ATLANTA — Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke chose to play football 500 miles away from home, so not many friends, relatives and associates have had a chance to see him play.
Although it wasn’t his best effort of the year, he still showed them Saturday what they’ve been missing.
The sophomore, who played at Collins Hill High in Atlanta’s northeast suburb of Suwanee, Ga., celebrated his homecoming by throwing for 351 yards and leading the No. 5-ranked Monarchs to a 53-27 win over Georgia State at the cavernous Georgia Dome.
It was the third straight win for ODU (8-1, 5-1 CCAA), which plays William and Mary next week in the Monarchs’ final regular-season home game.
Heincke completed 28 of 42 passes, including three touchdowns. It was the sixth time he’s thrown for more than 300 yards this season, and he improved to 15-3 since becoming the starting quarterback. Despite the big numbers and the big win, Heinicke wasn’t pleased.
“I played horribly,” Heinicke said. “It was one of my worst performances of the season. I saw a bunch of players from high school, friends and family, and it was really exciting. My mind wasn’t in the game at the beginning, but at the same time I knew I had to play. I didn’t play well at all and I have a lot of stuff to work on.”
Georgia State did a good job harassing Heinicke with pressure from its front four and sacked him four times. They used a man-coverage plan with a deep safety and caused him to throw three interceptions, which matched the number he threw in the season opener against Duquesne. But overall, he did a good job finding eight different receivers, three of whom caught touchdown passes.
“Georgia State had a really good plan on defense,” ODU coach Bobby Wilder said. “He had a couple misreads and he normally does not do that. He’s his worst critic, so I’ll remind him Monday that we’re 8-1 and he’s quite honestly the primary reason. We want to be careful that it doesn’t affect his confidence level.”
Heinicke estimated that about 150 local fans turned out to see him and Andrew Everett, a freshman who also played at Collins Hill. It was Heinicke’s first chance to play in the Georgia Dome; his high school team fell one game short in his senior year of reaching the state championship, a contest that’s played in the facility that has hosted two Super Bowls and the annual Southeastern Conference championship.
“When we flew into Atlanta, it was different,” Heinicke said. “But it was a business trip for us.”
Any slack was ably picked up by tailback Tyree Lee, who rushed 25 times for 126 yards, his second straight game and third time this season to surpass 100 yards. Lee, a Phoebus High product, scored a pair of touchdowns on runs of 1 and 11 yards.
The Monarchs came into the game with a goal of rushing for 200 yards; they finished with 205 on 45 carries.
The ODU defense had plenty of good moments, too. Craig Wilkins and Devon Simmons both came away with interceptions. The rush defense limited Georgia State to only 52 yards on 31 carries.
Dominique Gunn-Bailey had a fourth-down sack that kept Georgia State out of the end zone in the second quarter when the game was still competitive.
“I felt very good about our defensive front seven,” Wilder said. “Running the ball and stopping the run were the No. 1 things we wanted to accomplish today.”
The only player ODU had trouble containing was Georgia State’s Albert Wilson, who set school records with a 100-yard kickoff return and a 93-yard touchdown reception. It was the first kick returned for a touchdown against the Monarchs this season, as well as the longest reception allowed. Wilder said that Wilson earned his vote for the all-conference team.
The game marked the final home contest for retiring Georgia State coach Bill Curry, who started the program three years ago. The Panthers are 1-9 and complete their season next week at Maine.