Teel Time: Vanderbilt transfer Simmons sparks reeling ODU defense

Defensive highlights are rarer than sashimi tuna when you allow eight touchdowns and 725 yards. But Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder found a ray of encouragement in the Monarchs’ D after their 64-61, come-from-behind epic over New Hampshire on Saturday.

Reserve safety Andre Simmons is a sophomore transfer from Vanderbilt, where last season he played solely on special teams. His final-minute interception Saturday secured ODU’s victory, and his six tackles sparked a reeling defense.

“In my head I was thinking, we can’t stop them right now,” Wilder said of early in the fourth quarter. “We just don’t have an answer … and we really didn’t get an answer until, when we got it to a one-score game, and then we had a couple of injuries on defense, and Andre Simmons went in at nickel back. … I just felt like when Andre went in, we started playing better.”

The Monarchs made it a one-score game on Taylor Heinicke’s 12-yard touchdown pass and subsequent 2-point conversion toss, both to Nick Mayers. That drew them within 54-46 with 13:04 remaining.

Since a roughing-the-passer penalty allowed ODU to kick off from midfield, Wilder called for an onside kick. It didn’t work, but the defense held.

“Andre just brought so much juice,” Wilder said. “I have to see the tape. I don’t know if he was Superman out there. But it just looked like when he came in, and we had to go nickel, we played better. That was a key turning point because when I called for that onside kick and we didn’t get it, the defense stopped them and we got the ball back and tied it.”

That ODU did, on Heinicke’s 9-yard pass to Mayers and 2-point conversion throw to Blair Roberts – Heinicke finished with a Division I-record 730 yards.

Simmons hails from South County High in Lorton, where he had Bowl Subdivision offers from Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Wake Forest, Boston College, Illinois, Northwestern and Rutgers, according to Rivals.com

With five freshmen and six sophomores on the defensive two-deep, Wilder needs all the experience he can find on that side of the ball, even if it is from a transfer who played limited snaps at his previous school.

“I’m going to stick to that,” Wilder said. “I’m committed to playing those younger kids.”

I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns, including one on Saturday's game.

Copyright © 2018, The Virginia Gazette