Today we’ll complete our review of Old Dominion University football’s 2011 season. In Part I of our review, we looked at the season through the prism of the three keys we identified before the first game: a healthy Thomas DeMarco, the play of both sets of linemen, and a “slow-and-steady” approach.
Despite a lengthy post that analyzed the season from those points of view, it was an incomplete analysis; it left out too many pieces of the puzzle. For example, it prevented us from highlighting the impact of special teams on the outcome of games. Also, there were four First Team All-CAA Monarchs; we only discussed one (CAA Defensive POY Ronnie Cameron).
So here, in Part II, we’re going to review specific events, performances and outcomes from the year that didn’t fit into Part I. Enjoy!
|The Monarchs warm up before their contest with UMass.|
Best Individual Performances – Offense
5. Reid Evans, 42-28 win over Richmond: The Spiders came into Norfolk the first weekend of November short-handed on defense. Richmond’s coaches devised a defensive strategy to take away the long pass. Taylor Heinicke took advantage of this and hit Evans on several short passes; the junior wideout finished with 12 catches for 149 yards receiving. It seemed like he literally caught everything thrown his way. Evans would be voted Third Team All-CAA Wide Receiver following the regular season.
3. Larry Pinkard, 23-20 win over James Madison: Old Dominion’s administration revived the Oyster Bowl for the contest between the Monarchs and the Dukes. Heinicke found Pinkard six times for 94 yards, and the redshirt freshman scored the only two touchdowns of the game for ODU. Those seem like modest numbers, not necessarily worthy of a top-three offensive performance. Right?
Wrong! What stands out about this performance was the insane, “I honestly don’t believe that just happened” catch in the second quarter. (The patient reader will be rewarded with a picture later in this post.) Heinicke scrambled to evade three defenders on a fourth down play, and eventually threw the ball up for grabs towards the end zone. Pinkard out-jumped two JMU defenders, who literally had him sandwiched between them, and hauled in the pass. Without Pinkard’s performance against JMU, Old Dominion wouldn’t have been in position to win at the end.
2. Antonio Vaughan, 41-14 win over Campbell: The season-opener was the first game action for all the redshirt freshmen that sat out the 2010 season. Vaughan wasted no time making an impact; ODU’s first offensive play from scrimmage was a quick pass he caught and ran for 43 yards. Vaughan was the star of the game, accounting for 191 all-purpose yards along with two total touchdowns. This set the tone for his performance this year, as he finished second behind only Goodwyn with 960 total yards from scrimmage.
Best Individual Performances – Defense
|Arain (6) played his best game of the season against UMass.|
|Cameron (96) and Wilkins (12) led Old Dominion's defense this season.|
After the Monarchs scored on a fourth-quarter blocked punt to take a 38-34 lead over the Pirates, Hampton took over at its own 40 with 6:41 remaining. Legree completed a short pass to Isiah Thomas; McClam chased down Thomas eight yards past the line of scrimmage and forced a fumble on the tackle. Paul Morant recovered the ball at midfield, but ODU’s drive stalled after three plays. Following a punt, Hampton took over again at its own 17; McClam sacked Legree on first down, and Cameron recovered the ball at the Hampton 10. Two plays later, ODU scored a touchdown to stake a 45-34 lead.
While Wilkins led the team in tackles that day, it was McClam who came up big in the fourth quarter to secure the win. The senior finished with six tackles along with the two sacks and two forced fumbles.
Best Special Teams Performances
For this category, it’s too difficult to list one player per game. The term “special teams” has the word “team” in the description, and as we’ll see, several players came up big in games in kicking situations.
|Old Dominion's punting unit was key to its success in 2011.|
First Team All-CAA punter Jonathan Plisco punted thrice for a 47.0 average, with a long of 59 yards. DeMarco punted twice on fourth down, and both attempts were downed inside Hampton’s 20.
A subtle coaching strategy on kickoffs also deserves special recognition. The Minutemen brought eventual First Team All-CAA kick returner Jesse Julmiste into Norfolk. In earlier games against Campbell, Hampton and Delaware, poor kickoff coverage resulted in long returns. The coaches therefore directed Jarod Brown to intentionally kick towards an up-man rather than kicking long to Julmiste. The strategy worked – on ODU’s seven kickoffs, Julmiste had only two returns for 46 yards, while Chase Danska had five returns for 51 yards. Danska finished with only six other returns during the season.
The Monarchs also recovered an onsides kick early in the game after its first score. Plisco punted four times for an average of 45.0 yards per attempt.
2. 27-17 loss to Delaware: This game would have been ranked #1 had it not been for one kickoff return. Old Dominion took a 17-16 lead in the fourth quarter, unexpectedly hanging with the 2010 FCS national runners-up. But then Delaware returned the subsequent kickoff 60 yards to ODU’s 32 yard line; Tim Donnelly threw a touchdown pass on the next play, and the Monarchs couldn’t recover.
But special teams played a part in putting ODU into position to even be competitive in the fourth quarter. In the first quarter, the Monarch punt-rush squad forced Delaware’s punter to rush his kick and he fumbled the ball; ODU recovered the ball and scored a touchdown. For much of the game this was the only Monarch touchdown. Later in the first quarter, the Blue Hens attempted a field goal, which Chris Burnette blocked to prevent a score.
|Plisco converted this fourth-quarter fake punt into a first down.|
Down by one field goal, the Dukes were able to drive into field goal position and stopped the clock with time for one last field goal attempt. Immediately after the sound of JMU’s kicker making contact with the ball came another thump – the sound of Wilkins’ hand getting a piece of the FG attempt. The ball had enough momentum to eventually wander towards the end zone, but it had no chance of splitting the uprights after Wilkins blocked it. Old Dominion’s special teams had a direct impact on the outcome of this game, down to the final play.
Games Whose Outcomes Don’t Get Enough Recognition
The results of two games in the middle of the season didn’t get as much attention as others, but should have.
31-23 win over Rhode Island. On the first weekend of October, ODU defeated UMass for its first conference win. It also lost the only starting quarterback it had ever known. Although Taylor Heinicke played well in one half against the Minutemen, the true freshman was making his first career start at Rhode Island.
Down 14-7 late in the first half, Heinicke found Larry Pinkard for a seven-yard touchdown with 22 seconds remaining. The Rams took a six-point lead early in the third quarter and the lead changed three more times thereafter. Eriq Lewis sealed the win with an interception on URI’s last pass of the game.
Despite getting outgained 313-297, the Monarchs won the turnover battle with two INT’s on the day. While it would be understood if the coaches altered the game plan to compensate for any first-start jitters Heinicke may have had, he still attempted 32 passes; the team did not deviate drastically from its passing attack.
Heinicke’s first start resulted in the team’s first conference road win. It gave him and other players a boost of confidence that they could win on the road in the CAA.
37-14 win over Villanova. On Homecoming weekend in October at home, Old Dominion lost in heart-breaking fashion against Towson. Up next for the Monarchs was a talented-but-vastly-inexperienced Villanova team. It would be understandable for the Monarchs to have come out deflated against the Wildcats.
|Let this be the last time the Towson game is referenced.|
Simply put, the Monarchs did not let the loss to Towson define their season. The following week was the Oyster Bowl against JMU, which got considerably more attention than the Monarchs’ win over Villanova. Nevertheless, the ability to depart Philadelphia with a convincing “W” immediately after the Towson game showed the resiliency of the squad.
Most Impactful Freshman
3. Larry Pinkard, wide receiver. Pinkard finished behind fellow freshman Vaughan in both receptions (37 to 47) and receiving yards (488 to 520). But Pinkard finished tied with running back Angus Harper for most total touchdowns with ten (nine receiving, one on the blocked punt). Said another way, one of every four of his receptions went for a touchdown. Pinkard seemed to pick up his game midway through the season, which coincided with Heinicke’s assumption of the starter’s role. For these reasons, we’re going with Pinkard.
1. Taylor Heinicke, quarterback. The freshman was recently awarded College Football Performance Award’s National Performer of the Year; it was the first time a freshman received the award. He was named to the Third Team All-CAA as quarterback. He had 25 touchdowns against one interception, which came at the end of the loss to Towson. The young man just has “it.”
Best Individual Moment
This is not meant to identify a specific play necessarily; there are various moments that occur throughout games that help define seasons. Sometimes the moments are bigger than the plays themselves.
5. Old Dominion taking a 17-16 lead at Delaware. A team that had played 25 game in its entire existence went on the road to play the previous year’s national runners-up in its first-ever conference game. On the touchdown, DeMarco scrambled first to his left and then to his right to complete a touchdown pass to Antonio Vaughan. The extra point gave ODU the lead and put the rest of the conference on notice. Win or lose (and the team DID lose), this moment was proof to the team that they could already compete with the conference’s best programs.
|Old Dominion's front seven held Delaware to only 80 rushing yards on 38 carries, keeping the team in the game into the fourth quarter.|
4. Pinkard’s second touchdown against JMU. We thought Heinicke was just throwing it up for grabs to avoid a sack around the 40 yard line. Instead, Pinkard came away with the catch against two JMU defenders.
|Larry Pinkard caught this pass for an unbelievable touchdown on fourth down. (PHOTO CREDITED TO STEPHEN M. KATZ OF THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT)|
|Heinicke, his arm and his elusiveness took ODU's offense to a different level from the very start.|
And there we have it! With 2011 in the books, we now focus on the future. Once basketball season is over, there are a couple things lined up to post. How does ODU match up against the rest of the conference? How will departures and additions impact the Monarchs? Can I really attend all eleven regular season (and any subsequent playoff) games?
2011 was a memorable season for the Old Dominion Univeresity Monarhcs. But with less than ten players graduating, 2012 should be even better.