Miner Rush: From a fans' prospective who has watched the ODU football program grow bigger over the years, how rewarding is to be in the C-USA and the FBS?
Sydney Hunte: Very rewarding. When this program first started, at worst it was to be a FCS team with some rumblings that FBS might be around the corner. Fast forward to today and it's evident that the area has rallied around this team--the Hampton Roads area (Norfolk, Hampton, Newport News and the surrounding area in Virginia) doesn't have a professional sports franchise, of course, so they take pride in the fact that college football at its highest division is being played right there in town without them having to travel to places like UVA, Virginia Tech or ECU to see it.
MR: Do you think Taylor Heinicke is a surefire NFL draft pick?
SH: At the very worst he will be on an NFL roster at some point this spring. Whether that means that he'll be directly drafted or sign on with a team remains to be seen; in fact, in my honest opinion, I'd lean toward him signing that free-agent deal out of college. So, no, I don't think he's a surefire pick but is sure to be on a roster.
MR: Everyone talks about Heinicke but ODU can be balanced with two capable, and very young running backs. Does ODU run the ball exclusively on the Miners' struggling run defense and what do Gerard Johnson, and Ray Lawry bring?
SH: More so than usual. The running backs did OK against Marshall (mainly getting their yards in garbage time with the game out of hand) but at the same time got nearly nothing against Middle Tennessee. In this one, however, I believe that the running game will play about as much of a factor as the passing game will play. I honestly haven't been able to see too much of Johnson and Lawry to really pinpoint the types of runners they are, but it seems that Johnson is their #1 guy with Lawry (who's done very well as a freshman) actually leading the team with five touchdowns.
MR: How do the Monarchs lineup on defense, and who are the catalysts on D?
SH: ODU has three linemen up front, but their linebacking corps is a little different. Along with the normal three linebackers, they have something called a "stud" position which is a hybrid DE/LB position and basically an extra player to rush the passer. I'd say that it's closer to a 4-3 than anything else given the role that the "stud" has. As far as players to watch on D, junior DE Poncho Barnwell (3.5 sacks, 6 TFL) is a name to keep in mind, along with senior MLB D.J. Simon (5.5 TFL).
MR: How much of it was the winning culture ODU has that lead to the hot start and do you see it being a factor down the stretch of the season?-
SH: Yes and no. Yes in the fact that this team will be basically approaching each game with a "nothing to lose" mentality--this is their first season in Conference USA and if they lose to a few teams, that's fine, but the feeling will be a little sweeter if they're able to knock out some more-established FBS teams on the way. I say no because I think that some fans have been a little spoiled watching ODU play so well as an FCS team and believed that the transition would be much easier, and while they do have a win against Rice in their pocket, they have experienced some growing pains throughout the season as it's evident that their FCS talent can't match the FBS level just yet. But the program has a mantra--"Aim High" and with that in place, I feel that this staff isn't going to make excuses.
MR: What does ODU's discipline of not committing penalties reflect back to head man Bobby Wilder and his system that guys have bought fully into?
SH: Again, it's that "Aim High" mentality and not beating yourselves. The Monarchs have been quite disciplined throughout the year and that's something to really credit the staff for. A few times, it hasn't been the number of penalties committed as it has been the point of the games they've been committed, but overall you know that you'll get a very disciplined program when you take on ODU.
MR: What phase or phase's do you think have been exposed in the past two losses for ODU?
SH: Basically their rush defense. In the last two contests, they've given up a total of 636 yards on the ground, 356 of that coming to Marshall. That's a lot, and that basically tells you all you need to know about this Monarchs D. If you can't stop teams on the ground, you're going to have a very difficult time winning.
SH: 38-34 UTEP. I don't see the Monarchs being able to pull this off in the end despite being able to keep up with the Miners offensively.
Huge thanks to Sydney at the crew over at Underdog Dynasty, check out their full C-USA coverage, last week they debuted a mid-night (central time) podcast which we should be appearing on tonight....