William & Mary is all about being old and established; they are one of the oldest schools in the new world, and they have one of the longest-tenured football coaches in Division I as well. Coach Jimmye Laycock is the only one in the CAA who can claim to have held his seat for longer than Villanova's Andy Talley, the two coaches are very familiar with the other's style, and that has led these programs to have some pretty closely-fought battles over the years.
The Tribe are off to a 2-2 start to their season, with wins over Lafayette and Stony Brook and losses coming on the road at Virginia, and on a late field goal in Delaware. They have been road-warriors so far this season, playing all-but-one game on the road.
It's been almost a year since we got a good look at the Tribe in action, so we reached out to Davey and Kyle Chadwick of the William & Mary Sports Blog (where you can see our responses to them) to get us caught up.
1. W&M will be playing their fourth road game out of their first five games this weekend. How does all of that travel affect the team? The fans?
It's safe to say that William & Mary does not have the best schedule, and we knew this well before the season began. For example, the Tribe didn't play its first home game until the fourth week of the football season. William & Mary's bye already came and went in the second overall week of the season--a seemingly pointless time to have an off week so early in the season. We would have preferred that the bye come later, preferably the week before a game against a tough CAA opponent, rather than the week before UVA.
As for this affecting the players themselves, it certainly does take a toll. The beginning of the season is a time to set the tone for the rest of the year. It's hard enough for any team to rack up wins in the CAA, and it's even harder when said team is constantly playing on the road week in and week out. The first four games (3 on the road) of W&M's season has resulted in these results: Win, Loss, Win, Loss--again alluding to the point that it's hard to establish consistency on the road.
There's no better example of this than last week's debacle against Delaware, a team that the Tribe was certainly better than (even hardcore Delaware fans admitted that to us before the game). We can't help but wonder if the schedule is taking a toll. On the other side of the coin is the CAA's James Madison, which has been able to play 4 out of their first 5 games of the season at home. And what is their record right now? They sit atop the conference at 5-0. While we're not saying that W&M would have the same amount of success as JMU against the very same teams at home and on the road, it still goes to show that playing at home means a lot. Home games bring alums back to campus, get students out of the library (because we all know W&M kids need a little more of that), creates an awesome atmosphere, and ultimately gets the team fired up--all resulting in more wins.
2. Both Virginia and Delaware staged comebacks against the Tribe. The latter being more unexpected of the two; what happened with W&M's defense in those games?
In the Virginia game, William & Mary played incredibly well on both sides of ball, especially considering W&M is FCS. Yes, the Tribe did allow 373 total yards, but the Tribe also totaled 371 offensive yards themselves. The game was neck and neck, and the Tribe defense kept the team in the game. If not for a third quarter that saw the Tribe outscored 0-14, the Tribe just may have pulled off the in-state upset. Not to mention, one of Virginia's third quarter touchdowns came by way of a 74 yard punt return touchdown--and did not come against the W&M defensive unit. We would argue that it was William & Mary's porous special teams play down the stretch that failed them in this one, not the defense.
However, the story changes when considering last week's game against Delaware. This was a contest in which both the offense and the defense were not clicking. A sloppy first half of play on both sides of the ball resulted in a 7-14 Delaware lead at the half. The offense had zero points to show, as W&M's lone touchdown came from a kickoff return taken to the house. However, there was still hope for W&M to mount the comeback in the second half. W&M, unlike in the UVA game, absolutely dominated the third quarter. The Tribe offense looked in sync. The defense held Delaware so many times, you could have sworn the game would end without them scoring another point. With 12 minutes left in the 4th quarter, the Tribe had scored 16 unanswered points en route to a 23-14 lead...Then it all started to fall apart. Delaware strung together a 12-play 88 yard drive, capped with a passing touchdown. W&M's offense went back to its early-game ways and stalled, punting the ball away. On the ensuing Delaware drive, the Blue Hens again marched down the field on a 12-play, clock-killing drive that and resulted in a game-winning field goal. Game over: 24-23.
William & Mary's defense had a very tough time containing the run throughout this one, especially in the final minutes of the game. The Tribe gave up a staggering 347 rushing yards to the Blue Hens. While we know that Delaware is a great rushing team, we certainly didn't expect W&M's defense to give up that many yards on the ground. Injuries are at least partly to blame. In the UVA game, two starting linebackers in Ian Haislip and Zack Fetters went down with injury and have not seen the field since. These two were not only leaders on defense, but also two run stuffers who could get after opposing teams' running backs. While senior captain and two-time First Team All-CAA linebacker Luke Rhodes is an absolute beast, he cannot be the only one significantly helping the defensive line out in run defense. The linebacking corps has filled in admirably in the absence of Haislip and Fetters, but the Tribe would welcome their speedy recovery and quick returns to the gridiron.
3. The Tribe have the league's best scoring defense -- ahead of Villanova by more than 2 points per game. What does that defense do so well to stop drives short?
When the Tribe's defense is clicking, it's hard to get anything by them. To start, this unit is led by three pro prospects: defensive tackle Tyler Claytor, linebacker Luke Rhodes, and safety DeAndre-Houston Carson (better known as DHC). Claytor leads the big boys up front, Rhodes commands the unit from the middle linebacker position, and DHC shuts down the back end. Having an elite player at each level of the field is a huge bonus for the Tribe, and their senior leadership has served them well throughout this young season.
With big losses across the defensive line last season (defensive ends Michael Riley and Stephen Sinnott), we expected the defensive line play to slightly diminish. Similarly, with Houston-Carson's move from cornerback to safety, we expected a drop in production from the cornerback position. However, this has not been the case for either position group. William & Mary currently gives up 322 total yards per game, ranked third in the CAA behind only Towson and Villanova.
However, we can't help but wonder if these stats are so because of the teams that W&M has played so far. Lafayette put up a mere 7 points against them, but clearly represents a lower level of competition. And against Stony Brook, the Seawolves' star running back Stacey Bedell was out for much of the contest after he sustained an injury. But to the Tribe's credit, W&M's defense held Stony Brook scoreless and won the game 21-0. We'll definitely say this was the unit's best performance to date. In the other two games, UVA was able to move the ball on offense, and Delaware had no problem establishing the ground game, racking up huge plays on the ground. In the end, time will tell with this unit. At their best we think they can be a stingy shut down unit that we saw against Delaware in the third quarter of last week's matchup. At their worst, they can give up long game-ending drives, like what happened in the fourth quarter last week. The verdict is still out, but we believe that they can live up to the hype and sustain their current success this year; Rhodes, Claytor, and Houston-Carson will have something to say about this before the season is over, we have no doubt about that.
4. Offensively, W&M has two of the league's top-10 rushers in Mikal Abdul-Saboor and Kendell Anderson, as well as one of the better QBs. How does this Tribe offense compare to recent years?
Compared to the last 4 seasons, this year's offense is a dream come true. Head Coach Jimmye Laycock is known for developing quarterbacks, as he himself was a quarterback under Marv Levy and Lou Holtz when he attended William & Mary. However, over the last several years, Laycock has struggled to find a consistent option at the quarterback position. Shuffling between several different players, he has finally found his guy: Steve Cluley. Cluley won the job after proving himself worthy in Spring ball last season, and hasn't looked back. He performed well last year, throwing for 2,048 yards, 11 touchdowns, and just 4 interceptions. This year, he has taken a serious step forward. His decision making is even better, his deep balls look pristine, and the playbook is opened up much more than it was a season ago. Through four games, Cluley has 848 yards, 7 touchdowns, and just one interception.
Cluley's success out from center has done nothing but compliment the Tribe's already dominant run game. Even during the years that W&M was searching for a quarterback, the run game continued to be a solid option on offense; this year is no different. Running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor is a bruising running back, checking in at 5'10" 210 pounds. The senior running back finished last season with First Team All-CAA honors, after totaling 1,266 yards, 12 touchdowns, and averaging 115 yards per game. However, Abdul-Saboor was injured last week, and Kendell Anderson took his place. But to say that Kendell Anderson is a "back up" would be an insult. Two weeks ago vs. Stony Brook, Anderson rushed for an eye-popping 191 yards and two touchdowns on just 19 carries (10.1 ypc). As opposed to Abdul-Saboor's punishing running style, Kendell has homerun hitting ability that defines him as a runner.
Traditionally, W&M has operated a standard pro-style, out from center approach on offense. However, this has changed with the development of Steve Cluley. The Tribe now runs a spread offense, working almost exclusively out of shotgun and pistol formations. W&M has a slew of above average receivers, and another homerun hitting speedster in DeVonte Dedmon, that allows Steve Cluley to spread the ball around and keep defenses on their toes. Look for Offensive Coordinator Kevin Rogers to find a nice balance between the run and the pass in this weekend's matchup.
5. Four games in, what are your expectations for how the Tribe finishes the season?
The Tribe currently stands at 2-2, 1-1 CAA. Of the seven games remaining in the schedule, we would only say that the Tribe should be strongly favored in two of those games: against Towson and against Elon. Aside from that, W&M faces tough, but winnable matchups in Villanova, UNH, Richmond, Hampton, and JMU. None of those games will be shoe-ins, and every one of those teams will seriously challenge William & Mary. Even still, as the homers we are, we believe the Tribe can do it. With a tough start to the year in terms of scheduled road games, W&M has a stretch in which it plays four out of the last six games of the season at home, including one stretch in which it plays three games in a row at home. That's where the Tribe will need to get the job done, at home, in the friendly confines of Zable Stadium.
The last two years has seen W&M wind up just one game short of the playoffs. Both seasons have ended with identical 7-5 (4-4) records, and no postseason berths. We think that this year, W&M has at least 5 CAA wins in them. With one CAA win already in the books, and two hopefully coming from the likes of Elon and Towson, W&M would need just two more wins to make it to the promised land--assuming an 8-3 CAA record will be enough for a playoff berth this year. William & Mary should either be favored or dead even with everyone left on the schedule except JMU. Tribe faithful believe, and so do we. It's time to end the drought and return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season.
6. Who had the W-M letters and Green and Gold colors first, Waste Management, Inc. or William & Mary?
Well, as the second oldest university overall and as the oldest public school in the nation, it's probably no contest. I'm sure people were taking out the garbage in 1693, but Waste Management isn't likely to be the one who was picking it up. And as for the constant comparisons between W&M and Waste Management: if William & Mary = Waste Management, wouldn't that make us the Waste Managers? And if we are indeed tasked with handling waste, then what does that make our opponents on the football field? Roll Tribe Roll!