The offense moves fast. Real fast. Blink and you’ll miss it. Or, more accurately, blink and you’ll miss Old Domicnion quarterback Taylor Heinicke slinging passes across the field, engineering arguably the most prolific attack in college football.
Last season, Heinicke, who won the Walter Payton Award as the best player in the Football Championship Subdivision, set an NCAA Division I record with 730 yards passing against New Hampshire. For comparison, just six teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, into which the Monarchs are transitioning, had more total yards in a game last season. Only eight teams came within 200 passing yards of that total, and since 2008 only one team (West Virginia) managed at least 600 yards passing in a single game.
“I’ve worked with a bunch of different people, quarterback training in the offseason, played against Joe Flacco in the CAA, and in person he’s the most talented quarterback I’ve ever seen, as far as mentally and physically,” Old Dominion quarterbacks coach Ron Whitcomb said in a telephone interview. “He’s like the Russell Wilson-type people are seeing now. He’s making every throw, doing it with his legs, can handle everything mentally off the field. He’s just the total package.”
To avoid an upset on Saturday afternoon at Byrd Stadium, Maryland must contain Heinicke and Old Dominion’s high-percentage offense. Last season, the Monarchs averaged 81.2 plays per game and 21.2 seconds per play. The Terps averaged just 64.7 plays per game and 29.1 seconds per play, despite running a no-huddle offense. Simply put, Old Dominion works quick.
Practicing against a spread offense every day may help Maryland’s secondary replicate Heinicke’s tendencies, but it’s difficult to simulate just how fast the Monarchs will move. Florida International went no-huddle at times last week, too, so the Terps hope that’s enough. The potential for penalties, however, may cause a problem. East Carolina, which beat Old Dominion 52-38 last week, was flagged twice for delay-of-game infractions on defense.
“If you go try to sub people, then they’ll really go faster,” Maryland Coach Randy Edsall said Tuesday. “If they don’t substitute anybody, they can go as fast as they want. Now, if they bring somebody on the field, they have to give us a chance to substitute somebody in there, so they have to be able to hold the ball there so we can make an adjustment. A lot of times they don’t do that.”
The prospect of a naked or one-man backfield, however, has Maryland’s linebackers licking their chops. Outside blitzers like Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil and Marcus Whitfield thrive in one-on-one scenarios against bulkier, less agile offensive lineman, and know penetration is key to disrupting Heinicke’s timing. Old Dominion’s offense places the onus to audible on Heinicke, who checks roughly 15 percent of the time at the line of scrimmage. Get him comfortable and the yardage piles up. Just ask New Hampshire.
“They passed the ball I think 50-plus times last game, so it’s definitely the quick passes that will bother us,” Whitfield said. “We have to get our hands up. … When he rolls out, he has a better chance of extending the play, so we have to stop the play as soon as possible. With that type of offense, you definitely need to pass rush. Get it he quarterback’s face. That’s what we’ll try to do, pass rush and get the ball out of his hands as soon as possible.”
Said Cudjoe-Virgil, who nearly committed to Old Dominion out of high school: “Since they’re a high-tempo offense, by going against a no-huddle in practice, it gets us in shape. This week is going to be a lot about conditioning for us, because we’re going to be on the field a lot, especially me pass-rushing all the time. Just getting more reps, running to the football, trying to work out conditioning every day.”