W Kentucky Old Dominion Football

Old Dominion Kesean Strong (1) can not come down with the pass as he is defended Western Kentucky's Devon Key during the second half of an NCAA  football game Oct. 5 in Norfolk, Va. 

HUNTINGTON — On the surface, Old Dominion appears to be struggling.

The Monarchs are 1-4 overall and 0-1 in Conference USA, but Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said that doesn’t tell the story of their season. Old Dominion could easily be an undefeated team or 4-1 with a pair of Power Five wins, if not for a few select plays that have led to their demise.

There is no one more familiar with that scenario than Holliday, whose team is also just a few plays from being 4-1, but sits at 2-3 and 0-1 in C-USA.

“It’s two teams looking for a win,” Holliday said. “We’ll go play Saturday and see what happens.”

Old Dominion’s five contests have all been close, even last week’s 20-3 loss to Western Kentucky, where the Monarchs squandered a pair of turnovers that gave them possession in the WKU red zone.

Prior to that, there was a 24-21 loss to East Carolina in which the Monarchs failed to make plays, a 28-17 loss to Virginia in which ODU gave up a 17-0 lead and a 31-17 loss at Virginia Tech in which the game went to the wire.

Heck, even the lone win over Football Championship Subdivision team Norfolk State was an exciting 24-21 victory for Old Dominion.

Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder said that his team is a championship-caliber team, but like Marshall, it is struggling with finding ways to finish plays.

“From my perspective, as a head coach, when I see the amount of effort they’re putting in, how hard they’re working at it, we’re going to continue with the process,” Wilder said. “But we have to do a better job of executing assignment, and we will. We’ll get better at that.”

Youth is a major issue with the Monarchs as Wilder fields just one senior starter on offense and two on defense. There is a youth movement mixed with several junior college transfers that are attempting to mesh together on the fly, which has led to some growing pains so far this season.

Wilder said that despite the struggles, he is staying the course while transitioning his team from a high-octane, pass-happy team in 2018 to a deliberate, defense-oriented team in 2019.

“When you’ve got a young football team, you’ve got to stick with them, you’ve got to encourage them, you’ve got to coach them hard,” Wilder said.

Defensively, the Monarchs have been strong, boasting of the 23rd-ranked rush defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision, allowing only 100.6 yards per game on the ground.

The offensive side is where the struggles have come into play. Old Dominion is 129th out of 130 teams in FBS in total offense and that has led to a paltry average of 16.4 points per game. ODU’s top offensive output of the season was 24 points against Norfolk State.

“We just need to play better on offense,” Wilder said. “We’re young right now on offense. We’ve got some key injuries, but we’ve got to find a way to play better football on offense.”

Given the Monarchs’ defensive strength, the team is only one or two offensive plays away from seeing their season flip.

Those are the one or two offensive plays that Marshall looks to avoid on Saturday in this matchup of teams looking to prove that they are better than the record shows.

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