William & Mary are a tough test on the road, regularly sporting one of the league's strongest defensive units, the Tribe are currently ranked 15th in the top-25. Despite that ranking, they are something of a mystery this season, however, and are coming off of a huge loss to New Hampshire last weekend. The Tribe are working in a young quarterback and have the unenviable job of replacing one of their best defensive players this season.
We reached out to Kyle Chadwick of the William & Mary Sports Blog (@wmsportsblog) to catch us up on the Tribe. Be sure to head over to WMSportsBlog.com to check out their coverage of W&M Football.
(1) William & Mary always seems to have one of the league's top defenses, has a Laycock team ever hung its hat on the offense?
Traditionally, Laycock has actually been known as a quarterback's coach--not a defensive coach. He is a former college Quarterback, of course playing at William & Mary. As a quarterback specialist, the Tribe has usually fielded a well-coached and experienced player at the helm of the offense.
However, within the last few years, this has not been the case. As of late, W&M's recent quest for a quarterback has been much like the quest for the Holy Grail! The team has tried several different types of QBs in the past four years, none of which have panned out exceptionally well, and several have been lost to injury--negating any sort of consistency at the position.
To answer the question more directly, the answer is yes! Laycock teams have definitely been led by the offense, and been more balanced. As recently as the 2009-2010 season, when R.J. Archer began the year by leading the Tribe to a victory over "in-state (academic) rival" UVA. Then again, the Tribe defense was also pretty good that year, so maybe that isn't a great example--but this was the last time the Tribe was known for solid quarterback play and a solid offense. Since then, production at the offense's most important position has certainly declined. Though, I must add, current starter Steve Cluley, though still young and unpolished, has shown the most promise since 2011. But he has a long way to go to completely win over the hearts of Tribe fans everywhere.
(2) Losing big at New Hampshire last week is rough, but the Tribe are still ranked #15 in the latest polls. Where do you expect them to be at the end of the season?
Unfortunately for the Tribe, the team has a hard schedule that does not let up much. Beginning the year with a strong win on the road at Stony Brook was then followed up by playing a top 5 ranked team at New Hampshire. Then, of course, the team takes on Villanova, then followed by Delaware and JMU. All of these teams are very strong on at least one side of the ball. Stony Brook had an absolutely dominant defense, Villanova, UNH, and JMU have high-powered offenses, and Delaware may have one or the other depending on their matchup. And let's not forget that we play Richmond at the end of the season.
This is an incredibly tough slate for the Tribe, but if the team can pull out a win over Villanova this weekend, it would go a long way for their overall ranking at the end of the season--as Villanova is in our opinion the current class of the CAA. In short, it all depends on the Tribe offense. Will we be able to go toe to toe against these teams and put up points?
This year, William and Mary has one CAA loss (New Hampshire), and we feel as though we can afford one and maybe even two more CAA losses and still make the FCS playoffs (due to the strength of our schedule). Few teams in the CAA have as strong a schedule as the Tribe, facing both top 5 teams in Villanova and New Hampshire, as well as ranked Richmond and an up and coming team in JMU. With the strength of schedule, if the Tribe is able to win the majority of these games, they are capable of ending as a top 10 team that can make the FCS playoffs due to strength of schedule alone. We think it's more likely that the team ends up in the "teens," but if we lose a majority of these games, the team will not be ranked at the end of the season.
(3) Without Jerome Couplin III on the field, who is leading the way for the W&M defense this season? How will they approach trying to stop John Robertson?
Losing Jerome Couplin III to the Detroit Lions was a tough lose. He perennially led the team in tackles, and was also able to stop the pass. This year, there are several players stepping up to the plate to fill the void. At defensive line, the Tribe is led by senior Mike Reilly, who was the preseason CAA Defensive Player of the Year, and Jasper Coleman, an imposing force in the middle of the line who is a run stuffer. Reilly has registered 5 sacks through 6 games, and is constantly getting double-teamed on the line.
The deepest positional unit may be the linebackers, where the Tribe boasts two studs in junior captain Luke Rhodes and senior Airek Green. Rhodes is the gap-plugger, leading the team with 52 total tackles. But the player that is the X factor and our favorite player to watch on the defense is Airek Green. Green is a senior linebacker, who can truly do it all. He currently has 23 total tackles, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, a blocked kick, a forced fumble and a safety I just four games. Like we said, he can do it all.
Trying to stop John Robertson is no easy task. He can do it all, registering close to 1500 yards passing with 20 touchdowns and just 1 interception in 6 games. Those are scary good numbers, and to add in 359 yards rushing with a touchdown just seems unfair. There is a reason he has been named CAA offensive player of the week four times so far this year. While I don't think it will be possible to stop Robertson, the key for the Tribe is to contain him. The Tribe will likely attempt to get to Robertson via the sack, disrupt and contain him in the pocket, and keep him off his game. The task will most certainly be a group effort. Mike Reilly will have to get after Robertson early and often, Linebackers Airek Green and Luke Rhodes will have to contain Robertson on the ground, and Deandre Houston-Carson, William and Mary's top corner, and the entire secondary will have to have a big day.
(4) The Tribe's offense seems to revolve around Mikal Abdul-Saboor grinding out yards on the ground, how important is it for him to establish a running game? Who else is a threat to make a big play on Saturday?
Coming into the season, we really thought that it would be a running back by committee situation for the Tribe, as we are very deep at the position. However, Abdul-Saboor has really established himself as an every down workhorse. It is incredibly important for the Tribe to establish the ground game early and often. We are truly a run-first offense, which then sets up the pass game. We've observed several W&M fans recently complain that the team is not running the ball enough. But whenever the Tribe offense has performed well this season, the run game has almost always led the way.
The obvious player aside from Abdul-Saboor who is a threat to make a big play on Saturday is senior Tre McBride. McBride has been, by far, the most prolific receiving threat for W&M in the last four seasons. Even through quarterback woes, McBride has been able to rack up thousands of yards and several touchdowns. He has the "go up and get it" ability, but only if our quarterback is on his game. Current quarterback, Steve Cluley, has had sporadic success with McBride up to this point, but McBride is truly able to break out at any point during the game. Look for him to at least receive an NFL training camp try out this summer.
A less obvious threat to make a big play is true freshman DeVonte Dedmon. Dedmon is a very speedy player who plays similar to Percy Harvin of the Seattle Seahawks. He gets the ball on reverses, screens, and is a big threat to go deep. He is the fastest player on the Tribe roster, and could come up with a big catch on Saturday if Laycock decides to throw it deep.
(5) Villanova and W&M have two of the winningest and longest-tenured coaches in the country and have played a bunch of important and memorable games over the years. Do Tribe fans look at this game as an important rivalry? Why, or why not?
Villanova and W&M are two successful programs with great histories. Both teams have enjoyed success, but Villanova has risen to the top in the last couple of years while the Tribe has fallen. Even still, the two teams have a great series history that dates back to 1966. William & Mary leads the series at 16-14-1, essentially .500, which shows just how competitive this matchup has been in the past. Tribe fans definitely look at this game as an important rivalry. I wouldn't call it as big of a rivalry as the ones we have against JMU and Richmond (both in state), but our back and forth competition with the Wildcats always makes this an interesting matchup!