Wildcats wary of ODU’s offense
DURHAM – How fast is Old Dominion’s pace of play? Even the chain gang has trouble keeping up.
That’s one of the challenges facing the University of New Hampshire football team, whose ability to get players on and off the field on defense and in the right spots will be tested Saturday (noon) when it takes on the Monarchs in its Colonial Athletic Association opener in Norfolk, Va.
“Even as quick a tempo as we play at times, I don’t know if we’re playing as fast as they are right now,” UNH coach Sean McDonnell said.
One ODU opponent, trying to make substitutions, got caught with 14 players on the field.
“It’s definitely a fast pace,” UNH linebacker Matt Evans said. “It’s pretty similar to what we run offensively, but it actually might be a little faster.”
Old Dominion averages 618.3 yards per game and 57.3 points, and ran 106 offensive plays in a 57-23, season-opening win over Duquesne.
“They spread you out all over the field,” UNH defensive coordinator John Lyons said. “They isolate you. We’ve really got to run to the ball and tackle because they’ve got some really good skill people. They just make people miss.”
The Monarchs improved to 3-0 with a 70-14 rout of Campbell last week.
“We’ve got to protect the ball and tackle in open spaces,” McDonnell said.
Sophomore quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who is 82-of-124 passing this year for 1,191 yards and 14 touchdowns in just three games, is adept at getting the ball to the right people.
He’s mobile and he can also improvise. The Monarchs are 9 for 10 in fourth-down conversions.
“He’s got a lot of Ricky Santos in him,” McDonnell said. “He’s got a knack for making plays. What concerns me is when things break down he has the ability to make something happen.”
Heinicke won several major national awards last season as a true freshman.
“He controls the pace of the game very well,” UNH safety Chris Beranger said. “He doesn’t make mistakes. He’s very accurate. I think we have to get pressure and put people in his face and force him to make mistakes.”
The Wildcats (2-1) are coming off a 43-10 win over Central Connecticut last week in their home opener. They rushed for 331 yards and five touchdowns and the defense forced six turnovers.
They’d love a repeat performance, but that’s probably not realistic against a team that ranks first in the CAA in total defense and second in fewest points allowed.
“They’re very physical,” Wildcats receiver R.J. Harris said. “They’re two-hand jammers. At the same time, they’re susceptible to the play-action. I feel like they’re very aggressive. Their safeties like to play downhill. They make big plays in the run game. Knowing that, I think we can take some shots over the top.”
“They play aggressive in all phases,” McDonnell said. “They will wear you down and they’ll take advantage of you not having your eyes and guys in the right position.”
This could be the first and only time UNH plays Old Dominion. The Monarchs are moving up to the FBS level next season and already have some FBS-caliber players in their program.
Although they’re not eligible for the CAA title this year, they are eligible for the FCS playoffs.
“It’s a great opportunity,” McDonnell said. “We’re looking forward to playing them, but our antennas better be up for this one.”
The Wildcats are playing their third road game in four weeks.
“It’s the only time we’re playing ODU,” Beranger said. “We want to get a chance at them. Everyone’s hyping them up to be this great new thing. We want a chance to take them down.”
Vailas making second straight start
Sophomore Andy Vailas will get his second straight start at quarterback in place of redshirt freshman Sean Goldrich, who injured his shoulder against Minnesota and is a still a week or two away.
Goldrich did some light throwing this week in practice.
Running back Nico Steriti has been cleared to play after leaving last week’s game early in the second half with concussion-like symptoms.
He gained 104 yards against Central Connecticut and is the Wildcats’ leading rusher.
Receiver Jimmy Giansante is expected to miss his second straight game with a knee injury.
Kicking woes haven’t hurt ’Cats yet
McDonnell hasn’t lost confidence in kicker Mike MacArthur. The junior from North Hampton has missed four extra points this season and had another attempt blocked.
He missed two conversions against CCSU, including one that hit the left upright.
“I’ll be concerned if it keeps going in the next couple games,” McDonnell said, “because it hasn’t hurt us yet. I’ve talked to Mike about it. He’s kicking well in practice. He’s the best kicker we have.”
MacArthur, a second-team all-CAA pick last year, had surgery on his left hip during the offseason.
“When he kicks the ball and he’s hitting it, he’s as good as anyone in the country, not just the conference,” McDonnell said. “He’ll be OK.”
Boston College coaching connection
Old Dominion is coached by former Maine quarterback and longtime Black Bear assistant Bobby Wilder. McDonnell and Wilder were graduate assistants on the same staff at Boston College in 1988.