There’s more than one way to score touchdowns. On Saturday, a national television audience on ESPN will see two offensive-minded teams with two completely different ways of doing things.
Fifth-seeded Georgia Southern (9-3) uses the Football Championship Subdivision’s top ground attack. Fourth-seeded Old Dominion (11-1) counters with the FCS’s leading passing game.
Offensive worlds collide at noon at Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium in Norfolk, Va., in the FCS quarterfinals.
The survivor will play the winner of the North Dakota State-Wofford game in the semifinals next week.
“Offenses have evolved so much, I don’t know how people play defense anymore,” Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken said. “It’s frustrating for defensive coaches.”
It was more a nightmare for defensive coordinators last season when the Eagles and Monarchs met in the second round of the playoffs. At one point, nine consecutive possessions ended with touchdowns. The teams combined for more than 1,100 yards and 103 points in Georgia Southern’s wild 55-48 win.
If it’s possible, this year’s combatants might be more high-powered.
The Eagles, led by junior quarterback Jerick McKinnon, are running for 393.2 yards a game. A week ago, McKinnon had 316 rushing yards – the second-best single-game performance in the Eagles history (17 yards shy of Adrian Peterson’s 333) – in a 24-16 win over Central Arkansas.
Not to be outdone, Old Dominion’s sophomore quarterback Taylor Heinicke threw for 497 yards and six touchdowns in a 63-35 victory over Coastal Carolina.
Heinicke and the Monarchs’ passing game average 391.6 passing yards a game. Old Dominion leads the subdivision in scoring with 46.0 points a game.
So how do you slow down Heinicke, who is just 209 yards away from breaking Steve McNair’s FCS mark of 4,863 passing yards in a single season while at Alcorn State in 1994?
Blitz, man-to-man, zone?
“You can’t do one thing,” Georgia Southern defensive coordinator Jack Curtis said. “They’ll figure out what you’re doing and take advantage of it. They’re really a smart offense, and they’ve done a tremendous job teaching (Heinicke) his reads.”
Scout teams try to provide a look, but it’s never quite the same, Monken acknowledges.
“I don’t know if anybody’s scout team can simulate anybody’s offense,” he said. “We don’t have anybody who can become Taylor Heinicke in a week.”
The Eagles provide similar matchup problems for opponents. McKinnon is the trigger man of the triple option, but Old Dominion found out last season fullback Dominique Swope can be a load. Swope ran for a career-high 255 yards and two touchdowns.
After Southern rolled up 477 rushing yards, 607 yards in total offense, Monarchs coach Jack Wilder spent part of the spring working on the option.
“One of the key things is you have to get your defense to understand you’re not going to stop this offense,” Wilder said. “What you need to do is get some turnovers. You need to be able to slow (the triple option) down.”
Georgia Southern will be looking to advance to the FCS semifinals for a third season in a row. The Eagles lost to Delaware and North Dakota State in the semis of 2010 and 2011.
Meanwhile, the Old Dominion Monarchs, whose mantra is “One year, one team, one shot,” bid adieu to the FCS and will start play in Conference USA next season.
The Monarchs, who finished first in the Colonial Athletic Association this season, restarted their program in 2009 after a 69-year absence from football.