Date: Saturday September 29, 2018
Kickoff Time: 3:30 p.m. EST
Location: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville, NC
Line: East Carolina -7, O/U 62
Series Record: East Carolina leads 4-3-1
Last Meeting: East Carolina won 52-38 in 2013, in their first meeting since 1940.
A week ago, we didn’t run a preview of the Old Dominion/Virginia Tech game. Underdog Dynasty covers a lot of teams— with a few exceptions, most of the Group of Five, plus some FCS— and we admit that with the way the Monarchs started their season, priorities were elsewhere. Every week we strive to give the best coverage possible, but I think we can all agree, that no one— not press, not even Old Dominion alumni— saw this one coming.
Congratulations to the Monarchs. You deserve this one. But it’s back to work for next Saturday.
Outlook — Old Dominion Monarchs
That QB Though
Through three losses, including a 28-25 heartbreaker to Charlotte, Monarchs QB Steven Williams racked up 41 completions on 81 attempts, amassing 507 passing yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Backup quarterback Blake LaRussa saw some limited playing time in week one and two, but his numbers during that Virginia Tech game entirely eclipsed Williams’ entire season— 30 for 49 passing, 495 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions. He finished the game with an 82.7 quarterback rating and averaged 10.1 yards a pass. Prior to last weekend, LaRussa had attempted six passes all season. After last weekend, their 2018 numbers look like this:
This is insane, and while one could make the argument that a team never prepares for the opposition’s backup, the Monarch offense still played a complete game, and this was supposed to be a Power Five team on the field. Instead, both teams were on that level for four quarters.
Whether LaRussa just had an unusually good day, or is in fact Superman, is a question that will have to wait at least through the weekend. But what we can say for sure is that over the first four games, the Monarchs... aren’t bad.
Jeremy Cox remains the top running back, contributing 130 yards on 20 carries against the Hokies, bringing his total to 253 for the season, with two touchdowns. Better play calling, or just a newfound energy, made all the difference.
Top receiver Jonathan Duhart is head and shoulders at the top of the WR stat line, standing currently at 502 yards on 26 receptions, for an average of 29.3 yards a catch. Despite the large gap between Duhart and the next WR down the list, Travis Fulgham (14 catches, 252 yards), they were neck and neck during the Virginia Tech game: Fulgham with nine receptions, 188 yards and one touchdown, and Duhart with nine receptions, 142 yards, three touchdowns.
This change of game plan, either by design or by necessity, made all the difference. And they’ll have to keep it up because, outside of these players, this roster isn’t very deep— at this point in the season, ODU’s second leader rusher is Williams (only 84 total yards this season) and their third leading receiver is Isaiah Harper with a distant 15 receptions and 115 yards.
Last Saturday, somehow, beyond reason, all this was enough against the Hokies of Virginia Tech. This Saturday, we’ll find out if it can do the same to the Pirates.
Outlook — East Carolina Pirates
What a perfect time to meet another team in flux.
Without the big splash of a win against a ranked opponent, the Pirates are nevertheless pulling it together at this point in the season. A collective groan went up from Greenville when they lost their opener to North Carolina A&T out of the FCS, but then they came roaring right back the next week and took down the North Carolina Tar Heels, upsetting the natural order of North Carolina football in the span of two weeks.
Ironically, the Pirates had a game scheduled against Virginia Tech in week three, but after the hurricane-induced cancellation, ECU had to make do with a close, gutpunch of a loss to South Florida, 20-13 (despite the Pirates gaining more yards in both the air and on the ground).
“Bring me that horizon”
All this brings us to this Saturday, as the Pirates seem to be rested and ready. Much like the Monarchs, they’ve shaken off those shaky first few weeks, and seem poised to earn redemption as they prepare for their final non-conference game.
As a team, the Pirates look solid. In addition to out-gaining and out-throwing the Bulls last week, they were also statistically better than North Carolina A&T through the air, with QB Reid Herring outpassing the Aggie QB 314 yards to 187 yards.
The ground game was a huge problem that day, and it looks like the Pirates have shored up that issue at least partially, rushing for 156 yards last week, led by Holton Ahlers with 48 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
These numbers won’t light the world on fire, but you can do a lot with a smart quarterback play and great receivers. It’s the coaching staff that will have to be careful on clock management and play it smart. At least, smarter than the Monarchs.
After watching the Pirates thundering against South Florida a week ago, and the Monarchs shocking the world against the Hokies, the prediction is this is going to be a fun game, and everyone should be eager to watch these two quarterbacks take the field again, particularly against each other.
While it’s tough to pick either team to lose at this point, and the Monarchs’ defense has been non-existent, if LaRussa puts up passing numbers like that again, the Pirates are getting shredded. If not, let’s face it, the Pirates are the more complete team.
Final Score: Old Dominion 35, East Carolina 31