Old Dominion’s work week began last Tuesday at 6:45 a.m., with a players-only meeting before practice. Pulses were taken and gripes aired, with memories of the Villanova fiasco still fresh. The result was a Zagat-rated win at Towson and a bounce into the final month of the season.
Players chose not to share details of the meeting with media gerbils, but ODU coach Bobby Wilder offered a bit of insight: “It’s really hard in this league to get up for every game every week. It’s challenging, it’s hard to do. I don’t think any of us, me included as the head coach, were as ready to go last weekend (versus Villanova) as we needed to be.”
He concluded: “They certainly took the approach this week like, we’re going to come in here ready to play and the start of the game really showed that, and the way we progressed throughout the game. Proud of them.”
Plenty of ripples in Week 8 of the Association, which saw tightening of the conference race before the inevitable separation. Everybody has at least one conference loss. The top seven teams are within one league loss. Three teams have six overall wins, three others have five.
Richmond caused the biggest ripple, knocking off league-leading and overvalued James Madison 35-29 behind its backup quarterback and what’s becoming a typically resourceful performance by its defense.
New Hampshire defeated Maine 28-21 in the 100th meeting between the teams and the annual duel between New England coaches/sorcerers Sean McDonnell and Jack Cosgrove.
Delaware and Villanova predictably extended the anguish of the Conference Wafflers and the Fighting Currys, respectively. The Blue Hens dusted Rhody 47-24, and ‘Nova zipped through 2 1/2 quarters before taking its foot off the gas in a 49-24 win at the Georgia Dome.
William and Mary was idle, as were Northeastern and Hofstra.
ODU’s fast start in both halves and some combination of improved play from its punching bag defense and Towson’s self-inflicted wounds provided a working margin and a comfortable cushion in the 31-20 decision.
ODU (6-1, 3-1 CAA) quarterback Taylor Heinicke, a mere mortal in the Villanova loss, didn’t log big numbers (264 yards passing, 71 rushing). But he managed the game, avoided pressure and distributed the ball efficiently.
Wilder needled his QB in the post-game. He recited Heinicke’s passing stats out loud – 26-for-39 for 264 yards, turned to him and said, “Did you just play the first half?”
Towson, playing without star running back Terrance West (death in the family), found a 31-6 hole too steep to climb. The Tigers gave ODU extra possessions with turnovers. They came up empty twice in the red zone in the second half and failed to convert two fourth-down chances – one in the end zone in the fourth quarter as they tried to make it a one-score game.
Coach Rob Ambrose pointed to mistakes as a recurring theme for his team, which already has lost more games than all of last season (games against LSU and Kent State don’t help the record). Last year, when the Tigers (3-4, 2-2 CAA) won the league title, they were plus-8 in turnover margin. Through seven games this season, they are minus-9.
Richmond (5-3, 3-2 CAA) recorded what coach Danny Rocco called a “signature win” against JMU. Quarterback Michael Strauss, making his first start in place of shelved John Laub, threw for 271 yards and four touchdowns. Strauss and skill-position players Kendall Gaskins, Stephen Barnette and Kevin Finney racked up 35 points and 441 yards against a JMU defense that came in allowing 15.8 points and 309.2 yards per game.
“We never did play a lick of defense the whole game,” JMU kvetchmeister Mickey Matthews griped to reporters afterward. “We were just kind of hanging out, waiting for someone to give us something.”
JMU (5-2, 3-1 CAA) might not have a quarterback controversy – more like quarterback questions. Matthews replaced starter Justin Thorpe after he threw two interceptions in the first half. Freshman Michael Birdsong played well in the second half.
The Dukes, who came in ranked No. 2 in the nation, totaled 526 yards. They scrambled for two late touchdowns, then recovered an onside kick to give themselves one more desperation chance that UR batted down in the end zone.
UNH retained the coveted antique firearm after beating Maine for the ninth time in the last 10 meetings of their rivalry. Pity. Not that New Hampshire won, but the stakes. Two such potent wizards shouldn’t compete for a musket, but for the fabled Wand of Zolgamesh or a year’s use of the Dragon of Carpanzi.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The fact that McDonnell and Cosgrove field quality football programs in places where they have no business doing so involves forces beyond our meager understanding.
That said, you’d think that the Black Bears would be consistently more powerful, given that Mainer Stephen King is a fan. Goes to show how cagey King and Cosgrove are. If the Black Bears won titles regularly, the NCAA no doubt would step in and outlaw the kind of sorcery they practice.
As for the football, UNH spotted Maine a 14-0 lead and then scored the next 28 points. The killer was two touchdowns in the final minute of the first half. The tying touchdown came at the end of a long drive. The go-ahead score came after Alan Buzbee intercepted Maine’s Marcus Wasilewski and returned it to the 1-yard line.
Villanova (6-2, 4-1 CAA) scored five touchdowns in a 19-minute span of the first and second quarters. The Wildcats rushed for 349 yards, with back Kevin Monangai going for 130. They also had a pick-six from Eric Loper and a punt return for a touchdown from the wonderfully named Poppy Livers.
The Currys suffered further anguish when lead back Donald Russell suffered a left knee injury in the first quarter. He was diagnosed with a strained MCL and a 4-6 week recovery time, which likely ends his season and college career.
Delaware (5-2, 2-2 CAA) honored its 1972 national championship team as part of homecoming festivities in Newark. After K.C. Keeler’s impassioned pre-game speech, the Blue Hens promptly allowed Rhody to score first. The Rams were gracious guests afterward.
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