Me: There have been several startup programs recently with ODU, Charlotte, Georgia State, several others, South Alabama, none of these have been able to come close to ODU’s level of success. How have they been able to do it?
Harry: I think they scheduled smartly. First couple of years they scheduled some Division II’s. They didn’t schedule any CAA games that first year. They were playing rosters with limited scholarship teams so they had a chance to win. They brought in some junior college players; Thomas DeMarco, quarterback, was a JUCO transfer. The fact that, 20,000 seat stadium in a metropolitan area with 1.7 million people, no other teams here, Norfolk State is down the road, but it’s one of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas without a major sports team. I think people just realized there’s going to be a lot of interest. (Steve) McNair’s, their all-time leading wide receiver from Virginia Beach, he had offers from a lot of I-AA schools. He came here because he said he realized it was going to be popular here and he grew up here, and he was right. So they were able to recruit pretty well right off the bat too. But one of the big reasons, and Bobby Wilder will admit this, is the quarterbacks, DeMarco and Taylor Heinicke. Without those two guys you are talking about a very different team. Old Dominion I don’t think would have made the FCS playoffs last year if it wasn’t for Heinicke.
Me: ODU finally faced some FBS competition this year, Maryland and East Carolina already, and Pitt coming up in a couple of weeks. How do you think they’ve handled the step up in competition?
Harry: They played very well against East Carolina. The offense scored 38 points, that’s a pretty good showing. But their defense has been a question mark all year, and that’s kind of been an issue for them for 3 years in a row now, their defense. 2 years ago against Georgia Southern, I have forgotten what the score was, Bobby fired his defensive coordinator after the season because they gave up, I think 45 points, no 56 points. Then last year he fired his defensive coordinator again, actually he didn’t fire him he moved him to another part of the team and brought in another defensive coordinator after they gave up 4 unanswered touchdowns in the 4th quarter to Georgia Southern. So this year they have their 3rd defensive coordinator in 3 years. They lost most of their defensive starters, they are playing a lot of young guys. They just haven’t been very good. They held Albany to 10 points, but that’s Albany. Maryland scored 47, East Carolina 52, and the Citadel 58. I don’t think anyone would mistake Citadel for an offensive juggernaut. Their offensive line showed they can block I-A guys. Taylor Heinicke didn’t have a great day against Maryland, but he did against East Carolina. So, I think they’ve only played 2, they have 5 this year. So, we’ll see how they do against Pitt, Idaho, and UNC.
Me: In looking at the scores of the games, Maryland and Citadel, I don’t know what happened there, but then Howard, Albany, and even the ECU game it seemed like it was the ODU of 2012.
Harry: Except on defense. The Albany game was the first game they’ve really played well. Howard had 5 turnovers, and some of them were forced and some of them were unforced. Howard still had 465 offensive yards, which is a lot of yards given up to a lower level MEAC team. Against Maryland, Maryland just has better players, just everywhere. They (Maryland) played a dime package, and rushed 4 guys, 5 guys, and they managed to get pressure on Taylor Heinicke and his receivers just couldn’t get open. They just weren’t open all game. He had 3 interceptions. They just got crushed that game.
Me: Kind of an odd season for ODU this season, transitioning to FBS, and no chance for postseason play. What are the goals for the team, and has Coach Wilder and his staff had any issues trying to keep the team motivated and ready to go every week.
Harry: He says they haven’t had any issues, actually I’m not quite sure he would put it that way. He acknowledged from the start with no postseason play, he’s trying to make the 5 games against FBS teams 5 bowl games, but that only goes so far. It is a very strange season, when you’re playing Albany one week and 3 weeks later you’re at Pitt. They don’t have a great home schedule, Liberty’s the best game on the schedule, their last 2 games are against Rhode Island and Campbell. Albany, Rhode Island, Campbell, and Howard, I think those teams are just not going to be very competitive with ODU.
Me: 9 returning starters from an offense that last year was tops in the FCS in passing offense and total offense, what makes the offense tick?
Harry: They move so fast. They run a spread offense, and literally you’re writing down a play, and you look up and Heinicke’s already back passing. I can’t imagine what it’s like for coaches trying to defend against it. They just are really fast. The offense is very high tempo. They got really good wide receivers. That kind of offense attracts good wide receivers. They’ve got a really good offensive line; they’ve got 3 seniors who I think, 1 will get drafted, the 2 others, we’ll see, they’ll probably get a look. They’re really good up front. They got a great quarterback, good wide receivers. Their offense, it’s really simple, and they acknowledge they only run about 5 or 6 basic plays out of several formations, but they just wear you down.
Me: I was doing some research on Heinicke this Summer, I saw that he only had 1 football offer from ODU, how did they find him, what made them offer him?
Harry: Heinicke’s personal trainer was on a plane with a guy, Alonzo Brandon, Alonzo is ODU’s chief fundraiser. Heinicke’s personal trainer back in Atlanta told Alonzo about Heinicke. Alonzo tells Bobby Wilder. Wilder tells Ron Whitcomb, his quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator. So, they get some tape on Heinicke. They look at the tape, and they decide to offer him right away because they realize he doesn’t have any offers. Then Whitcomb flies to Atlanta to meet him, he looks at Taylor and says “Oh my gosh, am I going to get fired for offering this kid, he’s so short and so skinny.” He was like 5’10”, 5’11”, 170 pounds. He wound up getting other offers, Richmond, Georgia State, William & Mary, he ended up getting a lot offers late in the process after Old Dominion had already offered him. They were all I-AA offers. He broke all kinds of high school state records in Georgia for passing, but he just appeared to be too small. It hasn’t been an issue here. Now whether it would have been in the ACC or SEC that’s another story.
Me: We already spoke about the defense some, giving up around 50 points in 3 games, what is the key for the defense’s success?
Harry: There’s so many. Their defensive line, they competed pretty well Saturday, but they have just been getting blocked. They’re young, they lost 4 of their top 8 starters from last year and they weren’t great last year. They’re young, some of their guys are a little undersized, some of the junior college transfers they got. So, they’re challenged up front. But one of the things they keep saying, and when you watch film you see it, they’ve got guys like when they were facing the triple option against the Citadel, linebacker has a guy, cornerback has a guy, safety has a guy, so you all know who the guy is you cover. Let’s say you’re the cornerback and you don’t have the quarterback, you’ve got the pitch guy, but the quarterback breaks loose, so you run after him, and he pitches to the pitch guy, and he runs for 30 yards. Well, that happened a lot. They had guys who saw problems happening elsewhere, didn’t cover their assignment, and that’s been a problem for them all year. They did a better job against Albany, we’ll see how they do against Liberty.
They started a true freshman Saturday night at defensive end who hadn’t played before. (Coach Wilder) suspended two players last week, he announced it Saturday, 2 linebackers, and they’ve got 2 defensive lineman hurt. So he started 3 true freshman who had not played, played Saturday night for their defense. They’re really young.
They had problems on defense the last couple of years, but not like this year. They struggled in the FCS playoffs against Georgia Southern the last 2 years, but 2 years ago I think they held James Madison to 3 points in the 2nd half and won 23-10. Last year against Towson and James Madison, their defense really played well. It’s been spotty. Then against New Hampshire their defense gave up 61 points, and they won 64-61. The defense was inconsistent the last couple of years, this year the first 4 games they were consistently challenged. Then they played well against Albany, and we’ll just see how it goes.