ODU Athletics

Get the Max With Minium: Football Notebook

August 25, 2018
By ODU Athletics

Written By: Harry Minium 

If there’s one statistic that speaks to why Old Dominion fell from a 10-3 record in 2016 to 5-7 last season, it was ODU’s performance in the fourth quarter.

The final period is when winning teams generally are at their best, and ODU got outscored, 117-47, in the last stanza, a composite deficit of 70 points.

That’s a stat football coach Bobby Wilder said the Monarchs must turn around if they are to rebound this fall.

“When you’re outplayed like that in the last quarter, that generally means we’re not coaching them well enough or we’re not physically or mentally tough enough,” Wilder said. “We have to get better in the fourth quarter.”

ODU didn’t score a point in the fourth quarter during a four-game stretch, and the last three games essentially doomed the Monarchs to only their third losing record in nine seasons.

On Oct. 14, Marshall led ODU, 14-3, heading into the final period in West Virginia, but then the Herd exploded for 21 unanswered fourth quarter points.

A week later, ODU led WKU, 31-21, on a Friday night game in Norfolk before being outscored, 14-0, in the fourth quarter. That was a heartbreaker, because I thought ODU outplayed the Hilltoppers, who benefited from some favorable calls from the refs.

Finally, eight days later, ODU was on top of North Texas, which would go on to win the Conference USA West title, by a field goal. Again, ODU was outscored, 10-0, in the final period in Denton, Texas.

That dropped ODU to 2-6. The Monarchs gamely tried to resurrect their season by winning three in a row and then fell at Middle Tennessee, 41-10, in the regular-season finale.

Part of the problem last season was a lack of depth in part caused by injuries. That forced the remaining guys to play more reps and as a result, tire in the final period. ODU had a ton of guys banged up, including its top two offensive playmakers.

Jonathan Duhart, ODU’s best receiver, was lost for the season when he broke an foot in ODU’s second game.

Ray Lawry, ODU’s best running back ever, was injured in the first game, and when he returned, was gimpy the rest of the way.

You can’t control injuries, but Wilder and his coaching staff have endeavored to make this team tougher by being more demanding of them in summer practice.

This is my seventh season covering ODU -- the last six for The Virginian-Pilot -- and I’ve never seen Wilder more intense, right down to the last minutes of practice.

Players are given about five minutes to stretch as practice winds down. A few days ago, a bunch of players were going through the motions of stretching while chatting with assistant coaches.

Wilder blew the whistle, admonished his coaches and players for “BS-ing” and told them to start stretching again.

“Stretching is a part of practice,” he yelled. “This is how we avoid deep tissue injuries.”

There was total silence while the guys stretched with vigor.

Duhart, who is back after getting a medical redshirt last season, said that he and ODU’s other 21 seniors met with Wilder and asked him to to demand more of them in summer practice.

“We wanted to be held more accountable this year,” he said. “We want to go out with a bowl game.”

In 2016, when the Monarchs defeated Eastern Michigan in the Bahamas in their first bowl game, they were at their best in the final quarter.

“We need to get back into that mindset,” Wilder said. “You can practice yourself back into that mindset, and we’re doing it in part because our players want to do it, because they asked us to do it.” 

MUCH HAS BEEN made of the changes enacted by so many FBS programs in reaction to the death of Maryland football player Jordan McNair from an apparent heat stroke. Many schools have changed the protocol involving players who may be dehydrated or may feel faint or disoriented, and that’s all good.

But Wilder didn’t make a lot of changes because he didn’t have to.

Wilder grew up playing old school football in Maine. At the time, you were often limited to a cup of water and a salt pill during practice because drinking more than that made you a so-called “wimp.” And he had several concussions that at the time often weren’t always called concussions.

Concussions were then described as “getting your bells rung,” and if you could identify how many fingers a trainer was holding, you were fine.

His experience as a player affected the way he coaches, and over the years, he’s nearly always erred on the side of safety. ODU’s concussion protocol is especially restrictive.

I’ve seen players with borderline injuries, who could play but might be risking future health issues, encouraged to hang up their cleats.

Wilder’s question to players in that situation is, “do you want to be able to play with your kids in 20 years?”

When we saw unexpectedly boiling hot days this summer, Wilder reduced practice time. “There were a few times I wanted to run after practice, but we decided not to,” he said.

Running “gassers,” sprints across the field and back, is a common drill used by many coaches to condition their players.

“But it’s never going to be first down and seven gassers,” Wilder said. “Sometimes you have to make the choice between conditioning your team and keeping them healthy.” 

IF YOU’RE LOOKING for a good deal on ODU football tickets, buy Sunday’s Virginian-Pilot and check out the front page. There’s an advertisement for a three-game mini season ticket plan for $120.

Yes, the Sept. 22 home game with Virginia Tech is included, and those tickets, with a face value of $55 apiece, are much in demand.

How much? Ticket sellers such as vividseats.com and stubhub.com are asking anywhere from $164 to $235 per ticket. On Friday, it appeared both sites had about 100 tickets.

ODU will not offer any single-game tickets for the Tech game. Either you buy season tickets, take your chance with a ticket seller or watch it on CBS Sports Network.

Here’s the interesting part of the mini package: you can pick any two other games you’d like to attend. Generally, all games are chosen in advance with mini plans.

If it were me, the last home game against VMI on Nov. 17 is one not to be missed. VMI isn’t a particularly strong opponent, but it’s the final game in the history of the 82-year-old Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium.

The stadium will undergo a $65 million renovation in which the original clam shell shaped stands on the east and west sides will be torn down. They will be replaced with more comfortable seats, modern concessions stands and restrooms and a new press box.

School officials plan a really impressive sendoff for the stadium. Plans aren’t finalized so I can’t say what will happen, but you’ll want to stay in your seats the entire game. You’ll kick yourself for not being there.

It will be the 69th annual Oyster Bowl and the Keydets have played in 15 Oyster Bowl games, including the first involving colleges in 1948.

VMI will bring as many as 1,000 alumni and supporters to the game, which means there will be pomp and circumstance.

You’ve got four pretty good choices to fill out that third game, and all are against teams that played in bowl games last season.

* Sept. 8, FIU: It’s the home opener and the 7:30 p.m. start means it’s likely to be cooler than your typical September game.

FIU lost most of its best players from last season, but Butch Davis is a great coach and he’s loaded up with big-name junior college kids and other transfers.

* Oct. 13, Marshall: The Herd was picked to finish second to Florida Atlantic in the Conference USA East. Marshall returns 18 starters, including a big and experienced offensive line. Quarterback Chase Litton is gone, but his replacement, 6-foot-5 transfer Alex Houston, has pro potential. He is on the preseason Johnny Unitas list.

* Oct. 27, Middle Tennessee. It’s homecoming, but ODU isn’t playing a patsy. MTSU defeated Arkansas State in the Camellia Bowl last season and returns quarterback Brent Stockstill, an awesome player who is the son of head coach Rick Stockstill.

*Nov. 10, North Texas. Some prognosticators have tabbed the Mean Green to again win the West Division title. Nine starters return from the offense that ranked. No. 21 nationally in passing, including standout quarterback Mason Fine.

Choices, choices.

FANS HAVE A CHANCE to mingle with the Monarchs, and watch a rare public scrimmage, Saturday night at Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium.

The scrimmage be held from 7-8:15 p.m. Afterwards, the team will remain on the field to interact with fans. Team posters will be available for fans seeking autographs.

Most of ODU’s better players won’t take part in the scrimmage. Wilder said it will be what he calls a “futures” scrimmage composed largely of true freshmen and others who ODU expect to play in the future.

LOOKING AHEAD, I’m planning next week to do an update on the ODU women’s soccer team, and will have a column on ODU’s football opener Sept. 1 at Liberty, including my pick on who will win.

Comments? Questions? 

Email me at hminium@odu.edu

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