December 2, 2012
NORFOLK — By his All-America standards, Taylor Heinicke was downright pedestrian for a half Saturday. But by day's end, Old Dominion's sublime quarterback was historically productive.
"I think six touchdowns passing and two rushing is a pretty good day," Heinicke said in his typically understated tone after the Monarchs' 63-35 playoff victory over Coastal Carolina at Ballard Stadium.
Here's how good Heinicke's "pretty good" was: Coastal's Aramis Hillary threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, ran for another score and was clearly the inferior quarterback.
No offense to Hillary. Dude's got game. But he's neither as instinctive nor fast as Heinicke.
The speed was most evident on Heinicke's improvised touchdown runs of 7 and 8 yards, on which he outraced the defense to the pylon. The instincts emerged whenever Heinicke ducked pressure, which was often, to find receivers who had broken off routes.
A classic example came on a second-quarter, third-and-10 from ODU's 35. Rolling to his right to escape the rush, Heinicke threw toward Nick Mayers, whose back was toward the play. But Heinicke just knew that Mayers would pivot on a dime along the sideline, and sure enough, he did, ducking inside LaDarius Hawthorne to catch Heinicke's rope for a 24-yard gain.
"They don't get particularly fancy," Coastal coach Joe Moglia said. "They do a flawless job of execution."
The execution hinges on No. 14.
Saturday he completed 32-of-44 passes, without an interception, for 497 yards and the aforementioned six touchdowns, the latter tying the Championship Subdivision's record. Toss in Heinicke's 45 yards rushing and you have a playoff-record 542 yards in total offense.
Yet at halftime, Heinicke was a tame 12-of-20 for 159 yards. He just didn't appear sharp, especially given the ideal conditions — unseasonably warm, zero wind and a pliable Chanticleers defense.
"There was one drive I was just pumping the ball downfield," Heinicke said. "I was just throwing it 30, 40 yards downfield three straight plays, and that's not our offense. Our offense is give it to the athletes, 5-yard passes and let them do their thing.
"There was just one or two drives in the first half where I wasn't sticking to the game plan. In the second half, I just did what the coaches told me to do and it paid off."
After intermission, Heinicke went 20-of-24 for 338 yards. After the Chanticleers (8-5) tied the game at 35 late in the third quarter, the Monarchs (11-1) scored the game's final 28 points.
"I think the biggest difference (was), we didn't get in any type of a rhythm in the first half," ODU coach Bobby Wilder said. "They had such long drives in the first half, I thought that took us out of any consistent rhythm. … As he always does, (Taylor) just (kept) plugging away. You could just see the energy coming out of them with every touchdown."
Coastal had three consecutive drives of 80-plus yards in the first half. Its final five drives of the game netted a total of 85.
Given Heinicke's weekly excellence, if the Monarchs can summon that caliber of defense for 60 minutes, they can absolutely win three more games and bring a national championship to Norfolk in their final season of FCS competition.
"For Old Dominion to have made the progress that they have made in as short a period of time is a tremendous testament to the coaching staff as well as the support of the administration and the leadership within ODU," Moglia said.
Next up for the Monarchs is Georgia Southern and its triple-option attack, the antithesis of ODU's spread. The Eagles defeated the Monarchs 55-48 in the second round of last season's playoffs, despite Heinicke's 341 yards passing and five touchdown throws.
Heinicke was a true freshman then. Now he's 209 yards shy of breaking the FCS single-season record for passing yards of 4,863 set by the late Steve McNair at Alcorn State.
Wednesday night in Richmond, the Dudley Award will be presented to the state's top Division I football player. If it's not Heinicke, my fellow voters have some explaining to do.