Georgia Southern can expect a heavy dose of the spread offense against Old Dominion in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs at 1 p.m. Saturday at Paulson Stadium.
I covered Old Dominion’s game against Savannah State in 2009. I left SSU’s T.A. Wright Stadium thoroughly impressed with the Monarchs’ quick-strike ability in a 38-17 victory over the Tigers.
Old Dominion’s performance was more impressive considering it was the Monarchs’ first season of football in 69 years. When Old Dominion was known as the Norfolk Division of the College of William & Mary, the Braves played from 1930 until disbanding in 1940.
On Feb. 13, 2007, Old Dominion hired Bobby Wilder, formerly an assistant at Maine, to be the Monarchs’ head coach.
Old Dominion quarterback Thomas DeMarco, now a senior, was 14-of-20 passing for 198 yards and three touchdowns against SSU. The Monarchs finished the 2009 season 9-2.
Last season, Old Dominion beat SSU, 57-9, in Norfolk, Va. The Monarchs finished the 2010 season 8-3.
This season, Old Dominion (10-2) finished second in the Colonial Athletic Association with a 6-2 record. This is the Monarchs’ first year in the CAA.
An at-large entry into the FCS playoffs, Old Dominion made its first playoff appearance Saturday and beat Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Norfolk State (9-3), 35-18.
Old Dominion’s DeMarco suffered an ankle injury Oct. 1 against Massachusetts. Taylor Heinicke, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound freshman, took over at quarterback and guided the Monarchs to a 48-33 victory. Heinicke is 7-1 since replacing DeMarco.
Old Dominion head coach Bobby Wilder, during his weekly teleconference Monday, said the Monarchs must score close to 35 points to beat GSU.
“Offensively, we’ll need to protect the ball like we’ve been doing,” he said. “In the games Taylor Heinicke has played, we only have two turnovers total on offense. We’ll need to hit our scoring average. We’ll need to be up around 35 points. In our 12 football games this year, in 10 of those games we’ve scored at least 31 points. So we’ve been consistent scoring points. We’ll need to do it in this one.”
Heinicke might be familiar to some GSU fans. He led Collins High School in Atlanta to the Class AAAAA state semifinals last season. His 4,218 yards passing last season are second in Georgia state history behind the 4,560 yards Lassiter’s Hutson Mason threw for in 2009. His 44 touchdown passes last season are third in Georgia state history behind the 47 Charlton County’s Jeremy Privett threw for in 2003, and the 54 Mason threw for in 2009.
Heinicke was 21-of-30 passing for 269 yards and a school-record five touchdowns against Norfolk State. He averages 254.9 yards passing per game. In eight games, Heinicke is 186-of-263 passing (70.7 percent) for 2,039 yards and 20 interceptions. He has thrown only one interception.
In 12 games, DeMarco is 100-of-159 passing for 1,047 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
GSU (9-2) won the Southern Conference championship with a 7-1 record and earned a first-round bye in the FCS playoffs. The Eagles are the No. 3 seed in the 20-team tournament. They are coming off a 45-21 loss at Alabama on Nov. 19. It remains the most points a team has scored against the Crimson Tide this season.
Old Dominion averages 165.2 yards rushing per game and allows 115.9 yards. The Monarchs average 264 yards passing per game and allow 251.8 yards.
Old Dominion averages 35.8 points per game and allows 25.5 points. The Monarchs lost to Delaware, 27-17, and fell to CAA champion Towson, 39-35.
Wilder said he is impressed with GSU’s athleticism but he intends to test the Eagles’ secondary.
“Defensively, they only allow 335 yards and 20 points,” Wilder said of GSU. “Per game, they’re allowing 200 yards passing and 135 rushing. This is a very good defense. Generally, you don’t see defenses that defend the pass as well as they do when your offense runs the triple-option. And the reason being, you don’t get the practice looks each week. But they make up for what they don’t see each week in practice with their athleticism.”
Wilder also thanked GSU for increasing Old Dominion’s ticket allotment for Saturday’s game.
“I just received word that they have allowed for 1,500 tickets for Old Dominion when the NCAA says you only have to allow 500,” Wilder said. “So, thank you to Georgia Southern. Because I know we have a lot of 12th Monarchs (12th man) who are very interested in making the trip to beautiful Statesboro, Georgia.”
The Old Dominion-GSU winner will advance to play the winner of Saturday’s 2 p.m. game between Maine (8-3) and Appalachian State (8-3) on Dec. 9 or Dec. 10 at a time and location to be determined.
Noell Barnidge is sports editor of the Statesboro Herald.