Preview: William & Mary vs. Norfolk State

(Jason Hirschfeld | The Virginian-Pilot)
(Jason Hirschfeld | The Virginian-Pilot)

After a 42-14 trouncing of Hampton a week ago, the Tribe will finally play their home opener this Saturday at Zable Stadium! W&M will take on the Norfolk State Spartans this Saturday at 7 PM, making this the Tribe’s third straight matchup against a Virginia university in as many games.

Norfolk State This Season: Like several teams at the beginning of the college football season, the Spartans are still trying to get their offense together. The team opened its season against CAA power, the University of Maine–losing by a respectable and somewhat surprising score, 10-6. What makes that score a little more surprising is the fact that Maine is currently ranked 23rd in The Sports Network’s latest FCS poll.

But the Spartans faltered last week, losing to Liberty by a score of 17-0. Judging how NSU has played these last couple of weeks by digging deeper into the stats, it seems that Norfolk State has a defense that can really keep them in games that they shouldn’t be in. Holding Maine, a nationally ranked CAA team, to just one touchdown and one field goal is a feat in itself. If the Spartans’ offense were clicking this season, the team might just be 2-0 going into this game against the Tribe.

Speaking of offense, that is where Norfolk State is still figuring things out, specifically at the quarterback position. NSU’s Donald Hill-Eley, in his first season as Offensive Coordinator for the Spartans, is attempting to get the offense on track. In their first game of the season, NSU ran the ball 42 times against Maine, and only threw the ball 16 times. The team’s quarterback play was largely erratic in the contest; the Spartans ended up playing all three of their quarterbacks. In the second game, the team went with just one quarterback, but still ran the ball 45 times and only threw it 16 times. Therefore, it seems like NSU’s offensive mantra is largely, at least at this point: run first and pass second.

Last Meeting with the Tribe: The last time the Tribe faced Norfolk State was in 2009, back in what now seems like some old glory days for W&M. Jonathan Grimes was a sophomore, David Caldwell was a senior, B.W. Webb was a freshman, and R.J. Archer was a senior. Of course, this was also the Tribe team that beat UVA to start the season! William & Mary was up 27-0 going into the fourth against NSU, chose to sit starting QB R.J. Archer, and ended up winning the game 27-15. The Tribe began the season 3-0 for the first time since 1998, and even received a few first place votes after the game.

Norfolk State’s Players to Watch: The leader of Norfolk State’s defense is a monster of a player in #7, Lynden Trail. Trail is a 6’7” 260 pound junior linebacker who transferred from the University of Florida a couple seasons ago. Trail is the preseason MEAC defensive player of the year, as well as a preseason All American. Trail’s imposing size and athleticism allows him to play as both a linebacker and a defensive end; he will attempt to wreak havoc on the Tribe offense this week.

Another player to watch is NSU’s newly anointed 6’3” freshman quarterback, #1 Terrance Ervin. Ervin is a true freshman from Richmond, who last played at L.C. Bird High School. Ervin was subpar last week against Liberty, completing 10 of 16 pass attempts for 56 yards, 0 touchdowns, and one interception; he also rushed 21 times for a meager 27 yards. Keeping in mind that Ervin is a true freshman, these numbers are not surprising, but NSU fans everywhere hope he can develop into something special for years to come.

Another defensive player to watch is #51, a 6’3” 295 pound run stuffer, George Riddick. Riddick, now a senior, was an all-MEAC Third Team selection last season, and looks to build off that strong performance this year. He led Norfolk State’s defensive line in total tackles last season, as he racked up 40. NSU’s defensive line is big and explosive. The combined forces of Riddick and Trail will create problems and mismatches for many offensive lines this season.

Lastly, we have running back #34 Aaron Daniels. Daniels was the only player in this run heavy offense to rush for a solid average last week. The sophomore tailback carried the ball 11 times for 75 yards (6.8 yards per carry). In an offense that runs the ball as much as NSU does, Daniels could see his name called on a lot this weekend against the Tribe.

Tribe Keys to Victory:

  • Run a balanced run/pass offense, but let Steve Cluley air it out more. Keep this NSU defense, and specifically Lynden Trail, on their toes. We all want to see Cluley air it out, and the Tribe has the weapons to do it. Time to let it fly.
  • Stop the run. Norfolk State’s offense is completely dependent upon the run. If the Tribe can control the line of scrimmage, NSU will not score many points.
  • Get to the young quarterback. Dial it up. Bring Reilly, Rhodes, Green, Sinnott. Hey, let’s even send a corner blitz or two. Ratcheting up the pressure on a true freshman quarterback is bound to pay dividends.

Prediction: Tribe 38 Norfolk State 10
It would be nice to see Tre McBride play and tear up the Norfolk State secondary, but we’re fine if he sits out another week to rehab his injury some more if need be. McBride is much too valuable for the Tribe offense this season, and we can’t afford his re-injury. With that being said, this game will be a great test for our offense, going up against a very solid FCS defense. But in the end, I see the Tribe defense racking up sacks, the offense clicking, and Cluley throwing for 200+ yards and 2 touchdowns in this one. You can check out the official game notes here!


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