Norfolk, VA (October 4) – Collegefootballfan.com accomplished two significant milestones last weekend. We added Old Dominion University, a first-year FBS member, as our 125th team and added Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium at our 49th FBS venue, the 123rd overall. St. Laurie and I also got to spend the weekend and the game with our son, Eric, a Seaman in the US Navy now stationed at Norfolk Naval Base. All that was great! However, as far as seeing a quality FBS football game as we had hoped for, our expectations fell far short . We watched many more exciting games later that evening on TV. My goal to see ‘em all still means we have to take the good, along with the bad and the ugly, and this was definitely the ugly.
Marshall (5-0, 1-0) manhandled the ODU Monarchs from beginning to end, 56-14. CFF.com expected to see a shootout based on the scoring prowess of both teams as did some U of M fans sitting in front of us, but instead The Thundering Herd, who will probably finish unbeaten and win Conference-USA, demonstrated that it was just too powerful overall for the new FBS Monarchs (3-3,1-2). Not only is Marshall superior in experience, quickness, and size, but evidently their coaching is superior, too. ODU never wavered from their original strategy, the same offense, the same formations, and never adjusted anything even after the Herd was out to a 28-0 lead in Q1 before the Monarchs put up seven with 36 ticks left. At that point, Eric asked a similar question he had asked when he was much younger, “How long are we going to stay for this one?” ODU neither solved nor challenged the Marshall defense until late in the game when Marshall put their subs out in the final period as they led, 56-7.
After ODU shanked a punt on its first possession, QB Rakeem Cato used Marshall’s most powerful weapon, FB Devon Johnson, to run up the middle for 35 yards and polished off the 59-yard drive with a two-yard TD run. Johnson (20 carries for 198 yards and three TDs) is the best FB we’ve seen anywhere in a long time. Marshall fans told us, “Watch him. He’s a horse.” A plow horse for sure he is. He banged, punished, pulled, crushed, and carried defenders multiple times with second and third efforts. He never let up. We were impressed. We will watch for this junior to be playing for somebody on Sundays in the next few years. Leading 7-0, U of M took over on downs on their 29. This time, Remi Watson, a smaller speed back (13 carries for 102 yards, two TDs) stepped in for Johnson as the primary Herd weapon. His ten-yard TD run punctuated the next Herd drive for a 14-0 lead. Vaunted Monarch QB Taylor Heinecke, with impressive stats coming in, showed no “zip” on his passes. He was more of a shot-putter than a thrower. He tended to “push” his passes. The next ODU drive ended quickly on a push with an INT by CB Darryl Roberts. Johnson converted an eight-yard TD run for a sudden 21-0 runaway already. The Monarch’s next punt was from their 16, and Marshall’s Brandon Byrd recovered it in the end zone after a block to extend the lead to 28-0 with 5:21 left in the first period. The Monarchs showed a glimmer of hope despite a three and out after its next series. A pick by S Christian Byrum gave possession to ODU at its 42. While the INT had to be reviewed for confirmation, The Thundering Herd players looked bored along the sideline during the prolonged delay. The attitude resulted in an Old Dominion score as Heinecke threw a 21-yard out pass to Zach Pascal resulting in a 21-yard score.
Heinecke had the second worst day of his four-year career finishing 10 for 25 with an INT for a mere 85 yards. The host team played with the same four wide-out spread on every play in the second period and more of the same resulted as The Herd took a 42-7 lead into the halftime break. Rakeem Cato threw his first TD of the game marking his 37th consecutive game with a TD pass to bring him to within one to tie the NCAA mark of 38 set by former NC State/Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson now of the Seattle Seahawks. He next connected with WR Tommy Schuler (nine catches, 81 yards, one TD) on a short pass, and one missed tackle later, he sped off for a 42-yard touchdown. Cato (18 for 23, 198 yards, two TDs) threw for a second score before the half ended as WR Deon-Tay McManus leaped to secure the ball from behind the defenders head in the end zone.
Based on previous results, website info, and statistics leading into this game, we expected a seesaw battle between Cato and Heinecke. However, not only based on the different levels of talent around both, Heinecke demonstrated an inferior arm and a slow release. Beyond that, however, ODU’s offense never adapted to give Marshall a different look. Every play featured four wide receivers and one running back. Marshall applied pressure consistently. Despite 131 rushing yards by OD’s Ray Lawry (Woolwich, NJ, Kingsway Regional), the Herd defense generally put the stops to him, or once Heinecke faked the read option, he was pressured and sacked five times. It wasn’t pretty. It was pretty futile. The ODU coaches never brought receivers in tighter, sent anyone in motion, went to a two-back set, nor did anything differently to challenge or confuse The Thundering Herd defense. It was an effort in futility running the same offense and same plays to think something was eventually going to work in ODU’s favor. Marshall’s defensive front was bigger and quicker to begin with. We were very disappointed in ODU HC Buddy Wilder’s lack of flexibility to give his charges any sense of hope by trying something different.
At halftime, I told Eric and St. Laurie that we’d stay until the end of Q3. They questioned why? Though I try to stay to the end of a game the first time I add a new team, I thought back to Louisiana Tech at Penn State back in 2000 when Eric was five-years old. We left on a scorching hot day under the sun in State College when PSU would win, 67-7. I couldn’t take the torture of the heat along with a bored wife and two distraught kids who wanted to go back to the hotel and jump into the pool. I agreed before the bitter end that this was enough torture for all of us. However, when we left to hop back into our minivan, it had a flat. The chapter in Tales from the Tailgate is titled, “Watch a Blow-out, fix a flat.” Watching their dad fix a flat was more entertaining than the game had been as the kids sucked down Juicy Juices and sucked on ice pops. Today’s action on the field was just as one-sided and even more monotonous.
In Q3, Johnson started off with a 46-yard run through the line and finished with a seven yard TD run. I said to Eric, “This is like watching the varsity scrimmage the JVs.” He quickly responded, “More like the varsity against the freshman.” He was right. Watson scored his second TD with 5:32 left in the third on Marshall’s second series of the half. That was it. The heck with waiting for the third period to end. I checked off Old Dominion as my 125th team. Most of the ODU fans were already gone. Eric has a pickup truck now and did the driving. We found a Buffalo Wild Wings in Virginia Beach and caught up on more interesting action on all their big screens. We didn’t miss much after we let as Marshall put in second teamers, water boys, some tough looking female cheerleaders, and some Alumni they pulled out of the stands according to Laurie (not really). Final: Marshall 56 ODU 14.
Next week, the Monarchs head to UTEP in El Paso for its next C-USA game to try to get to 4-3, 2-2 overall. They just may. They feel that they’ve played the three toughest C-USA foes already on their schedule. They defeated defending champ Rice, 45-42, lost to Middle Tennessee last week, 41-28, and will try to put this devastating loss to Marshall, the favorite, behind them. Two more wins make them bowl eligible. What a shame. Six out of 12 and they call that success nowadays. We can no longer discern between desrving bowl teams and mediocre efforts. When it comes to bowl games, we feel even more sorry for Marshall when it comes to their potential bowl options. That’s a good football team, but they’re overall schedule probably will preclude them from a College Football Playoff bid. They will likely finish 13-0 with the C-USA title. Their non-conference slate is finished with lackluster wins over Miami (O), Akron, and Ohio U. The balance of their slate is all C-USA , and no one looks ready to challenge them. We’d love to see them play a good Power Five team. HC Doc Holliday’s team will probably have to settle for a lesser bowl with a low Power Five team. Next up for them is a home game against Middle Tennessee. For us, we will head to Syracuse for a noon time kickoff against Florida State that will be the upset of the new millennium if the Orange can pull this off. Our intent is to be there in case in does happen (with starting QB Terrell Hunt out, we’re not expecting much of anything). Maybe the ‘Noles will be looking past the Orange to Notre Dame the week after, but we don’t see that as being too big a distraction this weekend.
Extra points: S.B. Ballard Stadium holds 22,000. It’s been sold out for every game since the Monarchs started this program five years ago. It’s a nice campus and the program is still developing an identity. However, limited parking relegates tailgating to season ticket holders who have reserved parking spaces. The rest of us and visitors from the other schools park in local, campus, parking garages (for no charge) where alcohol and grills are prohibited. With the noon start, no local hangouts opened until 11:30 and we found only two – a sports bar in the Springhill Suites on Hampton Blvd, and a possible go-go bar nearby. St. Laurie wasn’t interested to try that option and Eric is still underage to go in and check it out.
No out of town scores were available during the game. I hate that. We sat in the end zone next to the student section. A video board for plays, stats, and messages sat to our left and we could only see the steel frame in the back. For spirit sections, ticket holders are encouraged to wear blue or white in their respective sections on the ticket to “stripe the stadium”. White stood out more than blue on this sun-drenched day in southern Virginia. Of course, Marshall interrupted in their green.
We got to view the ODU band and cheering squad performance up close in a quad before the game. We saw a first – a bearded twirler!
Next season, we will possibly go back to Ballard with a different game plan as Eric will most likely still be stationed there. If ODU hosts Charlotte, who will be added to C-USA as the latest addition to the FBS in 2015 as team # 129, we will try to make that happen. We’ll go for what we’ll anticipate as a more even match-up than what we saw this year. Charlotte 49ers vs. ODU Monarchs. We also enjoyed our short stay at a hotel on Virginia Beach. We know a little bit more about the area now to plan ahead. Maybe we can spend an extra day or two next season.