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The big 2015 Old Dominion football guide: More shootouts inbound

The 128-team countdown checks in on another Conference USA newcomer.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Pass one test, get ready for another

Norfolk, Va., isn't the worst place to build a football program. It's not the state of Georgia, but the market isn't saturated, and you're close to an awfully big talent pool. You're next to Virginia Beach, you're right down the road from Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, DC, South Carolina, et cetera. Hire a good coach, recruit efficiently, and voila, you can win some football games.

Since its rebirth in 2009, Old Dominion has won a lot of football games -- 52, in fact. After more than six dormant decades, ODU kicked off in 2009 and immediately went 9-2 against a schedule of mostly FCS teams. In 2010, the Monarchs went 8-3 with two tight losses to ranked teams and wins over almost everybody else. In 2011, ODU went to the FCS playoffs and barely lost at Georgia Southern. In 2012, it happened again.

By 2013, the transition had begun. ODU prepared for the move to FBS with a schedule that featured seven FCS opponents (against whom the Monarchs went 7-0) and five FBS opponents (1-4). They weren't ready for Maryland and UNC (combined score: 127-30), but they held their own against ECU and Pitt and beat Idaho. And in 2014 came their full-time debut. ODU started 3-1 and finished 3-0, and despite a midseason funk and a sketchy defense, they finished 6-6. Six years into its second life, ODU still has yet to finish under .500.

Transition accomplished, ODU has a different test to face in 2015: turnover. Gone is quarterback Taylor Heinicke, a four-year starter, 2012 Walter Payton Award winner, and 15,000-yard passer. Gone is all-conference center and three-year starter Josh Mann. And gone are four starters in the defensive front seven and five of last year's top seven defensive backs. The offense still has plenty of exciting options, and thanks to injuries, lots of defenders got experience last year, but the longtime face of the program is gone, and head coach Bobby Wilder might have to craft a slightly new identity to keep the "no sub-.500 seasons" streak alive.

You don't make much money betting against Wilder and ODU, but this will be a different kind of test. Fortunately, depth and a light schedule will give the Monarchs a pretty good chance of passing.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 6-6 | Adj. Record: 2-10 | Final F/+ Rk: 108
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Hampton N/A 41-28 W 35% -8.8 96%
6-Sep at NC State 55 34-46 L 14% -25.5 2%
13-Sep Eastern Michigan 128 17-3 W 40% -5.9 96%
20-Sep at Rice 86 45-42 W 66% 9.8 88%
26-Sep Middle Tennessee 87 28-41 L 14% -25.0 7%
4-Oct Marshall 17 14-56 L 5% -38.7 0%
11-Oct at UTEP 90 35-42 L 29% -12.9 32%
25-Oct at Western Kentucky 50 51-66 L 33% -10.2 30%
1-Nov at Vanderbilt 115 28-42 L 8% -32.3 16%
8-Nov Florida International 96 38-35 W 32% -10.7 54%
22-Nov Louisiana Tech 35 30-27 W 63% 7.9 66%
29-Nov at Florida Atlantic 100 31-28 W 26% -14.7 48%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 29.9 57 40.4 125
Points Per Game 32.7 41 38.0 115

2. A wretched midseason funk

Basically, for the first four and last three games of the year, ODU was a top-75 team. That's an awfully impressive thing to say about an FBS newcomer (for teams not named Georgia Southern, anyway), and the results backed it up. In this seven-game sample, the Monarchs won at Rice and beat eventual division champion Louisiana Tech at home, lost a competitive game to a decent N.C. State team, and at the very least avoided disaster against FIU and FAU.

And then there were the five games in the middle.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 4 games): 39% (record: 3-1)
  • Average Percentile Performance (next 5 games): 18% (record: 0-5)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 3 games): 40% (record: 3-0)

Hmm. Let's see if we can pinpoint what might have gone wrong.

  • ODU Defense (first 4 games): 29.8 points per game, 5.51 yards per play
  • ODU Defense (next 5 games): 49.4 points per game, 6.83 yards per play
  • ODU Defense (last 3 games): 30.0 points per game, 5.60 yards per play

I think we've pinpointed what went wrong.

ODU's defense was never particularly good, but it completely fell apart in the middle. Granted, the Monarchs' five-game, midseason losing streak featured a couple of prolific offenses; Marshall and Western Kentucky combined for 122 points and 1,192 yards against ODU. But MTSU, UTEP and (perhaps most damning) Vanderbilt all scored at least 40 points and gained at least 465 yards as well. ODU was able to suck two of the slowest-paced teams in the country (UTEP and Vandy) into playing at a higher tempo, but the Monarchs couldn't do anything to slow these iffy offenses down.

A look at the defensive stats below fills us in on what might have happened. Starting nose tackle Chris Smith (hamstring) missed the MTSU, Marshall, and UTEP games, for starters. And the linebacking corps and secondary were both constantly unsettled -- of the 16 linebackers and defensive backs to average at least one tackle per game, only five played in all 12 games. ODU had an absolutely horrific pass defense all year, but without Smith, the Monarchs couldn't stop the run either: MTSU, Marshall, UTEP, WKU, and Vandy combined to rush for 284 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry.

During this five-game funk, ODU averaged at least 6.4 yards per play and scored at least 28 points four times. And they still lost by an average of 18 points per game. But when the defense rallied back toward mediocre over the last three games, ODU began to win again.

So in this regard, perhaps a defensive rebuild isn't that big a deal in 2015. ODU was hamstrung by its defense already. But it does mean that the offense can't lose a beat without its best quarterback ever.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.93 27 IsoPPP+ 107.8 49
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 45.7% 28 Succ. Rt. + 106.8 43
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 32.1 108 Def. FP+ 97.0 101
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.0 19 Redzone S&P+ 113.8 30
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.7 ACTUAL 20 +2.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 37 50 43 49
RUSHING 86 54 67 44
PASSING 16 49 24 64
Standard Downs 56 52 57
Passing Downs 30 33 36
Q1 Rk 83 1st Down Rk 59
Q2 Rk 33 2nd Down Rk 71
Q3 Rk 24 3rd Down Rk 34
Q4 Rk 77

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Taylor Heinicke
289 455 3476 30 14 63.5% 28 5.8% 6.7
Shuler Bentley 6'1, 209 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8161
Joey Verhaegh 6'3, 215 So. NR 0.7500

3. Life after Heinicke

Bobby Wilder was producing good offenses before Taylor Heinicke came along. He served as Maine's offensive coordinator for seven seasons (2000-06) under Jack Cosgrove and twice oversaw offenses that helped win Atlantic 10 titles. And in 2009-10, ODU's two pre-Heinicke seasons, the Monarchs did average 34.6 points per game. The loss of a single player isn't going to single-handedly bring down the ODU offense, even if it was an award-winner, a potential pro, and the sixth-most prolific passer in Division 1 history.

It appears that the race to succeed Heinicke will focus primarily on two players: redshirt freshman Shuler Bentley and JUCO transfer Joey Verhaegh. Bentley was a two-time South Carolina Gatorade player of the year and a three-star recruit according to the 247Sports Composite. He chose ODU over offers from AAC schools like Cincinnati, ECU, and Tulane. He has been groomed as the heir apparent, but Wilder signed Verhaegh, a late-bloomer and 2,500 yard passer at Fullerton College last year. One would assume it's Bentley's job to lose, but Verhaegh will make him earn it.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Ray Lawry RB 5'10, 205 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8402 134 947 16 7.1 8.9 40.3% 1 1
Gerard Johnson RB
100 493 1 4.9 4.6 40.0% 0 0
Taylor Heinicke QB
52 371 2 7.1 5.3 57.7% 3 0
Cam Boyd RB
31 174 3 5.6 3.8 51.6% 0 0
Vincent Lowe RB 5'9, 175 So. NR 0.8133 8 30 0 3.8 8.1 25.0% 1 0
Antonio Vaughan WR
6 31 0 5.2 3.8 33.3% 2 1
Brandon Simmons RB 5'9, 191 So. NR NR
Latrell Sandifer RB 5'7, 153 RSFr. NR NR
Jeremy Cox RB 5'11, 211 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7917
Kaesean Strong RB 5'10, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8044
Kyle Goddard WR 5'10, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7971






Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Zach Pascal WR 6'2, 217 Jr. NR NR 104 59 743 56.7% 24.2% 60.6% 7.1 12 7.3 112.8
Antonio Vaughan WR
94 63 1019 67.0% 21.9% 61.7% 10.8 263 10.9 154.9
David Washington WR 6'3, 209 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) NR 62 47 599 75.8% 14.5% 72.6% 9.7 47 8.4 91.0
Blair Roberts (2013) WR 6'2, 203 Sr. NR NR N/A 46 560 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Melvin Vaughn TE 6'2, 248 Jr. NR 0.7000 47 30 315 63.8% 11.0% 59.6% 6.7 -48 6.7 47.9
Gerard Johnson RB
28 24 149 85.7% 6.5% 67.9% 5.3 -127 5.5 22.6
Vincent Lowe RB 5'9, 175 So. NR 0.8133 22 14 69 63.6% 5.1% 68.2% 3.1 -101 3.1 10.5
Ray Lawry RB 5'10, 205 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8402 20 17 155 85.0% 4.7% 60.0% 7.8 -41 7.9 23.6
Nick England WR 6'0, 180 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.6722 19 12 177 63.2% 4.4% 57.9% 9.3 31 9.3 26.9
Marques Little WR 5'9, 180 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8085 11 11 138 100.0% 2.6% 72.7% 12.5 14 12.3 21.0
Jonathan Duhart WR 6'3, 211 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7733 9 7 127 77.8% 2.1% 66.7% 14.1 45 13.8 19.3
Kirk Spellman WR 5'10, 172 Sr. NR NR
T.J. Boothe WR 6'2, 223 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8260
Travis Fulgham WR 6'3, 205 RSFr. NR NR
Adam Swann TE 6'5, 241 RSFr. NR 0.8100
Will Howard WR 6'3, 197 RSFr. NR 0.8100
Quintin Reynolds WR 6'0, 185 RSFr. NR 0.7983
Eri'Reon Hayes WR 6'2, 190 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7856

4. Toys in the toybox

ODU had a pretty clear identity in 2014: wing the ball around, then give it to freshman Ray Lawry. The Monarchs had a spread offense that passed to set up the run, and it worked quite well. They ranked 24th in Passing Success Rate+ and 44th in Rushing IsoPPP+ -- they'd extend you from sideline to sideline, then Lawry would carve you up.

With such a prolific, experienced quarterback, this approach made perfect sense. But it will be interesting to see if the run-pass rates change with not only a new quarterback, but also the continued presence of the burley, explosive Lawry in the backfield.

Highlight yards are intended to measure the yards you gain once the line is done doing its job. It is a measure of raw explosiveness. And of the 118 FBS running backs with at least 130 carries in 2014, only five had a higher Highlight Yards per Opportunity average than Lawry's 8.91: Georgia Southern's Matt Brida (10.91), Wyoming's Brian Hill (10.76), Indiana's Tevin Coleman (9.79), Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (9.29), and Marshall's Devon Johnson (8.92). That's pretty elite company.

In a more run-heavy offense, Lawry could have put up numbers to compete with almost any other freshman in 2014, the year of the freshman running back. And in 2015, he might live life in a more run-heavy offense. He'll need some new backups following the departure of both Gerard Johnson and Cam Boyd, but he'll get plenty of touches.

Of course, plenty of receivers have earned some touches, too. Thousand-yard receiver Antonio Vaughan is gone, but last year's most frequent target, Zach Pascal, is back, as is converted quarterback (and possession receiver extraordinaire) David Washington. One of 2013's leading receivers, Blair Roberts, is expected to be healthy after missing 2014 with a back injury. Plus, sophomores Marques Little and Jonathan Duhart thrived when given the chance, and a pair of three-star redshirt freshmen (Will Howard and tight end Adam Swann) could be ready to do some damage.

Basically, the new quarterback will only need to be competent for the offense to click. He'll have a pretty good line in front of him, too.

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 104.3 3.09 4.15 42.7% 70.4% 16.9% 116.6 3.2% 9.6%
Rank 55 44 5 27 41 31 44 26 100
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Josh Mann C 35 2014 1st All-CUSA
Connor Mewbourne LT 6'4, 287 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 20
Tyler Fisher LG 6'3, 323 Jr. NR 0.7000 17
Darius Garcia RT 6'3, 311 So. NR 0.7000 9
Tyler Compton LG 6'4, 297 Jr. NR NR 8
Troy Butler RT 6'3, 320 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7333 6
Tyler Burns RG 6'6, 370 Sr. NR NR 5
Kyle Bottoms LT
2
Ely Anderson RT 6'6, 290 Sr. NR 0.7000 1
Andrew Maddox OT 6'5, 286 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7910 0
Raul Martinez OL 6'5, 285 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8153 0
Eli Kessner C 6'2, 300 So. NR NR 0
Eric Hampson RG 6'5, 284 So. NR 0.7700 0
Davis Farmer OT 6'5, 331 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 0
Cullen Casey OT 6'4, 288 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8001 0

5. A clean backfield

Heinicke had play-maker tendencies, and it occasionally backfired -- he threw 14 interceptions in 2014, and he took sacks 10 percent of the time on passing downs. He trusted his ability to hang in and make plays, and it didn't always work out. But despite this, and despite battling injuries in 2014, ODU still ranked 44th in Adj. Sack Rate and 55th in Adj. Line Yards and kept a mostly clean backfield for Lawry.

While the new quarterback will be taking snaps from a new center, he will be protected by a line that is otherwise experienced and proven. Seven players return with starting experience (66 career starts), including Connor Mewbourne and Tyler Fisher, who have started for most of the last two years on the left side.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.83 53 IsoPPP+ 79.5 116
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 50.1% 125 Succ. Rt. + 79.3 127
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 27.6 115 Off. FP+ 109.9 5
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.9 111 Redzone S&P+ 83.4 123
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.2 ACTUAL 19.0 -1.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 107 120 127 111
RUSHING 115 111 122 98
PASSING 67 124 128 120
Standard Downs 105 120 83
Passing Downs 128 128 127
Q1 Rk 116 1st Down Rk 123
Q2 Rk 127 2nd Down Rk 78
Q3 Rk 115 3rd Down Rk 123
Q4 Rk 121

6. Future upside

ODU's defense in 2014 was bad, then awful, then bad. There's really no way to sugar-coat it. The Monarchs ranked 127th in Success Rate+; only Army's defense was less efficient. And while things got worse without nose tackle Chris Smith, they weren't particularly good with him. And now Smith's gone.

Recruiting seems to have gone pretty well over the last couple of seasons, and ODU boasts quite a few freshmen and redshirt freshmen with high upside, especially at defensive end and defensive back. So maybe there's hope for 2016 and beyond. But while it won't be hard for this defense to improve on last year's numbers, improvement will probably be minimal.

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 88.2 3.23 3.86 44.5% 76.3% 15.3% 76.5 6.9% 3.0%
Rank 110 108 117 120 114 114 101 27 123
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Chris Smith NT
9 30.0 4.1% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Andrew Everett STUD
12 28.0 3.8% 1.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Poncho Barnwell DE 6'4, 270 Sr. NR N/A 12 25.5 3.5% 6.5 3.5 0 0 1 0
Malik Gumbs DT
12 21.5 3.0% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Bunmi Rotimi DT 6'4, 283 So. NR N/A 12 21.0 2.9% 2.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Rashaad Coward NT 6'5, 297 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8059 11 19.5 2.7% 2.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Gary Scruggs DE
11 17.5 2.4% 3.5 1.0 0 0 1 0
Terrell Reid STUD 6'2, 277 Jr. NR NR 12 11.0 1.5% 3.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Jude Brenya DE 6'3, 262 Jr. NR 0.7000 9 10.0 1.4% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Scott Wiggins STUD 6'2, 237 Jr. NR NR 5 2.5 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Galen Evans NT 6'3, 299 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 7 2.5 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Appouh DE 6'4, 247 RSFr. NR 0.8800
Oshane Ximines DE 6'3, 239 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8035
Brandon Tyson NT 6'1, 345 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7994
Torrez Wentz DT 6'2, 281 RSFr. NR 0.7500
Miles Fox DT 6'1, 270 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8295
Casey Bernard DE 6'2, 222 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8300
Mufu Taiwo DT 6'5, 250 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7806

7. Size is less of a problem (in a different sort of way)

The pass rush was a relative strength for ODU in 2014. Granted, it was only relative -- there's nothing particularly strong about ranking 101st in Adj. Sack Rate -- but it's something. And with last year's "leaders" in this regard (end Poncho Barnwell and OLB TJ Ricks, who combined for 5.5 sacks and, strangely, six forced fumbles) returning, the pass rush certainly won't get worse, especially if redshirt freshman Daniel Appouh can quickly begin living up to his lofty recruiting hype or Oshane Ximines can do to opposing offensive tackles what he's apparently doing to ODU's in spring practice.

Inexperience will be an issue at tackle, but size won't be. And it seems Wilder and his staff thought the tackles were carrying too much of it last year. ODU spent its winter packing weight on just about everybody...but the tackles. Rashaad Coward is down from 319 to 297, Galen Evans is down from 319 to 299, and at the very least, monstrous redshirt freshman Brandon Tyson is down from 350 to 345. ODU had all sorts of size last year, but it didn't work out too well. This year, the focus on the interior is apparently added quickness.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
D.J. Simon MLB
12 68.5 9.4% 12.0 2.0 0 1 2 0
TJ Ricks OLB 6'0, 226 Jr. NR NR 12 61.5 8.4% 7.0 2.5 0 1 5 0
Martez Simpson OLB 6'1, 222 Sr. NR NR 11 51.0 7.0% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Richie Staton MLB
9 25.5 3.5% 2.0 1.0 0 2 2 0
Isaiah Worthy OLB 6'1, 235 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8033 9 14.5 2.0% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Andre Simmons OLB
10 13.5 1.9% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Malique Johnson OLB 6'2, 216 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 11 11.0 1.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Reece Schmidt MLB 6'3, 246 Sr. NR NR 9 4.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Anthony Wilson OLB 6'1, 221 Jr. NR NR 11 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Mike Lennox OLB
11 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kohl Adams-Hurd LB 6'2, 221 Sr. NR 0.7000
Richard Thomas LB 6'0, 227 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7500
Shadow Williams LB 6'0, 218 Jr. NR 0.7800
Derek Wilder LB 6'1, 225 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8044








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Fellonte Misher SS 6'2, 214 Sr. NR NR 12 63.5 8.7% 2 0 2 1 1 1
Eriq Lewis CB
12 38.5 5.3% 4 0 0 8 1 0
Phil Paulhill FS
11 37.0 5.1% 0 0 0 3 0 0
Justice Davila FS 6'0, 191 So. NR 0.7822 6 27.0 3.7% 0 0 0 4 0 0
Jevon Neal CB
11 23.5 3.2% 1 0 0 0 1 0
Reggie Owens CB
12 21.5 3.0% 2 1 1 3 2 0
Sandy Chapman CB
9 17.0 2.3% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Christian Byrum SS 6'1, 186 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8091 9 16.5 2.3% 0 0 2 0 0 0
Devon Brown (UAB) CB 5'11, 182 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7600 7 9.0 1.4% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Aaron Young CB 5'11, 188 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7956 11 9.0 1.2% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Aquante Thornton CB 5'9, 170 Sr. NR NR
Rob Thompson CB 6'1, 182 So. 2 stars (5.2) NR
Justin Noye S 6'1, 196 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8367
Lawrence Holley CB 6'2, 205 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7544
Jamez Brickhouse CB 5'10, 165 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8321








8. Wanted: cornerbacks

The back seven of the defense was shuffled constantly in 2014, resulting in poor play and plenty of experience for those that managed to stay on the field. The loss of D.J. Simon, by far ODU's best run defender with 10 non-sack tackles for loss, hurts. But four linebackers with at least 14.5 tackles last year do return, and Ricks does appear to be a strong play-maker at OLB. If either of two JUCO transfers -- Richard Thomas or Shadow Williams -- or incoming freshman/coach's son Derek Wilder can contribute early, the linebacking corps should at least hold steady. That is a grave necessity, as an already shaky secondary is rebuilding.

The good news: athleticism probably won't be an issue. Sophomores Justice Davila and Christian Byrum each showed strong play-making ability in limited opportunities last year, and Byrum, redshirt freshman Justin Noye, and incoming freshman Jamez Brickhouse were all 247Sports three-stars. Throw in UAB transfer Devon Brown, and it appears ODU has some speedy options. The Monarchs also have no cornerback who made more than 9.0 tackles last year. Safety is probably covered with Davila and Fellonte Misher, but there is an enormous void at CB.

(Side note: going by names, Jamez Brickhouse should be the linebacker, and Shadow Williams should be the cornerback. Alas.)

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Jarrett Cervi 6'1, 219 So. 23 40.5 1 9 2 47.8%
Taylor Heinicke 14 47.2 0 0 6 42.9%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Ricky Segers 5'11, 206 Jr. 34 58.3 10 3 29.4%
Satchel Ziffer 6'4, 206 Sr. 24 59.1 1 0 4.2%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Ricky Segers 5'11, 206 Jr. 26-27 2-3 66.7% 0-0 N/A
Satchel Ziffer 6'4, 206 Sr. 12-12 2-3 66.7% 1-2 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Cam Boyd KR 27 17.7 0
Vincent Lowe KR 5'9, 175 So. 10 16.3 0
Antonio Vaughan PR 12 9.3 1
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 122
Field Goal Efficiency 117
Punt Return Efficiency 16
Kick Return Efficiency 112
Punt Efficiency 123
Kickoff Efficiency 123
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 70

9. Depth bleeds into special teams

When your defense does worse in the second and fourth quarters, as ODU's did, that's a sign of potential depth/quality issues. And when your special teams coverage units also stink, we'll call that confirmation. If you don't have many trustworthy defensive backs and linebackers, you probably won't be able to prevent decent returns, and ODU was one of only two teams to allow two 70-yard punt returns. Throw in a 23-yard average kick return for opponents, and ... well, your team might end up ranking 122nd in overall special teams. And now the only redeeming aspect of last year's special teams unit (punt returner Antonio Vaughan) is gone.

The class of redshirt freshmen hitting the field this fall might be athletic enough to help in this regard. ODU can only hope that's the case.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
5-Sep at Eastern Michigan 128
12-Sep Norfolk State NR
19-Sep N.C. State 55
26-Sep Appalachian State 104
3-Oct at Marshall 17
17-Oct Charlotte NR
24-Oct at Florida International 96
31-Oct Western Kentucky 50
7-Nov at UTSA 109
14-Nov UTEP 90
21-Nov at Southern Miss 110
28-Nov Florida Atlantic 100
Five-Year F/+ Rk -14.3% (87)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 91 / 122
2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -1 / 2.5
2014 TO Luck/Game -1.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (8, 5)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 5.3 (0.7)

10. Lots of potential wins

There is plenty of reason to doubt ODU in 2015. The Monarchs are replacing a record-setting quarterback with, potentially, a redshirt freshman, and while the rest of the offense seems loaded, any regression could hurt considering the defense is probably still a year away from turning athleticism into competence. Six seasons into this football experiment, ODU still hasn't had a losing record, but that could be a distinct possibility this year.

Then again, the schedule could help to prevent that from happening. Let's say that ODU's offense regresses by the same amount that the defense improves, and ODU again ranks between 100th and 110th in F/+. Better injuries luck could bump that a bit higher, but even at that level, the Monarchs will have plenty of win opportunities in 2015. Four road opponents and five home opponents ranked 90th or worse last year, which means that ODU will likely be in quite a few close games. If the Monarchs win enough of them, another 6-6 campaign is certainly within reach.