HUNTINGTON — VMI has struggled succeed on the field over the past few seasons, winning just six games in the last four years.
If the Keydets are to turn things around in 2019, they will rely heavily on the arm of quarterback Reece Udinski to get them there.
The 6-4, 224-pound junior from North Wales, Pennsylvania, broke many VMI passing records in 2018 despite the team struggling to a 1-10 season.
Udinski became the first-ever 3,000-yard passer in VMI history when he totaled 3,082 yards and 20 touchdowns for the Keydets, who essentially abandoned the run due to a lack of production.
That meant the onus was on the arm of Udinski to lead the offense down the field, and he saw relative success, considering the one-dimensional nature of the attack.
Udinski finished the year 302-of-523 (57.7 percent) and averaged 280 yards passing per game. His completion and attempt totals were also school records while his touchdown mark of 20 also tied the school’s single-season mark.
To put it in perspective, Udinski’s average of 47.5 passing attempts per game would have finished No. 2 in FBS, only trailing Washington State’s Gardner Minshew for the most in college football.
Udinski had three games of over 400 yards passing in 2018 — the most coming in a wild 52-50 loss to Western Carolina in which Udinski finished 43-of-72 for 491 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.
Udinski’s value goes beyond the statistics for the Keydets, however.
In addition to being a strong passer, Udinski proved that he is simply a tough kid.
During the 2018 season, Udinski did not miss a game despite the VMI offensive line giving up a total of 50 sacks on the season.
At each turn, Udinski consistently picked himself up and continued to lead the offense despite the struggles, which showed mental toughness as well.
The Keydets did lose 1,000-yard receiver Kris Thornton, who transferred to James Madison, but two of Udinski’s favorite targets return in Javeon Lara and Rohan Martin, meaning the chemistry in the passing game is only going to improve with the 2018 experience.
Lara led VMI in touchdown receptions in 2018 with seven while also finishing second on the team in average yards per catch (15.6). Lara caught 53 passes for 825 yards last season.
Martin played in eight games last season and had 30 catches for 252 yards with a score, as well.
One aspect that has troubled Udinski is the turnover bug.
Last season, he threw 16 interceptions. That seems like a high number, but by comparison, Marshall freshman Isaiah Green was just slightly better by ratio. Green threw an interception every 33 attempts while Udinski threw one every 32.7.
Given the defensive struggles of VMI in 2018, Udinski is going to need a big year to pull the Keydets out of the slump that they’ve seen. However, he has the tools to perform and the talent at the receiver spots for success, which is something Marshall will keep its eye on this week in preparation for Saturday’s game.