NORFOLK, Va. –—Georgia Southern Coach Jeff Monken said there’s no stopping the Old Dominion offense, you can only hope to slow it down.
Led by sophomore quarterback Taylor Heinicke the Monarchs (11-1) have the top passing offense in FCS football, averaging 393 yards per game, two more than the Eagles (9-3) average running the football.
Georgia Southern, making its 19th appearance in the FCS playoffs, and ODU, making its second in four years of football, meet at noon on Saturday at Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium in Norfolk, Va., in one of four FCS quarterfinal games.
The game will be televised nationally on ESPN, and the winner will play the winner of the Wofford at North Dakota State game.
The Eagles beat Old Dominion, 55-48, in a second round game last year at Paulson Stadium.
The game was not decided until the final minute when the Monarchs, after getting a 20-yard touchdown run from Heinicke with 39 seconds to play, recovered an onside kick one-half yard short of the required 10 yards the ball had to travel.
Georgia Southern then ran out the clock to win a game in which Heinicke’s five touchdown passes set a Paulson record.
"You are going to have to try and be sound," Monken said. "I’m not delusional--they’re going to hit some plays, but you have to try to keep it under control."
Villanova was the only team to defeat the Monarchs this season, and the Wildcats gave the Eagles a blueprint for success.
In beating ODU, 38-14, the Colonial Athletic Association champions trailed 14-3 after the first quarter, but pitched a shutout over the next 45 minutes.
Villanova had 527 yards total offense, 376 rushing, and ran 85 plays, 67 running, to 58 for the Monarchs while controlling the ball for 40 minutes.
Heinicke threw only 32 passes in that game, his lowest single game total of the season. He had 16 completions, and had nine of ODU’s rushing attempts.
Heinicke, by the way, threw 79 passes against New Hampshire, three more than Georgia Southern has thrown in 12 games.
"We’ve got to get the option going," Monken said. "Jerick (McKinnon) got a lot of yards last week, but we’ve got to get the other two faces of the triple option going."
McKinnon ran for 316 of Georgia Southern’s 404 yards in the 24-16 win over Central Arkansas while B back Dominique Swope was held to 64 yards by the Bears on 17 carries. Eagle slotbacks had only 30 yards on eight carries.
Last year Swope had 255 yards against the Monarchs on 31 carries and Robert Brown added 83 on four attempts.
Old Dominion Coach Bobby Wilder, who has the school moving up to the FBS level next season, lived with that loss all winter.
The Monarchs spent part of their spring practice and preseason practice working against the option offense in anticipation of seeing it again in the playoffs.
Wilder, who is 0-4 against the Eagles as a player and coach (Maine, ODU) said his team worked on the option not with the idea of facing Georgia Southern again, but also for the possibility of facing option teams Wofford or Cal Poly.
All three made the playoffs, but there’s no question Old Dominion—if not the team then the fans--is happy it’s the Eagles they’re facing rather than one of the others.
The game will be a sellout, more than 20,000, and it will mark the 28th consecutive sellout for Old Dominion which joins Conference USA on July 1, 2013.
With the game being on national television Wilder sees it as an opportunity to put his highly successful program on a bigger stage. The Monarchs are 38-9 in their short history.
"There’s a buzz around campus," Wilder said. "It’s building up, and I think we have the best fan base at the FCS level."
While there’s a question as to whether the Eagles can defend against the Old Dominion passing attack the Monarchs have not exactly been defensive when it comes to stopping the run.
Old Dominion is allowing 163 yards per game on the ground, and has not shown a propensity for stopping a good running team, the Villanova game being a prime example.
McKinnon now has 1,478 yards rushing and Swope is at 983. If Swope gets 17 more yards Georgia Southern would have its first pair of 1,000-yard rushers since 2005 when Jermaine Austin and Chaz Williams did it.