FACTS & STATS: Site: Foreman Field (19,818) — Norfolk, Virginia. Television:
FS1. Home Record: Middle Tennessee 2-0, Old Dominion 2-0. Away Record: Middle
Tennessee 0-2, Old Dominion 1-1. Neutral Record: Middle Tennessee 0-0, Old
Dominion 0-0. Conference Record: Middle Tennessee 1-0, Old Dominion 1-0.
Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: After winning their first-ever Conference USA matchup last weekend
against defending C-USA champion Rice, the Old Dominion Monarchs will return
home to square off against another new conference foe, the Middle Tennessee
Blue Raiders, at Foreman Field in Virginia.
Middle Tennessee is known for an explosive offense, which was not on display
last weekend in a 36-17 loss to Memphis – a former conference rival. The Blue
Raiders, in two wins this season, have scored a combined 111 points. But both
of the team’s losses have come on the road.
Old Dominion elevated to the FBS level full-time following last season’s mixed
schedule of FCS and FBS opponents, and has fared well so far this season in
four games played. The Monarchs took down Rice, 45-42, last weekend behind a
standout performance from quarterback Taylor Heinicke. ODU is 2-0 at home, and
has lost just once this season to NC State.
Since this is the first season for Old Dominion at the FBS level, the Monarchs
are a fresh new program for most FBS squads on the team’s schedule. This will
be the first time the new Conference USA foes clash on the field in history.
Memphis got the scoring started early against Middle Tennessee last weekend,
and kept the pressure on for a large part of the first half. There wasn’t much
the Blue Raiders could do offensively to keep up. Quarterback Austin Grammer
struggled, tossing 237 yards and an interception in the loss. He also had a
fumble that was returned for a Memphis touchdown in the fourth quarter. As a
unit this season, the Blue Raiders are averaging 250.2 passing ypg, but have
thrown for just three touchdowns in four games.
Reggie Whatley ran for 41 yards to lead the Blue Raiders, and Shane Tucker got
a pair of touchdown carries in the contest. Whatley has gotten the majority of
work in the backfield this season, which has been very active through four
games. Whatley has rushed for 264 yards and two touchdowns, while Tucker has
scampered for four scores in as many games. Overall this season, the Blue
Raiders have shown their ability to run the football with ease, gaining 207.2
rushing ypg with 15 rushing scores through four weeks.
Grammer’s dual-threat ability has to be watched. The quarterback carried a
team-high 11 times in last Saturday’s loss to Memphis and completed a healthy
majority of his pass attempts as well. Demetrius Frazier was on the receiving
end of seven passes last weekend, while Marcus Henry caught five balls. Henry
leads the team with 230 receiving yards and a touchdown this season.
Although the running game has been a big factor this season, it was heavily
outmatched against Memphis’ powerful rushing attack. The Tigers were able to
rack up 261 yards on the ground, and 480 combined offensive yards. Opponents
are averaging 444.5 ypg against the Blue Raiders in four games, and 31.3 ppg.
Linebacker T.T. Barber has been a force for Middle Tennessee so far, and was
just that in Saturday’s game. Barber registered nine tackles and had two
tackles for loss in the team’s defeat. Through four games, Barber leads the
team with 36 stops and has four tackles for loss. Fellow linebacker Trey
Wafford is second on the squad with 23 tackles, and has registered a fumble
recovery, a quarterback hurry and a tackle for loss.
Typically Old Dominion’s offense revolves around the quarterback Heinicke. The
senior, who won the Walter Payton Award as the FCS’ most outstanding player
two seasons ago, was sensational in the team’s narrow win over Rice. Heinicke
completed 27-of-43 passing for 430 yards and five touchdowns with no
interceptions. In four games, Heinicke has 1,172 passing yards with 10
touchdown tosses. He added a rushing score and 36 yards on the ground in the
win over the Owls.
Gerard Johnson and Ray Lawry make up a two-headed beast out of the backfield
for the Monarchs. Johnson led the team with 50 yards on the ground and a team-
high 10 carries, while Lawry dashed for just 11 yards on his only carry. The
tandem has typically been effective, with Johnson gaining 332 rushing yards so
far this season. Lawry has four rushing scores through four games.
Heinicke’s top receivers were on point once again this past weekend. Zach
Pascal caught a team-high six passes for 111 yards and a touchdown, while
Antonio Vaughan hauled in five balls for 76 yards and two touchdowns. Melvin
Vaughn and Nick England each had a touchdown reception in the win.
Old Dominion may have a stellar offense, but the team won’t be able to sustain
much success if the defense can’t keep up. The team surrendered 42 points to
Rice, and has allowed 119 points to opponents in four games (29.8 ppg), and
gave up 526 total offensive yards to the Owls over the weekend. Rice even had
more first downs (30) than Old Dominion (25) in the Monarchs’ win. Going
against a strong Middle Tennessee offensive attack may pose more problems for
the shaky defense, which was led by safety Fellonte Misher on Saturday (seven
tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass breakup).
This will undoubtedly be a matchup featuring two strong offenses going head
to head, but the homefield advantage certainly favors Old Dominion in this
one. The Monarchs may be new to the FBS level full-time, but they’ve come
ready to play and compete for a shot at the postseason. Away from home, the
Blue Raiders have surrendered 71 points in two losses.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Old Dominion 38, Middle Tennessee 34