William and Mary aims to slow down ODU in rivalry matchup

WILLIAMSBURG — The William and Mary brain trust's chief concerns about Old Dominion's offense are its talent, pace and productivity. Other than that, the Tribe has the Monarchs covered.

"They're their own breed o' cat," William and Mary defensive coordinator Scott Boone said. "They're unique to the league and to the teams we play."

ODU presents myriad challenges for the Tribe (2-7, 1-5 CAA) heading into Saturday's noon affair at S.B. Ballard Stadium.

The Monarchs (8-1, 5-1 CAA) are ranked fourth in both Football Championship Subdivision polls, owing largely to their go-go offense. They lead the nation in both scoring (45.6 ppg) and total offense (564.4 ypg).

Quarterback Taylor Heinicke leads the country in passing yardage (390 ypg) and total offense (428.2), while completing 68 percent of his passes and performing well beyond his years and experience level.

The Tribe, meanwhile, leads the CAA in pass defense, allowing just 179.4 yards per game. W&M is fourth in pass efficiency defense and has permitted a league-low eight touchdown passes.

"It's important to pressure him and it's important to contain him," Tribe head coach Jimmye Laycock said. "You can't let him extend plays. He really hurt us extending plays. You've got to be very disciplined about the way you attempt to pressure him. But you cannot let him sit back there and throw without pressure.

"You can't let him extend plays on you. Because they've got four or five receivers running all over the place on you out there. The chances of covering those guys for a long period of time are not real good."

All of it comes at a breakneck pace that even Oregon would appreciate. The no-huddle Monarchs average 85 offensive plays per game and have logged more than 100 snaps in a game. W&M averages 66 plays per game, roughly the national norm.

ODU's pace creates its own set of problems. Wholesale substitutions are almost out of the question for opposing defenses.

Laycock said that in watching video of ODU's offense, it's not uncommon to see the Monarchs snap the ball before defenses are set.

"I don't think it's hard to get your (defensive) call in," Boone said. "But after the fifth or sixth play in a row of chasing those guys around, the issue becomes do you have fresh legs out there for the next play? That's where they get you, too."

William and Mary traded punches with ODU last season in a 35-31 loss. The Tribe controlled the clock, totaled 503 yards of offense and got a huge day from running back Jonathan Grimes. The difference was that W&M's defense was unable to make a stop late, and Monarchs' cornerback Eriq Lewis intercepted two passes in the final minutes to snuff out drives.

Indeed, the Tribe's offense must play a big role in limiting ODU's attack.

"No question, you want to limit the number of snaps," Laycock said. "Obviously, you want to control the football. We're a much, much better team when we're running the football. … But you're not going to be able to sit in there and just pound it. You'd better be able to mix it up. That means you've got to throw completions. If you're going to throw the ball, throw completions. You don't want to give them extra possessions."

Two keys, Boone said, are creating turnovers and preventing big plays and speedy drives.

"You've got to make them nickel and dime their way down the field," he said. "You can't let five- and six-yard plays become 15 or 20 yards. You've got to keep the ball in front of you, leverage the ball properly and make tackles in space."

Pressuring Heinicke isn't easy, either, because he lines up in the shotgun formation and most often throws quickly.

"The only way to get pressure on him is if he holds the ball," Boone said. "You have to try to cloud his first look and make him hold on to it. You'll have a hard time if you're just lining up and blitzing him."

Several teams have had some success slowing Heinicke and the offense, notably Villanova in a 38-14 win. The Wildcats limited him to 16 of 32 passing for just 239 yards and two first-quarter touchdowns, squeezing him and the Monarchs' offense in the last three quarters.

ODU has seen more man-to-man coverage on its receivers, and defenses are dropping as many as seven or eight men into pass coverage.

"We always look at how other people defend and attack a team," Laycock said, "but we are who we are. There may be some little things here and there that we take in, but we're not going to wholesale change ourselves. Unless it really fits into our operation, we're not going to change all our stuff from week to week just because somebody else did something."

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