Breaking down the game
• Series | First meeting
• Weather | 57 degrees and sunny
Key number: 1
Old Dominion ranks first among all FCS teams in total offense (538.27 yards per game) and Monarchs’ sophomore quarterback Taylor Heinicke ranks first individually in total offense (412.27 yards per game) and passing (378 yards per game). The team is also a close second in scoring at 44.5 points per game.
Heinicke vs. Coastal Carolina’s secondary. Named one of three finalists for the prestigious Walter Payton Award, Heinicke has attempted 491 passes this season and will no doubt be throwing the ball all over the field once again Saturday. He completes 68.2 percent of his passes, has thrown for 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and presents an especially tough matchup for a Chanticleers team that has been beaten through the air plenty this season. That said, CCU defensive coordinator Clayton Carlin is adamant the Chants’ secondary has improved greatly through the season and this is their time to now prove that.
What more is there to say about Heinicke? Well, back in September he threw for 730 yards against a ranked New Hampshire team to break a Division I record for passing yards in a game that had stood since 1990. He also had passing performances of 492 yards and four touchdowns against Duquesne and 486 yards and seven scores against a non-scholarship Campbell program. Only Hampton (213) and Villanova (239) have held him to less than 250 yards through the air. He also ranks second on the team with 377 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. ... This is one of the few games this season where Coastal doesn’t have a clear advantage at quarterback, but senior Aramis Hillary has nonetheless had a fine season in his own right for the Chants. He’s passed for 2,313 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions while rushing for 522 yards and three scores.
• Edge | Old Dominion
Coastal has now rushed for at least 200 yards in seven-straight games and seniors Jeremy Height (16 carries for 78 yards) and Marcus Whitener (11-72 and a touchdown) both had solid performances last week in the Chants’ 24-14 win at Bethune-Cookman. Height leads the team overall with 832 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. ... Old Dominion is very clearly a passing team, but its proficiency through the air opens up some opportunities on the ground. Sophomore Tyree Lee leads the Monarchs with 751 rushing yards and eight scores while averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
• Edge | Coastal Carolina
Both teams boast a balanced arsenal of receivers with impressive statistics. For Coastal, it’s juniors Matt Hazel (52 catches for 644 yards and six touchdowns), Niccolo Mastromatteo (43-500-3) and DeMario Bennett (41-579-6). For Old Dominion, it’s 5-foot-7 senior Nick Mayers (63-980-13), 5-foot-8 sophomore Antonio Vaughan (51-673-6), 6-foot-2 sophomore Blair Roberts (49-626-5) and 6-foot sophomore Larry Pinkard (42-593-4).
• Edge | Push
The question up front for the Chants is not about performance but rather health. Coastal’s offensive line has been superb for the most part, opening up holes for a consistently productive rushing attack and keeping Hillary relatively well protected in the pocket. But after losing one starter midway through the season, the unit finished play last weekend without two more regulars as sophomore left tackle Chad Hamilton (knee) and junior right tackle Drew Herring (ankle) watched from the sidelines. CCU coach Joe Moglia has said he expects both guys to play Saturday, but it remains to be seen how close to full strength they will be. ... Moglia also said he’s very impressed by the size and performance of Old Dominion’s offensive front. The Monarchs don’t start a lineman shorter than 6-foot-4 and have started the same five guys up front all season. They’ve allowed 24 sacks while attempting 498 passes.
• Edge | Old Dominion
Expect Coastal to look to fluster and contain Heinicke as best it can, but Moglia said the risk/reward equation of trying to sack the sophomore standout doesn’t justify committing significant personnel to the pass rush. The Chants – led by senior tackle Johnny Hartsfield and senior end Quinton Davis (7.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) – will look to keep him in the pocket and force quick decisions. ... Senior tackle Chris Burnette is the Monarchs’ biggest force up front and ranks second on the team with 66 tackles to go with seven tackles for loss, four sacks, four hurries and two forced fumbles.
• Edge | Push
Both teams are stocked with playmakers in the middle of the defense. Sophomore Quinn Backus is the Big South Defensive Player of the Year and has shattered Coastal’s single-season record for total tackles with 132 so far. He also has eight tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, three forced fumbles and two recoveries while junior Mike McClure has 80 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks and an interception. ... For Old Dominion, the guy to watch is senior weak-side linebacker Craig Wilkins, who has tallied 77 stops, 12 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, two picks and a forced fumble. Junior John Darr and freshman Caleb Taylor, meanwhile, have combined for 18.5 tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries.
• Edge | Push
As for that Coastal secondary, senior Dontavais Johnson and junior LaDarius Hawthorne have combined for seven interceptions and nine pass break-ups at the corners while junior safety Johnnie Houston is coming off a huge performance at Bethune-Cookman where he returned an interception for a touchdown and forced a couple fumbles. That said, the Chants still rank just 71st among FCS teams in pass defense while yielding 219.7 yards per game through the air. That stat has improved greatly with Coastal holding four of its last six opponents to less than 200 yards passing, but none of those teams present near the challenge that Old Dominion does. ... Old Dominion, meanwhile, ranks 81st in pass defense while allowing 228.5 yards per game through the air. The Monarchs’ four starting defensive backs have combined for just three interceptions all season.
• Edge | Coastal Carolina
Moglia said he thinks Old Dominion has “the best special teams of anybody we played against” this season. Junior kicker Jarod Brown is 10-of-12 on field goals with a long of 51 yards, senior punter Jonathan Plisco is averaging 45.4 yards per punt (which would rank fifth nationally if he had enough attempts to qualify) and the Monarchs boast a capable return game led by Vaughan (20.0 yards per kickoff return and 13.1 per punt return with a 70-yard touchdown). ... For Coastal, sophomore Alex Catron is 9-of-12 on field goals, sophomore Austin Cain averages 36.3 yards per punt and the Chants are also potent on returns with Mastromatteo (12.1 yards per punt return with an 87-yard touchdown) and senior Tre Henderson (29.1 yards per kickoff return in 14 tries).
• Edge | Old Dominion
Coastal has won six straight games by double figures and has already made program history by securing its first-ever FCS playoff victory last week at Bethune-Cookman. But it’s been a while since the Chants played in an opposing environment – or any environment – like the one they’ll encounter Saturday at Foreman Field. Old Dominion has one of the larger fan bases at the FCS level and averages 20,026 fans per home game. The last time Coastal played in that kind of road atmosphere was the team’s loss at Appalachian State in September. ... No. 4-seeded Old Dominion, meanwhile, has had a week to rest and is a strong national championship contender in what will be its final season before beginning the transition to the FBS level.
• Edge | Old Dominion
Old Dominion, 34-24
News and Notes
Big South statement
For the first time in conference history, the Big South has two of its teams not only in the FCS playoffs but still playing in the second round.
In addition to Coastal, Stony Brook advanced last week with a 20-10 win over Villanova while playing with its backup quarterback. The Seawolves now play No. 3-seeded Montana State on Saturday night.
Big South commissioner Kyle Kallander hopes the league’s success this year has earned some notice around the country.
“In this business, it takes a while to earn respect, and the way to do that is to go out and beat good non-conference opponents,” Kallander said. “And when you can do that like Coastal Carolina and Stony Brook did over the last week, it really goes a long way in earning that respect. That’s how people take notice of you.”
Kallander acknowledged there were years in the past where he felt Big South teams – namely Liberty a couple times – got overlooked for at-large playoff berths despite deserving resumes because the still relatively-young league didn’t carry the stature of other conferences.
“When you get into that selection room, people have to know who you are, they have to know your name, they have to know what you’ve done in the past to get consideration,” he said. “Even though you’re sitting there selecting based on this season, you can’t put aside [those factors].”
While Coastal earned the Big South’s automatic berth this year, Stony Brook was the last team into the 20-team field, Kallander said. Of course, the Seawolves are leaving the Big South after this season to join the Colonial Athletic Association, and the commissioner reiterated that he hopes to add another football-playing member (or more) to the conference in the near – yet still undefined – future.
“We’re working on it,” he said. “We feel like we are closer, but it’s a work in progress. It’s not something that happens overnight. We are hopeful that we will expand and have more football programs in the Big South in the future. It’s obviously our goal and we feel good about where we are and how our teams have progressed.”
While Moglia was plenty complimentary of Old Dominion this week, Monarchs coach Bobby Wilder said he has also been impressed with what the Chants’ first-year coach has accomplished.
They’ve never met, but Wilder said he is plenty familiar with Moglia and his story.
“I did have the opportunity to hear him speak at our national coaches convention,” Wilder said. “I know he’s an outstanding motivator. He’s someone who’s made a tremendous impact not only in the business world but in the coaching profession. I have been very impressed from afar by the job he’s done this year coming in and replacing a popular coach in David Bennett and having to handle adversity this year with a 2-4 start when I’m sure everything at Coastal Carolina looked like they were as far from a playoff team as you can be.”
For what it’s worth
Coastal is 2-4 all-time against teams from the Colonial Athletic Association, though one of the biggest wins in program history came against a CAA school back in 2005 when the Chants defeated No. 1-ranked James Madison. And with its win over No. 22-ranked Bethune-Cookman last week, Coastal is now 5-9 all-time against ranked teams (including 1-3 this season).
No tight end, no problem
With senior tight end David Duran (shoulder) and redshirt-freshman tight end Thomas Pauciello (ankle) both out for the season now, the next man up on the depth chart is redshirt-freshman Craig Weick, who has not caught a pass yet in his collegiate career. But Moglia said the team’s offensive versatility allows it to play without a tight end just fine while switching up personnel groupings. Weick will be used mostly as a blocker when he’s on the field.
Coastal will be sending a fleet of buses to Norfolk, Va., including two for students wishing to attend the game, three for the marching band and a bus for the coaches’ families and football support staff.
Coastal was allocated 100 student tickets and was close to filling both student buses already as of Wednesday morning.
“We were allocated 1,000 tickets, and we’re quickly working through those 1,000 tickets,” CCU athletic director Hunter Yurachek said. “You have to take some away for the player parents and their guests and coaches’ families and our band is included in that. But we’ll have a nice contingent.”
By Ryan Young, email@example.com