NORFOLK — After experiencing mostly sunshine and free smoothies in its brief football history, Old Dominion's upwardly mobile program faces some harsh realities following its first encounter with Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
The Monarchs were worked like never before last Saturday in a 47-10 loss at Maryland, that after wearing down in the fourth quarter at East Carolina in the season opener.
"The most important thing we need to do right now as a program is, we've got to stay the course," ODU coach Bobby Wilder said Monday at his weekly gabfest with reporters. "We've got a blueprint for success here. It's worked. Our coaches understand it, our players understand it. It's just staying the course.
"What happened Saturday, that hasn't been the norm around here. We haven't been beaten that soundly in all three phases by a team and then have it show up like it did on the scoreboard. There's never a more important time than when you're hit with adversity to stay the course and stick with the plan, and that's what we'll do."
ODU (0-2) surrendered 587 yards to the Terps. Most notably, quarterback Taylor Heinicke was intercepted on three of the Monarchs' first four possessions as Maryland squeezed ODU's offense and built a 31-3 halftime lead.
In most of ODU's previous losses, Heinicke and the offense kept the game competitive. Even in the 52-38 loss to ECU, the Monarchs were within 35-31 going into the fourth quarter and totaled 460 yards.
But Maryland pressured Heinicke and its defensive backs shadowed ODU receivers, who rarely gained separation. The Terps outmanned ODU at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
Wilder and the coaching staff weren't unprepared for the prospect of getting bounced around by FBS competition. Half of the 96-man roster is new to the program. Thirty-five of the 70 players who traveled to Maryland joined the program since the end of last season.
"When you're trying to develop a football team to play at that level and you're doing it with half of your team being brand new, there's going to be some growing pains," Wilder said. "There's going to be some situations that aren't necessarily going to look pretty. The product that's out on the field, guys out on the field, it's not always going to look at the highest level. But I'm confident it's going to get there."
The Monarchs have struggled on defense, as has been the case at critical times for the past two seasons. Maryland averaged 6.8 yards per rush, a whopping 19.6 yards per pass completion and converted 7 of 13 times on third down.
Irrespective of talent, Wilder said that ODU defenders haven't demonstrated the necessary discipline or handled their responsibilities well enough to be in position to make plays.
"They're out there competing," Wilder said. "They're out there giving effort. But when you're giving effort and you're not handling responsibilities, you're not where you need to be, there's going to be some times you get exposed, particularly when you're playing against two teams in East Carolina and Maryland, that I think are going to be good teams this year.
"When you get exposed in those situations, and your inexperience comes out and you don't trust what you're being told, some bad things can happen. That's happened the first two weeks."
Old Dominion's defensive statistics are dismal. The Monarchs aren't listed in NCAA national stats, as an FBS transition program. Granted, the numbers are skewed because of such a small sample size and because of the difference in levels of competition early in the season.
But for what it's worth, ODU would be ranked 120th in scoring defense (49.5 ppg) out of 124 teams. The Monarchs would be 119th in total defense (534 ypg), 121st in pass defense (361), 121st in third-down percentage defense (63 percent), 120th in first downs allowed (54) and 117th in pass efficiency defense (184.09).
"There's too many times right now where it looks easier than it should be, because we're out of position," Wilder said. "So you're looking at it going, where are the linebackers, the safeties? That's what's happening. Guys are getting out of position. That's what hurting us. That's our job as coaches. We've got to get them in the right position or get somebody else in the game."
The Monarchs catch a scheduling break in the next month with four consecutive home games versus FCS programs, starting with Howard at 6 p.m. Saturday at S.B. Ballard Stadium.
The step down in competition figures to help the record and the stat sheet, but it makes evaluation a little more difficult.
"What I'm looking for is to see us develop some consistency in terms of responsibilities," Wilder said, "in terms of what our players are being asked to do and what they're doing on the field. We've been exposed these first two weeks because it's moving really fast out there, for our guys on defense."
Wilder said that the vibe of the team was a mixed bag when they met on Sunday. Half of the players know only frustration and loss in their brief time with the program. The other half knows mostly success and playoff berths.
The task, he said, is to keep everyone together. The message to the staff was not to deviate from the template.
"That's the first thing we talked about: Everybody stick with the plan," Wilder said. "Don't change what we're doing. I always feel like in these situations, change leads to panic. I feel like as soon as you lose a couple games, or you lose a game like we did Saturday, and all of a sudden you change what your blueprint has been, then you're sending the message to everybody in your program and everybody that follows you, what you were saying before didn't mean anything or it didn't work.
"If we've got to alter some of the parts a little bit, in terms of players and depth chart and reps or things like that based on performance, we always do that. I tell the players, the best 11 are going to play. That's never going to change. But philosophically, I made it very clear to them we're not changing what we do."