Old Dominion vs. Georgia Southern FCS Playoffs Quarterfinal Breakdown
Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder will soon find out whether his hunch paid off. Following last year’s 55-48 playoff loss to Georgia Southern, the Monarchs’ coach wanted his team to be better prepared to face the Eagles’ triple-option attack just in case they would meet again. Georgia Southern had 607 yards of offense and didn’t attempt a punt in that contest.
On Saturday, the Monarchs will get that chance. Only this time, the contest will be in Norfolk, Va., beginning at noon (ESPN2). No. 4-seed ODU (11-1) gets to host by virtue of its 63-35 victory over Coastal Carolina on Saturday and because it’s a higher seed than No. 5 Georgia Southern (9-3), a 24-16 winner over Central Arkansas.
“It was a helpless feeling (trying to stop the Eagles last year),” Wilder said. “I made the decision after last year that we were going to study Georgia Southern. We were going to prepare for a rematch or if we ended up playing Wofford or Cal Poly – those are the three triple option teams that are in the tournament. We needed to have a plan in place.” Wofford remains in the playoff field; however, Cal Poly was ousted by Sam Houston State. But the fact that the game is in Norfolk this year might be as big of an advantage. ODU has sold out 27 consecutive games at 20,068-Foreman Field since football returned to the school in 2009.
Georgia Southern, which has won six FCS titles, led Central Arkansas 24-9 at halftime as quarterback Jerick McKinnon keyed the victory. He rushed for a career-high 316 yards on 34 carries and two touchdowns. McKinnon was 17 yards short of former Eagles’ standout Adrian Peterson’s school and FCS playoff record set in 1999 and just five yards short of the Southern Conference single-game rushing mark set by Wofford’s Eric Breitenstein this season.
The Eagles rushed for 404 yards against Central Arkansas and controlled the clock for 38 minutes. “When one side (of the team) needed a stop, we got it. When we needed a first down to keep going, we got it,” Eagles’ coach Jeff Monken told the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle. “It was just a tremendous effort by our team. I thought our kids did a great job of fighting. … We’re not more talented or bigger or more athletic or draw up all these better schemes than other people. I think we win because we have guys who care about each other and are willing to lay it on the line.”
Of course, ODU has a pretty fair quarterback, too. And sophomore Taylor Heinicke added to his growing stature with another outstanding performance against Coastal Carolina. Heinicke completed 32 of 44 attempts for 497 yards and six touchdowns. In one stretch in the second half, the Atlanta, Ga., native threw for three TDs in a 5 1/2 –minute span.
“Heinicke is a good, good quarterback, but what he is best at is making decisions after the ball is snapped,” Coastal Carolina coach Joe Moglia explained. “He handles himself well under pressure. If you don’t contain him, he will extend plays.”
Saturday’s rematch will almost certainly be a high-scoring affair. ODU’s defense is ranked 82nd nationally while the Eagles are 29th overall, but they are 44th in pass defense – something that doesn’t bode well against Heinicke. Georgia Southern also has struggled in the kicking game as Phil Hanks has made just 7-of-16 field goals. ODU’s Jarod Brown is 10-of-12. Old Dominion is a year older and a year wiser. While the Eagles will have their share of success on the ground, don’t expect them to have an answer for Heinicke.
Projected score: Old Dominion 48, George Southern 28