Fake kicks, exotic blitzes, daring play calls. Nothing is off the table in the Monarchs' season finale, at noon in Chapel Hill, N.C.
"They're clearly better than we are going into this matchup," head coach Bobby Wilder said, "so it's going to take a monumental effort by Old Dominion. We're going to have do everything right and then we're going to have to hope that we get a little bit of help from the football gods on Saturday."
The staff is combing through old Ohio State game programs for clues to conjure the ghost of Woody Hayes, though there's concern that if they bring him back, they might not be able to get rid of him.
The Monarchs' staff is working on a ritual where they place Taylor Heinicke's Payton Award bust in the middle of a pentagram and put a houndstooth hat on it while graduate assistants chant the Alabama fight song in Latin.
ODU (8-3) faces its fifth Football Bowl Subdivision opponent and third from the ACC. The Monarchs previously lost at Maryland in the second week of the season, a game that wasn't competitive, and competed into the fourth quarter at Pittsburgh on Oct. 19 before eventually falling 35-24.
"I feel like we have better knowledge of what we're doing," Wilder said. "I feel like we've gained confidence overall as a program, particularly coming out of that Pitt game. My concern is physically, that we don't match up against this team, physically. We don't match up in the interior line. That's a major concern, and that's where the game starts."
Wilder discounted North Carolina's 5-5 overall record, referring to them as a 4-0 team. The Tar Heels, he pointed out, are an entirely different team after a 27-23 loss to then-10th-ranked Miami. They've won four in a row and averaged 35 points and 389 yards per game in the process.
Quarterback Marquise Williams ably replaced the injured Bryn Renner and provides a dynamic dual threat that has given the Monarchs' defense problems all season.
"You can check every box, from tempo, size, speed, athleticism of the quarterback, everything that they're doing creates a problem," Wilder said of the Tar Heels. "I can't stand up here in front of you right now and say there's an area of our defense that's dominant. There isn't. We're sticking fingers in the leaks in the dam, is what we're doing each week. It's something different that comes up."
ODU, meanwhile, comfortably won its home finale last Saturday versus Campbell, 42-14, but surrendered 422 yards. The Camels ran 74 plays and had the ball for almost 42 minutes. Campbell quarterback Brian Hudson threw for 278 yards, while Pitt's Tom Savage, a big-armed NFL prospect, threw for just 104 yards.
"It's not as if there's an area that I can look at right now and say, wow, we're really getting better at this," Wilder said. "We're an up-and-down team right now on defense, with all the guys that we're trying to play, with all the guys that are injured."
Allowing for the difference in respective personnel and programs, Wilder said that the gauge for success hasn't changed. Against FBS opponents, it's an accomplishment if the Monarchs are still in the game in the fourth quarter and have a chance to win.
"We will definitely give some thought to adjusting some things we do in all three phases," Wilder said. "We have to. If we just roll out the ball and play Saturday, it's probably not going to work out for us. There's got to be adjustments in every part of what we're doing, from how I manage the game to how Brian and Rich and Michael call the game in all three phases. There's some things we're going to have to do a little bit differently."
Wilder referred to offensive coordinator Brian Scott, defensive coordinator Rich Nagy and special teams guru Mike Zyskowski. He joked that everyone was in video rooms with the lights off, studying Carolina and dreaming up ways to compete.
He offered no clues about other strategies, though three shaman and a zombie Lou Holtz were spotted outside the L.R. Hill Sports Complex Monday afternoon.
"This is it for us," Wilder said. "This is our last game. We're not going to hold anything back. I'm more concerned right now with the process of getting to the fourth quarter and being in the game."
Fairbank can be reached at 757-247-4637