Old Dominion hosts Southern Miss Saturday as the Golden Eagles look to get back on track and most importantly, back in the win column after stumbling of late. The Monarchs last week made school history as they became bowl eligible with a big win for the program over Marshall.
Old Dominion and Southern Miss met for the first time last season in Hattiesburg, with the Golden Eagles coming out on top 56-31. ODU took a 31-21 lead midway through the third quarter on a 64-yard touchdown from Jonathan Duhart, but Southern Miss scored the games final 35 points to pull away for the win. There was no doubt ODU was a program on the rise in the conference, and with 17 starters returning, they have lived up to the expectations.
The Monarchs are in a unique position because they the 17th most experienced player's returning in the nation, but have only 4 seniors. Despite their experience now, the future continues to look very bright for Bobby Wilder's team.
Sitting at 6-3, ODU comes into the game against Southern Miss on a two game win streak. They started the season with win in a big way over Hampton, then took two on the chin against non conference opponents before winning three in a row to start the conference season. A big game against Western Kentucky saw them fall flat and lose 59-24 to the Hilltoppers, but since then they've rebounded to win at UTEP and against Marshall.
Coach Bobby Wilder leads his team that has seemingly improved every week this season. The Monarchs present a difficult match-up for the Eagles in the way they are very versatile on offense, and the speed in the back field is a big concern.
They run an offense very similar to Charlotte, a read option that is full of QB runs and misdirection plays. RB Ray Lawry has a nice blend of speed and size. Though not as big as Kaliff Phillips, he certainly can make people miss while also being a durable back. Last week, he was the offensive MVP for Old Dominion by rushing for 209 yards on 27 carries. It was the 4th time he's eclipsed the 100 yard mark this season.
QB David Washington completed 16 of 27 for 199 yards in the win over Marshall last week, but he really didn't have to do much with the way they were running the ball. His strength as a QB is certainly in his athletic ability, but he has shown he can make a play through the air when needed. He's a senior who is the leader of this team, and he's really developed as a complete quarterback that can give a defense a lot of looks.
They return four starters at the wide receiver position, so there is no lack of experience there. WR - Zach Pascal, WR - Jonathan Duhart, WR - Marques Little WR, and Eri’Reon Hayes all come back, with Pascal being the most sure handed receiver on the roster.
On the offensive line, Old Dominion averages a line that is tall (6'4) on average, and 298lbs. They move well and have a lot of quickness, and play their best football in the second half. ODU has won several games this season in the 4th quarter, and the up-tempo offense has had its effect on the opposing defenses.
Southern Miss will have to do everything it can to prevent the big play capability of the Monarchs. That is a huge concern going in, because the Eagles have given up explosive plays on a routine basis the past few games in a row. The misdirection and speed in the backfield for ODU is certainly a concern.
On defense, ODU has played better as the season has worn on. Last week, they held Marshall to just 214 yards of total offense, the fewest ODU has given up to an FBS opponent. The 10 first downs allowed are also the fewest given up. This was the first game this season the defense did not force a turnover.
Sophomore defensive end Oshane Ximines notched three tackles and two sacks to give him 4.5 sacks on the year. He's a handful and they will move him around to allow him to make plays. He's the guy on the defensive line the Eagles have to account for with every snap.
Linebacker TJ Ricks passed Fellonte Misher for second on ODU’s career tackle charts with 291. Ricks is 49 tackles away from tying leader Craig Wilkins, who has 340 career stops.
This is going to be a battle for Southern Miss. Last year, the Monarchs stayed with the Eagles early, before USM's talent and speed took over. This is a Southern Miss team that is coming in very fragile after some disheartening performances. They are going to be in a stadium that has sold out all 52 games since starting at the FBS level in 2009. This week is no different, and with the chance to take down a program like USM, they will have a lively crowd.
The Golden Eagles are certainly capable. They have all the talent they need to go up to Norfolk, Virginia and win. Perhaps, last weekend was rock bottom for the Eagles and they will fight their way up. This game Saturday will tell the tale if USM will come out fighting, or if things just won't be figured out this season.
Old Dominion takes on Southern Miss Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. on the American Sports Network.