6'3, 250 So. NR 8 9.0 1.3% 4.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Nate Barnes DT 8 8.0 1.2% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Rashaad Coward NT 6'5, 300 So. 2 stars (5.4) 10 7.5 1.1% 2.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Gary Scruggs DE 6'0, 260 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 10 6.5 0.9% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 1
Malik Gumbs DT 6'1, 295 Sr. NR 7 6.0 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Cullen Casey DT 6'3, 295 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3)
Bunmi Rotimi DT 6'4, 295 RSFr. NR
Poncho Barnwell DE 6'4, 250 Jr. NR







Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Andre Simmons OLB 6'0, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 12 63.5 9.1% 1.5 0.0 0 3 0 0
John Darr OLB


12 54.5 7.9% 5.5 0.0 0 3 1 0
Richie Staton MLB 6'1, 230 So. NR 12 53.0 7.6% 10.5 4.0 0 1 0 1
D.J. Simon MLB 6'0, 220 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 12 29.0 4.2% 6.5 0.0 3 0 1 0
Anthony Wilson LB 6'1, 220 So. NR 10 17.0 2.4% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
TJ Ricks OLB 6'0, 225 So. NR 12 13.0 1.9% 2.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Caleb Taylor LB


3 8.5 1.2% 1.0 0.0 1 0 0 0
Larry Alston III LB


6 8.0 1.2% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 1
Kanyia Anderson LB 6'1, 230 So. 2 stars (5.4) 12 4.0 0.6% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Martez Simpson LB 6'1, 220 Jr. NR








Kohl Adams-Hurd LB 6'2, 215 Jr. NR








Reece Schmidt LB 6'3, 240 Jr. NR







8. A step forward in the depth department

When Caleb Taylor and Larry Alston III got kicked off the team last fall, any semblance of linebacker depth was washed away. Throw in an injury to walk-on reserve Anthony Wilson, and you saw a unit reaching critical mass. The secondary was too young to make up the difference, and the defensive line just didn't have any play-makers.

Throwing more warm bodies at a problem doesn't automatically solve it -- there has to be actual talent involved -- but we do know that, at the very least, more warm bodies are available in 2014. Sophomore tackle Galen Evans, who showed potential as a freshman in 2012, is back after an injury redshirt; he is joined by a couple of big redshirt freshmen and a beautifully named JUCO transfer at end, Poncho Barnwell. Last year's top six tacklers also return.

At linebacker, Staton and senior D.J. Simon return, Andre Simmons moves to OLB from strong safety, former star recruit Kanyia Anderson has a year to get used to the position after an emergency move last fall, and ODU signed three JUCO transfers as well. At the very least, the Monarchs will be able to fill out a two-deep.

In the back, despite losing Simmons to a different unit, the secondary is still rather experienced. It needs to make infinitely more plays on the ball, but eight of the top 10 tacklers are back, including Lewis and a potentially solid safety in junior Fellonte Misher. Again, we still have to find out how much actual talent is here, but the depth has improved to an infinite degree.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Fellonte Misher SS 6'2, 205 Jr. NR 12 74.5 10.7% 0 0 2 5 0 2
Paul Morant ROV


12 28.0 4.0% 0.5 0 0 1 0 0
Malique Johnson ROV 6'2, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 12 26.5 3.8% 3 1 0 1 0 0
Reggie Owens CB 6'0, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 25.5 3.7% 1 1 1 3 2 1
Sandy Chapman CB 5'10, 175 So. NR 11 24.5 3.5% 3 0 1 4 0 0
Jevon Neal CB 5'9, 175 Sr. NR 12 19.5 2.8% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Rob Thompson SS 6'1, 185 So. 2 stars (5.2) 10 17.0 2.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Eriq Lewis CB 6'0, 180 Sr. NR 9 16.5 2.4% 5.5 2.5 0 3 1 0
Daquin Moore FS 6'3, 192 So. NR 7 15.5 2.2% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Aaron Evans CB


12 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Aaron Young CB 5'11, 185 So. 2 stars (5.4) 4 1.0 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Christian Byrum S 6'1, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)








Justin Noye S 6'1, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)







Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Jake Walsh

18 38.2 0 7 6 72.2%
Taylor Heinicke 6'1, 205 Sr. 13 41.5 1 0 3 23.1%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Jarod Brown

84 63.4 34 5 40.5%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Jarod Brown

64-65 10-12 83.3% 3-8 37.5%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Aaron Evans KR

33 24.3 0
Colby Goodwyn KR 8 17.6 0
Aaron Evans PR

6 11.7 1
Antonio Vaughan PR 5'8, 175 Sr. 2 10.5 0

9. Punter Taylor Heinicke

In 1987, Tom Tupa threw for 2,250 yards and 15 touchdowns as Ohio State's starting quarterback; he was also an All-American punter. Granted, Tom Tupa, Jr., is actually a redshirt freshman quarterback at Miami (Ohio) right now, but Taylor Heinicke has quite a bit of the Tupa spirit in him. He punted four times as a freshman and 13 more as a junior, and while one has to assume the goal isn't for him to punt all season for ODU, if he had to it wouldn't be the end of the world. He averaged 41.5 yards in his 13 punts (so he wasn't just pooch kicking from the opponent's 40).

Seriously, if you like unique talent and prolific stats, Heinicke should probably be your favorite player in the country. Now if only he could also place-kick and return kicks. It might save ODU's special teams unit from being a bit of a liability this year.

2014 Schedule

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug Hampton NR
6-Sep at N.C. State 68
13-Sep Eastern Michigan 122
20-Sep at Rice 88
26-Sep Middle Tennessee 99
4-Oct Marshall 59
11-Oct at UTEP 117
25-Oct at Western Kentucky 91
1-Nov at Vanderbilt 58
8-Nov Florida International 119
22-Nov Louisiana Tech 98
29-Nov Florida Atlantic 103

10. If the defense holds up...

...the offense will play its part. Losing three stalwarts on the offensive line is a concern, but it's basically the only one on the offensive side of the ball. ODU has a quarterback who can rival Marshall's Rakeem Cato for best-in-the-conference honors, and the Monarchs have a lot of exciting places he can go with the ball. When you look at the schedule above, you see a lot of defenses Heinicke and company can victimize to a large degree.

The likely success of the offense is hard to question; the success of the team as a whole, however, will depend on the defense. There isn't a significant number of dominant offenses on ODU's 2014 slate, but ODU could make plenty of decent offenses LOOK dominant without serious improvement.

What Bobby Wilder has accomplished overall at ODU is stunning. His name has been mentioned with this or that job opening in the last couple of years, but he has remained in Norfolk to oversee the transition of ODU from theory to FCS powerhouse to Conference USA member. He just signed the No. 2 recruiting class in this new conference of residence, too. Wilder has thus far aimed high but reached even higher. Until we know what his and the Monarchs' ceiling actually is, it would be silly to project one.

If ODU has even a top-100 defense in 2014, the Monarchs could challenge for a spot the C-USA title game. I doubt they will, but it's on the table. But even if they fall short of that goal (my guess is something in the neighborhood of a 6-6 or 7-5 finish), they should be entertaining as hell. Watch them if you can.

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