1. Set the bar high: Ruffin McNeill needs to start his fourth campaign with a convincing win. The Pirates need to come out fast in a favorable environment and get up early on the Monarchs. McNeill’s 3-11 non-conference record last season was a blemish and the team needs to come out and dominate a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team. Dowdy-Ficklen is more than twice the size of any venue ODU has ever played in and ECU needs to use that to its advantage. The Pirates don’t want the Monarchs to hang around like Appalachian State did in their home-opener last season, they need to control the game all the way through.
2. Pressure the quarterback: Last season ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke threw for 5,076 yards and 44 touchdowns, in addition to his 11 rushing scores. Defensive coordinator Rick Smith needs to focus all of his attention on Heinicke and dial up pressure early to keep him off kilter. The last thing the Pirates want is for him to get hot early. Getting pressure on the quarterback is vital to ECU breaking this game open and showing ODU to the exit.
3. Establish the run: Everyone knows the Pirates can throw the ball, but establishing a downhill running game is key to setting that up. Senior running back Vintavious Cooper, along with sophomore Cory Hunter, will need to run hard-nosed and slash the ODU defense early. If the Monarchs have to focus more attention on the run, there is no reason why big plays through the air won’t follow. With one season under his belt, ECU quarterback Shane Carden needs to show his command of Lincoln Riley’s offense and make the routine plays necessary to get a resounding win.
1. Compete: ODU has never played in front of more than 24,000 fans; Dowdy-Ficklen will have 50,000 strong. For the Monarchs, it’s all about how they react to a hostile environment. If the Pirates come out and score in the first two minutes, how will ODU respond? Saturday will mark ODU’s first ever game against a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponent, but they need to play as if they’ve been there before. If the Monarchs are poised for the upset it will take execution and focus, which is asking a lot inside of the Pirate Nation.
2. Attack the secondary: It’s no secret ECU’s biggest weakness last season was its secondary. The unit regularly gave up the big plays and ODU will need to capitalize on that in order to get the edge. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke needs to come out focused and capitalize on Rick Smith’s new-look secondary to the best of their abilities. Establishing a running game could be the key to opening up the big play for the Monarchs.
3. Don’t let ECU pour it on: The Pirates will look to score early and in bunches; ODU needs to make sure that doesn’t happen. Getting pressure on the defensive line and matching up across the board will be necessary to limit the big play. ECU has a playmaker in Justin Hardy that is a matchup nightmare; the Monarchs will need help over the top from safeties to make sure they don’t get burned. It can get ugly quick if ODU comes out flat-footed and gets caught up in the environment.