Old Dominion and William and Mary run different offenses and have different approaches to offense. What they have in common is that both are judicious advocates of their quarterbacks as runners.
Or perhaps advocates of their quarterbacks running judiciously.
ODU’s Taylor Heinicke again is putting up large passing numbers in the Monarchs’ go-go spread offense, in which he flings it around 40-50 times per game. But he is arguably the Monarchs’ most effective runner.
W&M sophomore Raphael Ortiz has played in parts of all three games thus far, though he started and finished only the last game, versus Towson. He, too, can be an effective runner, though with him it’s more a combination of his athletic ability and inability to locate a receiver quickly.
“I am fine with (Ortiz running),” Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said, “as long as he knows when to go down, he knows when to go out of bounds and he knows when to get low. He’s taken a couple shots he doesn’t need to take. But that’s experience.”
Indeed, Ortiz got flipped in the Lafayette game. Against Towson, he absorbed a couple of shots stretching for extra yards and got pinballed as he went out of bounds. Each time, offensive tackle Mike Salazar said, he came up smiling.
“The kid loves to play football and he has fun out there,” Salazar said.
Ortiz is the Tribe’s fourth-leading rusher, but No. 3 behind Meltoya Jones and Keith McBride if you take away sack yardage. He is more athletic and more inclined to run than his compadres, Brent Caprio and Michael Graham. Both of them, ironically, have missed time with injuries, which essentially gave Ortiz the job.
“What we tell him is that’s one of his options,” Laycock said. “His feet are an option for him. He can pull it and go. I don’t have a problem with that. If he doesn’t like something or he sees an opening, fine, let’s play football. Play ball, but let’s be smart about it when you go.”
That’s essentially the same message ODU’s coaches have given to Heinicke. He’s the No. 3 rusher with 134 yards. Take away the lost yardage, from sacks and getting caught behind the line, and he’s the leading rusher (170 yards), ahead of backs Colby Goodwyn (142) and Tyree Lee (134).
Heinicke also has more carries than any of ODU’s backs — he averages 10 carries per game — though the Monarchs generally rotate three players at the position. Interesting for an offense that has no called runs for its quarterback, at least presently.
“I would be concerned he was running too much if he was getting hit,” ODU coach Bobby Wilder said. “But he’s been told very pointedly by our offensive coordinator, Brian Scott, and Ron Whitcomb, the quarterback coach, that he needs to get down, he needs to slide.”
Indeed, Heinicke rarely absorbs a solid hit when he runs. He’s a little faster and more elusive than you think. And he slides more effectively than quarterbacks with a ton more experience and even some guys who play on Sunday.
“He’s been told to run the ball every time he doesn’t think he’s either got a throw down the field or he can’t get out of the pocket,” Wilder said. “So if he can’t get out of the pocket to throw the ball out of bounds, we’re telling him, ‘run’ and try to add as many yards as you can.”
When Heinicke runs, Wilder said, he is instructed to think: hashmark, numbers, sideline.
“If you can’t go from the hash/numbers to the sideline, at some point you’re going feet-first,” Wilder said. “You’re going down and you’re sliding. We’ve told him even regardless of the down and distance, he’s got to be mindful of that.”
For example, Wilder said, on a 3rd-and-15 situation, if there’s no play downfield, run for four or five yards. A few extra yards add to the punt or make a field goal attempt that much shorter.
“That’s the big picture of it, when you’re trying to teach a quarterback the concept of field position and how it affects the game,” Wilder said. “I talk to them all the time, I tell them your job is, if you can’t get a first down, to add to (Jonathan) Plisco’s punt, or to make Jarod Brown’s field goal a shorter field goal. That’s winning football.”
Wilder said that the Monarchs routinely ran quarterback Thomas DeMarco, because it fit his playing style.
“Taylor’s more of a pure thrower,” Wilder said. “Could he run the ball? Absolutely. We could put all those plays in, but we don’t need to. I’d rather have him throw it to one of those really fast guys for five and let him go for 16, than to run ‘QB Power’ for five yards and he gets hit. He gets it.”
Perfecting the art of sliding also should keep Heinicke healthier.
“You get him to understand to go feet-first, because generally what happens is the officials will protect you if you go feet-first,” Wilder said. “When you go head-first, and you’re diving to try to get yardage, they’re not as quick to throw a flag and the defender’s not as quick to pull off.”Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times