Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder told Virginian-Pilot snoop Harry Minium that he suspended linebackers Caleb Taylor and Larry Alston last Sunday, but held off announcing it until just before Saturday’s game versus Albany.
He did it that way for a couple of reasons: to minimize the distractions and questions that players would face during game week; and to prevent Albany from scheming to target their replacements and other new faces on the defense.
ODU was without Nate Barnes and Terrell Reid on the defensive line due to injuries, and true freshman D-end Jude Brenya got his first playing time of the season Saturday. Two other true freshmen saw their first action of the season, as well: defensive backs Daquin Moore (Hampton) and Aaron Young.
In addition, the Monarchs moved Malique Johnson from safety to rover, a kind of hybrid linebacker/defensive back in their scheme, just last week.
Wilder said that he’s trying to establish discipline and a culture within the program, as it transitions from the championship subdivision to the bowl subdivision and Conference USA. The large number of new players – 49 out of 95 weren’t with the program last season – makes for some challenging dynamics.
Wilder said that he informed the team of the disciplinary decision at last Sunday’s meeting. He said that the players, and the captains in particular, were on board.
Taylor, last year’s second-leading tackler, had lost his starting position, but remained a valued performer. Alston played in all four games and started the last two. Both were suspended indefinitely for the generic “violation of team rules.” Wilder has not offered a timetable for their possible return.
Wilder also dismissed running back Tyree Lee from the program. Lee, last year’s leading rusher, was suspended from playing games for the 2013 season, but still participated in practice and other team activities. Further violations caused Wilder to dismiss him.
… Singling out one defensive play in a 66-10 win is a little like focusing on just tattoos at Bike Week in Sturgis.
But Wilder pointed out a first-quarter play that jump-started the Monarchs’ frazzled defensive group. ODU had just scored to go up 14-7 and mucked up an onside kick attempt, giving Albany the ball at the Monarchs’ 43.
On the first play, the Great Danes ran a reverse pass, with the receiver flipping the ball back to quarterback Will Fiacchi, who threw downfield to tight end Brian Parker.
Johnson, ODU’s rover, blanketed Parker and was in position to intercept. Parker, suddenly playing the role of defensive back, tipped the ball into the air. Safety Fellonte Misher peeled back and intercepted, returning it 25 yards to the ODU 33.
Eight plays later, the Monarchs scored to go ahead 21-7 and they never looked back.
“All of a sudden, you could just see the emotion on our sideline, from the offensive kids, how excited they were, to the defense,” Wilder said. “That led to some real confidence from that group.”
ODU defenders have routinely blown coverage assignments and been out of position, when they weren’t missing tackles.
“That was a defining moment for us, in terms of a lot could have gone wrong for us on that one,” Wilder said. “If Malique wasn’t there, it’s going to look like we don’t have any idea what we’re doing. For somebody who’s brand new at the position to handle that, speaks volumes to the kids and their focus on what they needed to do.”
Johnson busted coverage against Parker on Albany’s first touchdown, a 55-yard pass from Fiacchi to Parker.
“That was turning a setback into a comeback at its highest level, at the rover position,” Wilder said.
… Also, assistant coach Bill Dee is fine after a momentary scare on the sidelines late in the game. He inadvertently wandered into the path of long-snapper Rick Lovato’s practice hike and took a ball to the side of the head. He fell to the ground, but folks attended to him and minutes later he was fine.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun