NORFOLK — Video study Sunday confirmed what Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder suspected Saturday night: The Monarchs made too many mistakes to beat East Carolina.
The Monarchs were within four points heading into the fourth quarter in Greenville, N.C., but gave up 17 points on three consecutive possessions and rarely stopped ECU's offense in a 52-38 loss.
"The fundamental mental mistakes are the ones that you get most concerned with, as a coach," Wilder said Monday. "The physical mistakes are going to happen. You're going to miss a block or drop a pass or miss a tackle. That's part of what happens in the game, because the guys on the other side are really good, too.
"But when we make the basic, fundamental mental mistakes of where the coaches are training the guys to put their eyes and what they're taught to do, whether it's a certain protection on offense or a certain route that we run, a coverage that we play on defense, or gap responsibility by a (defensive) lineman, those are the things that you can't accept."
The Monarchs face another big test Saturday at Maryland, their first ACC opponent and second Bowl Subdivision opponent as they make the transition to FBS and Conference USA.
"We're in ACC country," Wilder said. "Those are the teams that we want to play. … The goal is to go up there and win, but we also want to be entertaining and travel well so that in the future, ACC teams say, that's a school we want on our schedule in the future."
Check on both counts Saturday, as the Monarchs totaled 460 yards, and ODU fans filled 22 buses for the trip to Greenville.
Wilder pointed out several key plays as examples of mistakes that also changed momentum: ECU quarterback Shane Carden's interminable scramble and touchdown pass on the last play of the first half; the Pirates' strip-sack of quarterback Taylor Heinicke that turned into a defensive touchdown.
But the Monarchs' breakdowns occurred throughout. ODU's defense was unable to get off the field much of the night. ECU converted 12 of 17 times on third down. Six of those were 7 yards or longer. On a third-quarter touchdown drive, the Pirates got a first down on a first-and-20 play.
"All of a sudden, we had guys trying to make plays that aren't there," defensive coordinator Rich Nagy said.
Nagy said that he tells his players all the time: Just make, don't create.
"If you try and create, a lot of times it opens up other issues," he said. "At times, guys were trying to put too much on their own shoulders, instead of just doing their job and trusting the coaching."
Inexperience factored into the defensive struggles. Twelve of 28 that played defense Saturday took their first Division I snap. A few others were in new positions.
Wilder and Nagy said that they were committed to getting a lot of guys on the field, for several reasons: to keep players fresh; to provide game experience; to begin to identify the best players.
Wilder believes that the defense will be improved versus Maryland. Nagy said that the defense will play a lot of guys the entire season.
"If we can keep guys fresh," Nagy said, "we think we'll be OK."
Wilder and Nagy remain encouraged, because they believe that all of Saturday's mistakes are correctable. Despite giving up 487 yards, ODU defenders didn't see receivers running freely downfield, nor did ECU get much traction on the ground. The Pirates netted just 34 yards rushing and 1.5 yards per carry.
Maryland provides the Monarchs the opportunity to see how much they can improve in a week.
"Nothing makes a statement like winning," Wilder said. "Being competitive only gets you so far. The ultimate goal is to win, and that's what I had a very direct talk with the team about (Sunday). As much as a lot of folks are being very gracious and congratulating us on being in the game and keeping it close against a good football team, we didn't do what we set out to do — that was to win the game. There's only so much you can take from a loss. There's not a whole lot of good things that come out of a loss."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun