The University of Richmond and Old Dominion University started their respective football seasons in a similar manner. The Monarchs went undefeated in their out of conference slate against Campbell, Georgia State and Hampton. The Spiders also beat three OOC teams, including a win over Duke University – the program’s third consecutive win over the Blue Devils spanning six years.
However, the teams have experienced drastically different results in conference play. The Monarchs have won four of five CAA games following a loss in its conference-opener against Delaware. Old Dominion comes into the game following its thrilling win over James Madison Saturday. Meanwhile the Spiders are winless in their five conference games, including a 28-7 loss Saturday against Massachusetts.
Old Dominion’s head coach Bobby Wilder has already referred to this Spiders squad as the best team on a five-game losing streak he has seen, and that’s not hyperbole. Of its five losses, Richmond has suffered heartbreakers against #9 New Hampshire (by two points), #14 Towson (by a field goal as time expired) and #7 Maine (by one point). Put another way, Richmond has lost to the top three CAA teams by a total of six points.
The game features two pass-oriented offenses with fantastic quarterbacks and receivers on both sides. Aaron Corp, who answered questions for a feature article with the Zone, has caught the attention of numerous NFL scouts. The redshirt senior is fifth in the CAA in passer efficiency rating (134.5) to go with 1,980 yards and 12 touchdowns. (Corp did leave the game against UMass early with a hip injury, but is expected to play at the time of this article.)
Meanwhile ODU is led by Taylor Heinicke, a true freshman who was recently added to the Jerry Rice Award Watchlist; the inaugural award will be granted to the outstanding freshman within the FCS. Heinicke has several options at receiver, as six different Monarchs have between 20 and 36 receptions. Nick Mayers leads the team in receptions (36) and yards (459) while Larry Pinkard leads the team with six touchdown catches.
There are three areas that will determine the outcome of this game – Richmond’s passing attack, the red zone effectiveness of both teams, and Old Dominion’s special teams.
Richmond’s Passing Attack
The Spiders’ offense is second in the CAA with 261 passing yards per game. Corp’s favorite target has been All-CAA Preseason Receiver Tre Gray. The outstanding senior from Cuero, Texas, leads the CAA in both receptions (70) and yards (916) while contributing three touchdowns. Three other Spiders have at least 22 receptions – Stephen Barnette (25), Ben Edwards (24) and Kevin Finney (22). Barnette and Edwards have contributed four touchdowns apiece.
Meanwhile Old Dominion’s defense is tenth in the CAA with allowing 240 yards passing per game. Their secondary is the youngest unit of the team, featuring several underclassmen without a senior on the roster. To exploit ODU’s young secondary, Corp will need the best performance from his offensive line this season. Richmond is tenth in the league in sacks allowed (26) while Old Dominion’s defense is first in sacks recorded (32). Ronnie Cameron leads ODU with 6.5 sacks; eight different Monarchs have at least two sacks.
Red Zone Effectiveness
The game features the top two red zone offenses in the CAA: Old Dominion has scored on 89% of its red zone possessions while Richmond follows closely with an 87% conversion rate. This is not a surprise given the accuracy of the teams’ quarterbacks (69% completion for Heinicke, 65% for Corp).
For Richmond to keep pace with ODU’s offense, its defense must continue to excel in the red zone. While the Monarchs are sixth defensively in the CAA by allowing opponents to score on 83% of their red zone possessions, Richmond is first in the conference by surrendering scores on only 66% of such possessions. Considering ODU leads the conference in scoring at 35 points per game, Richmond must continue its stellar red zone defense and prevent scores when ODU does reach inside the Spiders’ 20 yard line.
Old Dominion’s Special Teams
This season, the Monarchs have blocked six kicks, recovered two onsides kick attempts and converted two fake punts. Such dominance on special teams has been critical in their victories over Hampton, Massachusetts and James Madison. The importance of special teams is not limited to such dramatic plays; junior Jonathan Plisco leads the CAA in punting average (46.3 yards/attempt) and frequently shifts field position for the team. It is pertinent for Richmond to prevent “trick plays” on special teams as well as to negate long punts with solid returns.
Follow Joe on Twitter for updates throughout Saturday’s game between the Spiders and the Monarchs.
CAAZone.com Editor Ed Sheahin will be at the game on the sidelines taking photos for the CAAZone portfolio. Ed will tweet any on the field happenings as they occur. You can follow Ed Sheahin on twitter @NFLSkins.