1) Stopping a record-setting QB- National media is expected to be watching this game closely, and this is the reason. ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke set the NCAA Division I record for passing yards last week against New Hampshire, piling up 730 yards through the air in the team's 64-61 shootout victory. Richmond's defense will be faced with the daunting task of slowing down Heinicke, who's been named the Offensive CAA Player of the Week three of the first four weeks of the season.
2) Three in a row- After losing nine straight games (one of which was a 42-28 loss to ODU last season), Richmond appears to have turned it around, winning three straight games and, while they were all against lower level teams, the convincing fashion in which the Spiders were able to take down Gardner-Webb, VMI and Georgia State has the fan base excited as the team heads into its most important stretch of the season.
3) Season of blowouts- All four games the Spiders have competed in this season have been decided before the fourth quarter, with Richmond holding huge leads in its three wins and a huge deficit in its season-opening loss to Virginia. With the fourth quarter almost entirely devoted the backups this year, the question remains of whether the starters will be comfortable under the pressure of competition late in the game. We might find out what kind of shape these guys are in on Saturday.
What to Look for:
1) Defensive gameplan- The Monarchs have yet to be held to less than 45 points in a game, games they've all won which is why they're ranked fourth in the FCS rankings right now. Heinicke and the rest of the ODU offense have looked unstoppable, but in talking with members of the Spider defense this week, they don't have that impression. Despite Heinicke tearing up the Richmond defense in last season's contest to the tune of 373 yards and 3 touchdowns, Richmond is confident they have the perfect game plan to minimalize his effectiveness. Expect UR safety Cooper Taylor and hybrid Aaron Roane to play big parts in these different schemes, as they've been the two main moving pieces on that defense this season. There's also something to be said about the confidence that the defense has had, which just wasn't there at points last year.
2) Packed stadium- This is just Richmond's second home game of the season and, with the first one against Gardner-Webb being somewhat of a disappointment in terms of attendance due to a combination of a lesser known opponent and a long weather delay, Saturday's game might as well be the real home opener. There are many factors working in Richmond's favor in terms of attendance here: it's Family Weekend, the tickets are sold out and ODU, located about 90 minutes from Richmond's campus, is traditionally a football rival. Expect the Spiders to receive a big boost from the fan base despite the chance of poor weather.
3) Jovan Smith's rapid ascension- The Richmond tailback has busted out in the last three games, which has been so important for a team that wasn't all that sure about who, if anyone, was going to emerge behind fullback Kendall Gaskins as the change-of-pace runner before the season started. Smith has proven he can break the long runs when given an opening, and he could see a few openings against the Monarchs, who proved vulnerable to the speedy tailbacks last week, giving up more than 200 yards and two touchdowns to New Hampshire's tailback that doubles as a kick returner.
1) Laub runs for more than 100- Richmond's senior quarterback has proven in the last two weeks how dangerous he can be with his legs, running for a combined 120 yards and 4 touchdowns. ODU proved last week that it has trouble containing mobile quarterbacks, allowing UNH QB Andy Vailas to rush for 80 yards and a score. Richmond coach Danny Rocco likes to take advantage of defenses that ignore the quarterback as a runner. Seems like a match made in heaven for the Spiders.
2) A defensive player for either UR or ODU will be the player of the game- This is a bold prediction indeed considering this game is all but assured to be a shootout given the teams' affinity for scoring during the first four games this season, but the Spiders and Monarchs both have playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Those guys will just be waiting for the opposing offense to make a slight mistake that will allow them to push the game in their team's favor.
3) Antonio Vaughan runs a kickoff back for a TD- Vaughan has been one of ODU's predominant playmakers this season, serving as a primary receiver and kickoff return specialist. Last week, he made 12 catches for 143 yards and a touchdown and totaled 174 kickoff return yards, including a long of 83. He'll likely play a vital role as a receiver on Saturday, but his real impact will be felt on the Spiders with the special teams unit. Richmond's kickoff coverage has been shaky for most of the season, and Vaughan is too good not to make them pay.
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Final Score Prediction: UR- 35, ODU- 41
Contact staff writer David Weissman at email@example.com
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