So close, yet so far away from a bowl berth. That is the story of the 2015 Old Dominion Monarchs. They finished the season at 5-7, one game away from becoming bowl eligible.
Let's take a look back at Old Dominion's 2015 season and whether it was a move forward or a step back.
You could never expect the offense to pick up from the 2014 season with Taylor Heinicke and put up the same numbers. With a freshman quarterback, Shular Bentley, and a young team overall, expectations had to be tempered.
The Ray Lawry went out and ran for 200+ yards in each of the first two games of the season. The sophomore running back had an excellent season in rushing for 1,136 yards and 11 touchdowns, but found running lanes much harder to find as the season progressed. Jeremy Cox, a freshman, came on as the season progressed and became a solid option at running back. Cox rushed for 369 yards and caught 20 passes.
The passing game was another story all together. Bentley struggled significantly throughout his first year behind center with a completion rate of only 52%. Quarterback to wide receiver and back to quarterback David Washington saw action in place of Bentley and put up impressive statistics, though several of his passing yards came versus lower quality opponents. Washington is injured his knee, giving the job back to Bentley to end the season.
Bentley did look better in his late season game action, but could not quite lift the Monarchs over FAU in the season finale.
One thing that did become evident quickly with the passing game is the talent of Zach Pascal and Jonathan Duhart. The duo was responsible for 115 of the 235 receptions on the season, as well as 1,606 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. Along with Lawry and Bentley, these two are back for the 2016 season, so we should expect the Monarchs offense to take a step forward next fall.
You can blame the offense for not scoring enough points to get to 6-6 this season, but the defense did not hold up its end of the bargain. The Monarchs were routed for 35.8 points per game, including 38 by NC State, 49 by Appalachian State, 55 by WKU, 56 by Southern Miss, and 34 by FBS newbie Charlotte.
Yes, it was bad, but it is not all doom and gloom for the Monarchs defense. They have some talent with T.J. Ricks earned second team All-CUSA honors with a team-high 123 tackles, 5.5 tfl, and 2.5 sacks from his linebacker position. Freshman Oshane Ximines led the team with 7.5 tackles for loss and looks to be a player to watch moving foward.
The Old Dominion defense also has eight of the top ten tacklers from 2015 returning for the 2016 season, including 18 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. As with the offense, it was a rough season, but the future looks bright for the Monarchs defense moving forward.
Special Teams: B
Other than a disappointing punt coverage team, the Old Dominion special teams were solid in 2015. First, let's talk about the punt team. Satchel Ziffer punted 61 times with 25 of those punts returned on the year. Of those 25, one was returned for a touchdown and the Monarchs gave up 9.4 yards per return on average.
The kickoff team was much better despite only earning one touchback on 53 possible kickoffs. The Monarchs only gave up 19.9 yards per kick return, compared to averaging 21.1 yards per kick return of their own.
Finally, kicker Chris Kirtley was quite impressive in field goal duty despite being only a freshman. He hit 10-13 attempts, including 4-5 from 40+ yards. Considering the fact that he is only a freshman, he should be among CUSA's best very soon.
Like I said earlier, Old Dominion could not have been expected to be as good on offense as they were in 2015. They were one of the teams heading into the year that no one really knew what to expect from. It was a very up and down season for the Monarchs, but they had a chance to go bowling in the season finale and could not get the win.
Ray Lawry. With the passing game all kinds of messed up, Lawry was able to keep the sticks moving with his ability to carry the ball. He was awarded with second team All-CUSA honors for his play, and should be among the best rushers in all of the group of five headed into the 2016 season.
There are lots of bright spots for a team that just finished its second FBS year, first as a bowl eligible team. The Monarchs only lose ten seniors from this squard, and return the majority of their skill position players. It would not surprise me to see Old Dominion making their first FBS bowl berth in 2016.