Old Dominion receivers Zach Pascal and Jonathan Duhart say that success inspires, but that fear and shame can be equally powerful motivators.
Both cite dropped passes in key moments as incentive for accomplishments in the second half of the season. In Pascal’s case, it was a dropped touchdown pass against North Carolina State in September. For Duhart, it was a pair of drops on third-down plays in a loss at Marshall in early October.
“Probably one of the most embarrassing moments I’ve had in my life,” Pascal said. “I promised myself and I started praying more, I don’t ever want that to happen again.”
Duhart said that he’s never dropped two passes in a game, at any level.
“I told myself, I can’t drop any more this season,” he said. “I’ve got to make up for that. I felt like, personally, I let my team down. My parents were watching. I don’t like dropping passes in front of my parents. I felt like I let them down. Maybe work a little harder.”
The Monarchs’ leading receivers have been stout in the past month as ODU (5-6, 3-4 Conference USA) attempts to become bowl eligible in the regular-season finale Saturday against Florida Atlantic (2-9, 2-5) at noon on ASN.
“It’s a big thing,” said Pascal, one of ASN’s FBS Players of the Week this season. “Everybody on campus is excited for this game. Everybody is excited for a bowl that we’re capable of winning. It’s funny, because early in the season we were up and down, and we’re still capable of going to a bowl.”
Indeed, the Monarchs were 3-5 after a loss to Western Kentucky. They’ve won two of three since to put themselves in position to become eligible for a bowl in their first season as a Football Bowl Subdivision program.
“After App State,” Pascal said, referring to a disheartening 49-0 loss, “we came together and said, we’ve got to turn the season around if we want to make a bowl. It’s a big accomplishment right now, and it’s a big game that everybody’s excited for.”
Pascal has caught 34 of his team-high 60 passes for 445 yards and two touchdowns in the past four games. Duhart has 27 of his 41 receptions, for 389 yards and seven of his eight touchdowns in that same span. The sophomore who had just seven receptions all of last season caught nine passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns last week at Southern Miss, his third two-touchdown game of the season.
“Early on, when the passing game wasn’t performing,” ODU receivers coach Arick Forrest said, “they knew that every opportunity the ball was in the air, they had to capitalize, to make the play. So they put a little added pressure on themselves. Now, they embrace it and they like that challenge.”
Pascal, a 6-2, 215-pound junior, began the season operating mostly as an inside, or slot receiver. When the coaching staff moved David Washington from receiver to quarterback, he went back to an outside receiver position he played last season.
“I was trying to think about, what’s going on here, what’s going on there, and what to do when I get the ball here,” Pascal said. “Just thinking too much instead of playing the game that I love and doing what I have to do.”
Duhart, 6-3 and 217 pounds, often lines up as an H-back and then moves to a slot position. In the red zone, he lines up as an outside receiver. The quarterback looks for one-on-one coverage matchups with either Pascal or Duhart. Their size and physical play create problems for many defensive backs.
“You’ve got a guy like Zach that can beat you down the field and stretch you out, you’ve got to give him a lot of attention,” Duhart said. “That leaves guys like me to get more one-on-one matchups and I can get in space and make a move on somebody and make him miss, then I can go.”
Pascal and Duhart said that the quarterback rotation of Shuler Bentley and Washington doesn’t hinder their job. The Monarchs played two quarterbacks this season, due to injury and production. Bentley gets the call Saturday, and perhaps beyond, due to Washington’s season-ending knee injury.
“Every single time the ball comes my way, basically what I’m trying to do is not embarrass myself again,” Pascal said. “Now I know my role on the team is to make plays, so I just try to do that and just play the game of football that I know how to play, and stop thinking so much. Stop trying to do everything and just play the game.”