In this game, the Tribe was able to overcome a very rocky first half to put the Leopards away in the third and fourth quarters. The Leopards were able to amass hundreds of yards against a shaky Tribe defense, even leading 19-9 at the half, but W&M’s second half adjustments proved enough to pull out a win in the end.
Offense: William & Mary came out of the gate guns blazing. On the opening drive, quarterback Steve Cluley connected with Tre McBride on perfectly thrown 73 yard bomb, leading to Tribe field position inside the five yard-line. On the very next play, Kendell Anderson plunged in for a 3 yard score.
Unfortunately for the Tribe, that was the extent of the team’s scoring in the half–as W&M only amassed an unimpressive 7 points in the first two quarters of play. To be fair, true freshman DeVonte Dedmon dropped a sure touchdown pass in the second quarter, thrown on the money by Cluley, directly taking 7 points off the board.
But after a disappointing first half, the second half was a different story–a story told by the legs of Steve Cluley. We knew he had the ability to run when plays broke down, but no one knew Cluley could tuck it and run the way he did on Saturday night.
Cluley opened up the second half by keeping the ball on a read option play and sprinting a staggering SIXTY yards to the Leopards end of the field–ultimately coming up just short of a touchdown. The Tribe would eventually convert on a TD pass from Cluley to Kendell Anderson. Throughout the entire second half, Cluley lit it up on the ground. He finished the game with 13 carries, 87 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns. He did a little bit of everything: running option plays, QB powers, and executing a QB sneak or two. The Tribe would go on to score 24 points in the third and fourth quarters, putting the Leopards away.
As good as the offense was in the second half, a drawback of the unit this week was an inability to get something going through the air. While Cluley was able to perform well with his feet, in the passing game, he went just 8 for 18 (44%) with 141 yards and one touchdown. Not one Tribe receiver had more than three receptions and none had more than 71 yards (both distinctions belong to Tre McBride).
The absence of Bo Revell and Sean Ballard (see injury update below) was definitely felt in this contest, as the Tribe could not develop any consistency in mid-range throws. Executing a passing game that can consistently pick up 8-12 yard plays will be something the offense will need to work on on in order to compete in this year’s CAA. Perhaps, more play action passes?
Defense: This was not a pretty showing for the Tribe defense–in the first half, W&M was gouged, especially on the ground. Lafayette tailback Ross Scheuerman proved his worth by carrying the ball for 160 yards and one touchdown (the vast majority of which coming in the first half)–taking his very first carry for 72 yards and a score. Poor tackling and gap control has proven costly for the Tribe so far this season, both of which were on full display in the first half, as the team found themselves in a hole early. The score was 19-9 at the half.
To be sure, this was a tale of two halves for the Tribe defense. The team made some adjustments, and seriously came out to play in the second half. In the third quarter, senior captain Stephen Sinnott forced a fumble that was picked up by Jared Velasquez. This directly resulted in an offensive touchdown for W&M, putting the team up 23-19 (the Tribe would lead from then on).
The defense also forced another fumble in the fourth quarter, as senior Mike Reilly recorded a strip sack, which was recovered by junior captain Luke Rhodes. Rhodes would finish the game with 7 total tackles and one sack. One player who had a coming out party on defense was a true freshman defensive lineman, Isaiah Stephens. Stephens proved his mettle by noticeably blowing up a couple plays, finishing with an impressive 3 tackles and one sack.
If the Tribe defense plays the way they did in the second half, there’s no telling what the unit can accomplish this season. But if the squad comes out and plays the way they did in the first half, against ranked CAA opponents, it won’t be pretty. In the end, the Tribe defense tightened up and showed great resiliency after trailing at the half.
Special Teams: In the first half, DeAndre Houston-Carson returned a Mike Reilly-blocked extra point attempt to the house for two points. In the kicking game, senior kicker John Carpenter connected on a very impressive 49 yard field goal in the fourth, which put the Leopards even further out of reach. His leg will be on full display this season, as it has been so far.
Injury Update: Unfortunately, there are several updates on this front for the Tribe. Offensively, Running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor did not play and neither did Sean Ballard. On the offensive line, Chris Durant and Connor Hilland both did not suit up for this contest.
Defensively, Airek Green was seen dressed-down on the sideline wearing a boot the entire game. Another linebacker in Marcus Harvey also did not suit up for the contest. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the players listed above were held out for precautionary reasons–saving them for CAA play, and that nothing is too serious.
As for injuries on special teams, punter Hunter Windmuller was run into after a punt during the game, a controversial play in which no flag was thrown, resulting in his being taken off the field. He was seen in a shoulder sling on the sidelines as John Carpenter took over punting duties for the remainder of the contest.
Around the CAA: Villanova edged James Madison in a shoot out, Albany got a CAA win, and New Hampshire just barely beat Richmond. Next week’s opponent, Stony Brook, lost by a score of 13-3 against North Dakota.
Conclusion: Both the offense and defense have things to work on, but the Tribe’s solid second half was very promising. It showed good coaching, heart, and resiliency for a team down 10 at the half to dominate the way they did in the third and fourth quarters. If the Tribe can match that level of intensity and efficiency on both sides of the ball in each game this year, it will be fun to watch. CAA play FINALLY starts for W&M next week on the road at Stony Brook. GO TRIBE!!!