Ok…let’s start this with a general statement…this game went just about how I thought it would go with Old Dominion putting up big points, staying in the game till the late stages, and then ECU pulling away. However, ODU stays in it longer than I thought and we pulled away less than I thought. Getting the win is great, starting a 1-0 with a short week is a lot easier than the other way around. And, we got the W when other teams found themselves on the other side of the ledger against lesser opponents. Trust me, that starving team in West Virginia is worse off than our club will ever be this season.
HOWEVER…we also learned that we have a long way to go to be a team that brings home 10 wins this year, despite a schedule that points to that possibility.
So, some Monday Morning QB-like musings about our Pirates following the win on Saturday (and let’s not forget that it was a win).
To put this game in context, an analysis of the background for the game is in order, given ECU’s history for making even the easiest of tasks seem monumental. We all know that ODU is a fast-climbing (only back to football for 5 years now), well-funded, and well-planned football (recall how Marshall planned their step up, it was no accident that they had the players they had when they came up) program coming off an 11-2 season a year ago, stepping up to next level football. I get that the talent gap is supposed to be huge as they head into this first season with the big boys. BUT, let’s also remember a couple of points. ODU has made all the right moves in planning this step. They have a superb coach. They have been mining the talent-rich area in southeastern, VA, for talent prepping for this season. They have a quarterback that could start for ANY team in the country. Put him in a Texas A&M uni and he is Mr. Football (and has done it longer and better than that ungrateful punk who barely got a slap on the wrist from the NCAA).
Further, Taylor Heinicke is behind all but one of the same lineman who started every game last year, including three all-conference performers and an all-America. The other guy played a bunch at guard a year ago, though he didn’t start. Let’s look closer at that line, too. Jack Lowney (6-4, 295) with 31 starts, David Born (6-8, 335) with 26 starts, Josh Mann (6-2, 305) with 13 starts, D.J. Morrell (6-6, 325), and Connor Mewbourne (6-4, 290). Not a small front at all and they were experienced. At the skill positions, Heinicke has three receivers returning who had 55 or more receptions a year ago. And, in the backfield, capable runners experienced in pass protection.
Defensively, ODU was a disaster a year ago – like us – relying on their offense to win games while they sort of ran around the field trying to figure things out. ODU, too, hired a new defensive coordinator, and they brought in some 18 new defensive players via transfers, signees, etc., to sure up where they could. A work in progress, too, with the front seven being more reliable than the secondary.
Remember, this was not a middle of the road sub-division team, but rather among the best in that level.
So, what did I see in the game, after watching it live then re-watching the recording:
On our OFFENSE:
1. Shane Carden and the wide receivers are already rolling. Precise, effective, and efficient. Carden made fantastic decisions with the football, the receivers made catches (except for the three drops by Danny Webster and two by Reese Wiggins);
2. The offensive line did a great job in pass protection as did the backs, giving Carden all day to pick the ODU defense apart;
3. Carden ran when he needed to, bought time with his feet to make things happen, and was smart all day/night;
4. Justin Hardy was a beast (as expected) and showed that he can influence a game even when he does not score;
5. Davon Grayson has mitts…great catch on the fade route, particularly and he looks precise. I am so happy for him as he was one of my favs in the recruiting class after I interviewed him for Bonesville Magazine;
6. Cam Worthy looks to be a big-time guy…like to see him get more chances as the season progresses. Just two catches, but he looked like a seasoned starter on those two grabs;
7. Offensive pace was good and I thought Lincoln Riley conducted a great game plan, taking what was there for us and keeping the offense on full power the whole game;
8. Fast start was what we wanted and what we did. Well done;
9. Thought that C.J. Struyk looked great in their at center…kid is strong. Proud of him;
10. Happy to see Isaiah Jones get the TD since we burned his redshirt. I think many of our other receivers would have made the catch, but if he is going to play, then I hope he makes noise and he has started out with a bang! Great job Zay.
1. Running game was anemic. Even though it was clear that ODU game-planned to take away the run (they didn’t want to have their defense pounded and ground down during the game), that we really couldn’t get anything going was a disappointment. You would think that with all of the passing Carden was doing, play action would have been ripe for the run picking. Not sure if our line cannot run block or if it was a rhythm thing since we were passing so well. Either way, we cannot have that imbalance going forward if we hope to win the tough ones;
2. The full-house pistol formation…man it looked confused and ugly. Yes, the goal-line fumble didn’t help, but it seems to me that if we are not able to run straight up, putting two big boys in the backfield only packs it in more defensively and plays to the ODU game plan. Not liking it;
3. We didn’t stretch the field – or even send up a flare that we can. Now, in fairness, we didn’t need to and perhaps it will pay dividends downstream if teams think we can’t and then we go over the top, but with Carden’s accuracy last-night, might have been worth trying it once;
4. OL penalties…too many with the amount of experience we have. We are fortunate that they didn’t kill us in the game.
5. Disappointed in the drops by Webster and Wiggins. We need them to be on fire every game. They both came back and made great plays later, but these are two of the veterans…c’mon guys.
1. Trent Tignor is flat-out a stud Punter and we are fortunate to have him. He punts for average, but has precision about him. Don’t want to see him being used much, but nice to know we have a national caliber punter on the squad;
2. Coverage teams on kick0ff and punt were fantastic…just spectacular and thank God, because Heinicke was killing us already…think what he would have done with a short field. Return teams were good too, the little bit we saw of them;
3. Deep kickoffs…love ’em…keep them coming Warren Harvey.
1. You cannot miss field goals inside of 45 yards…just can’t. Happy to see Harvey hit his second one, but we cannot have a season of inconsistency at that position.
And, now, the pink gorilla in the room…the DEFENSE. Before I go into the good and bad, please note, I am not in the camp that saw the same old thing as last year, but man, do we need some work.
1. IMO, our pass coverage actually was better. When I re-watched the game, I used my “pause button” test to see if we have a clue and compared to last year, we are much improved in this area. Last season – I kid you not – when I would pause the recording, we literally would have NOT A SINGLE PLAYER anywhere in the frozen frame on most of the pass plays. Believe it or not, particularly early and late in the game, we had guys there…sometimes, they made plays and more times than not, the other guy made plays. Case in point, when our corner got beat on that bomb touchdown, he was in the guys shorts…great coverage, the pass was just frickin’ perfect…he had no chance.
2. The line backer play was pretty good, though inconsistent. I thought we played the run well and our linebackers looked more confident in coverage after two seasons of looking completely baffled on pass coverage. We were in a soft zone much of the time – the old bend-but-don’t-break – and I thought that we kept things in front of us for the most part.
3. When we brought inside pressure, we had success, meaning we got in position to make the sack or TFL…we just didn’t finish the plays (which can be corrected);
4. Defensive TD was a huge!!
5. Our safeties can really put the smack down on people…love how they hit;
6. Thought Josh Hawkins looked pretty good at corner.
1. Our tackling at times was not very good. We would be in position to make a play, but then miss the tackle. NOW…some of this had to do with the fact that Heinicke is simply an elite QB in terms of his sensibilities. The guy is just a gamer. We will not face a QB as good as him except for maybe Cato at Marshall (don’t start the Brenner talk with me…when we blitzed him, he was average).
2. I am concerned about our conditioning up front. Our guys looked winded from the second quarter on. When Ruff and crew came in, we new that our Offense was on and off the field quickly. No excuses for the big boys…they gotta get it done;
3. Not sure we dialed up the pressure schematically enough. When we blitzed inside, it had a real effect.
4. DEs seemed hit or miss on containment. When we contained, we had real shots at the QB, but when we got sucked in…Heinicke killed us;
5. Hate to even utter this because I am such a huge fan of our safeties, but they really do not seem to be able to cover very well. Hopefully just the Heinicke effect;
6. I was hoping that Adonis Armstrong would emerge as a greatly improved player as a senior…now I am worried more about that position;
Look, I am not going to look at a team that is 1-0 and hung 52 points on an opponent and say that we are anything worse than what I expected going in. Chances are, we have an offense that can score on ANYONE…including Virginia Tech. I think we do have that kind of offense.
I also think that the defense will prove to be much better than what we saw last night. I am pretty certain that the quality of ODU’s offense is such that they will beat some of the teams on the schedule they shouldn’t and I am predicting right now that they take Maryland down next week, but two TDs. They simply are an electric offense that is hard to stop…like our own. I think Rick Smith will break this one down and we will see incremental improvement. I also believe that the more traditional offensive teams we play, the more we will look improved. I think our defense will fare better against Virginia Tech, N.C. State, and North Carolina than it will against Marshall.
That’s my 10 cents…love to hear your thoughts good and bad.