It was a wet, cold, and windy day in Harrisonburg, Virginia for this matchup. Fans who stayed until the bitter end were treated to a dramatic finish–but it was not a finish that ended well for the Tribe. The offense showed signs of life in the first quarter, but faltered down the stretch. On the defensive side of the ball, the Tribe was not able to show up in the clutch and hold on to an 11 point lead in the fourth quarter.
Offense: The Tribe was able to march down the field in the first quarter by running the ball often, and occasionally throwing the ball. Mikal Abdul-Saboor would finish with 29 carries, 124 yards, and one touchdown on the day. William & Mary put up an impressive 10 points of offense in the first quarter. But although W&M was able to rack up some production on the ground throughout this match, the passing game faltered down the stretch–when it was needed most.
Quarterback Steve Cluley completed 14 of 25 passes for 172 yards and one touchdown. Senior wide receiver Tre McBride did not see the ball much at all in this contest–which was one of the main problems throughout the game. Each time Tre would line up wide, JMU made sure they had at least one safety over the top for help. This game plan worked out very well for the Dukes, as McBride was held with just 4 receptions for 29 yards. No receiver on the team had more receiving yards than true freshman tight end Andrew Caskins‘ 62 yards on the day, and no receivers had more than McBride’s 4 receptions.
Pretty quickly into this game, the offense looked out of sync. As mentioned, Tre was silent for much of the contest, the Dukes slowly but surely shut down the Tribe run game, and Cluley was not able to get into any sort of rhythm–either on the ground or through the air. W&M gained only 18 first downs to JMU’s 27. The offensive unit only amassed a mere 227 yards to JMU’s 445. What may have been the most frustrating was the Tribe’s inability to convert on third down, as the squad converted just 3 of 13 (23%) first down attempts.
Beyond the numbers, the offense was simply stymied by an average JMU defense. It wasn’t too surprising, given the fact that the team only put up 3 points against another average defense in the New Hampshire Wildcats–but unacceptable nonetheless. We can possibly chalk this one up to harsh Harrisonburg weather conditions and a young, maturing quarterback under center. But hey, maybe JMU’s defensive game plan was great. And could we have called better plays? Absolutely. Either way, the offense only produced 17 total points–which in the end, would not be nearly enough to outgain JMU’s high-powered offense.
Defense: The defense played lights out through three quarters of play. Early in the fourth quarter, William & Mary led the JMU Dukes by a score of 24-13. With 14:55 minutes left in the game, just about everyone in the stadium believed that the Tribe would walk away with a victory on JMU’s Homecoming game (though, we’re sure Dukes fans would disagree!). But JMU’s offense would leave their mark on this one before it was all said and done.
In the first three quarters, W&M forced several JMU punts. This was somewhat surprising against the fast-paced, hurry up JMU offense that is known for scoring points in bunches. The Tribe held JMU to ~14 yards rushing in the entire first half. If not for a 20+ yard scramble by JMU QB Vad Lee to end the second quarter, the Dukes would have been held to negative rushing yards through two quarters of play. This was a major accomplishment for the Tribe, especially against a JMU Dukes team that is known for running the ball well. In the game, William & Mary impressively held JMU to just 121 total rushing yards.
Another positive was the team’s ability to get after the quarterback. CAA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Mike Reilly finished with an impressive 2.5 sacks, and Tyler Claytor followed suit with 1.5 sacks. What makes these numbers more impressive is the fact that Vad Lee is known for his scrambling ability, but Lee was held to a meager 30 yards rushing in the game. In this aspect, W&M was able to contain Vad Lee very well throughout most of the game.
As noted, W&M was up by a score of 24-13 with 14:55 left in the fourth quarter. James Madison, running their hurry up offense, was then able to quickly score on all three of their next three drives. The Dukes converted a field goal, two touchdowns, and one 2 point attempt to end the game with 31 points to the Tribe’s 24. The defense was methodically picked apart by Vad Lee’s arm, and JMU receiver Daniel Brown was able to repeatedly torch the W&M secondary, finishing with 128 yards and one touchdown. In total, the defense gave up 18 points in the fourth quarter. The worst part about it was the fact that the Tribe had played great defense for three long quarters against a great offense. But in the end, it wasn’t enough.
Special Teams: Redshirt freshman Nick Dorka again filled in for placekicker John Carpenter and for sophomore punter Hunter Windmuller. Dorka, as he did last week against Delaware, performed fairly well. He converted on a 23 yard field goal, but missed a crucial 38 yard field goal, that would have put the Tribe up 27-23 toward the end of the fourth quarter. In the punting game, Dorka averaged 40.6 punting yards on 5 punts.
Before leaving the game with an injury, true freshman DeVonte Dedmon was having a great game. He ripped off a few eye-popping kick returns, including one staggering fake reverse that went for a 77 yard return to the JMU 19 yard line. He is an incredibly shifty and speedy athlete that can make serious moves in space. He added to his 137 kick return yards with 2 receptions for 37 yards and one touchdown on offense–totaling 174 all-purpose yards. Dedmon’s 174 total yards was the most in the game for both teams. We really hope that Dedmon’s injury isn’t anything serious, as he appeared to leave the field in the late third/early fourth quarter and did not return.
Contributing to this year’s incredible turnover margin, the Tribe was again able to block two punts. DeAndre Houston-Carson was able to get his hands on a JMU punt in the second quarter–setting up the W&M offense at the JMU 42 yard line. Striking again in the fourth quarter, Kendell Anderson blocked and caught a JMU punt at the one yard line, and took it into the end zone for a William & Mary score–putting the Tribe up 24-13. The ability for this team to block punts on special teams has been incredible, and it seems that W&M blocks a punt at least every other game; if not, every game. This has certainly been fun to watch, and we look forward to more blocks in the coming weeks.
Around the CAA: This weekend’s surprise came when the Richmond Spiders knocked off the Villanova Wildcats. Villanova is a very strong top 5 team, who will now surely fall in the rankings. The Tribe will have a tough matchup to look forward to against Richmond for the final game of the season. Next weekend’s opponent, Elon, lost in a close one to Towson by a score of 21-19.
Conclusion: Unfortunately for the Tribe, this loss to JMU may have been the dagger that halts any chance at a W&M FCS playoff berth. The CAA is very strong this year, and it is very likely that 4 teams will receive bids to the FCS playoffs. As of right now, the four teams seem to be Villanova, New Hampshire, Richmond, and JMU. The Tribe was not able to hold onto the lead this week but can look forward to finishing out the season strong against Elon, Towson, and Richmond–and hoping for the best. It’ll be especially fun to watch the continued maturation of quarterback Steve Cluley as this team looks to end the season on a high note. Now, on to Elon. LET’S GO TRIBE!