Georgia Southern and Old Dominion played an epic Football Championship Subdivision playoff game last season in Statesboro, Ga. The offenses were unstoppable and nearly matched the FCS playoff record of 105 combined points.
"We tried it all. We blitzed; we didn't blitz. We didn't know what to do," GSU coach Jeff Monken told the media after his Eagles' 55-48 win. "The kid playing quarterback for them did a great job. They made plays."
The "kid" is Taylor Heinicke, who very much is still around and will be on the field Saturday when No. 3 seed ODU (11-1) hosts No. 5 Georgia Southern (9-3) in the quarterfinals at noon on ESPN. The other Southern Conference squad in the final eight is Wofford (8-3), which plays at defending national champion North Dakota State (11-1).
Heinicke in September set an NCAA Division I record with 730 passing yards in ODU's 64-61 win over New Hampshire. In the Monarchs' 63-35 defeat of Coastal Carolina last Saturday, he threw for 497 yards and six touchdowns and ran for two scores.
"They score a lot of points and that quarterback they've got is really something special," Monken said during Tuesday's SoCon teleconference. "They've got a whole host of guys he can throw it to, and he's a good running back. When he pulls the ball down. he's difficult to tackle."
The same can be said for Georgia Southern quarterback Jerick McKinnon, who rushed for 316 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries in the Eagles' 24-16 second-round win over Central Arkansas. McKinnon finished 5 yards short of the SoCon single-game record of 321 yards, set this season by Wofford's Eric Breitenstein, and 17 yards short of Adrian Peterson's GSU record of 333.
Going against an offense like ODU's, the Eagles' offense might also be its best defense. The longer McKinnon and the triple-option offense are on the field and grinding out first downs, the fewer chances Heinicke will have to play pitch and catch with his receivers.
Wofford's Terriers also will need to be ball hogs, though that won't be easy against an NDSU defense that is first in the FCS in every major category, including rushing defense. The Bison have held opponents to 62.3 rushing yards per game.
North Dakota State ranks 56th in the FCS in total offense (381.2 ypg) but leads the nation in time of possession (35:42).
"They have a great ball-control offense that really keeps their defense off the field, and when the defense is on the field they make a lot of plays," Breitenstein said. "They do a really good job stopping the run. ... We'll have our work cut out for us."
Should GSU and Wofford advance, they would meet next weekend in the semifinals. The Eagles are trying for a third straight semifinal appearance.