Preview: #22 William & Mary vs. #21 Richmond


LOSER GOES HOME, WINNER ADVANCES TO THE FCS PLAYOFFS. It’s as simple as that. The Tribe’s matchup against arch-rival Richmond, in what will be the two teams’ 124th all-time meeting, is a playoff game in the final matchup of the regular season. The Tribe is anxious to bring the Capital Cup back to Williamsburg, stomp the Spiders, and avenge last season’s loss. We highly recommend you check out the hotlink above, detailing the Tribe’s storied rivalry with the Spiders in the Capital Cup series!

Last Meeting with the Tribe: One season ago, William & Mary found itself in the same exact situation: beat Richmond and you’re into the FCS playoffs. Just like this season, the Tribe absolutely needed the win in order to secure a playoff berth. However, W&M would fall by a score of 31-20, ending their season, as the team failed to achieve that long sought-after playoff spot.

In the game, quarterback Brent Caprio threw for 250 yards and no touchdowns. Running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor was held in check with just 10 carries for 40 yards. Richmond’s quarterback Michael Strauss threw for 233 yards, 1 touchdown, and no interceptions. And Richmond running back Seth Fisher ran all over the Tribe, finishing with 131 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

Last year’s vaunted Tribe defense did not step up when needed, as Richmond jumped out to a 31-13 lead over the Tribe in the third quarter–a deficit the Tribe would not be able to erase. We think it’s safe to say that the green and gold are more than hungry enough to avenge that agonizing loss this season. 

Richmond this Year: The Richmond Spiders come into this game with the same exact record as William & Mary–both sport a 7-4, 4-3 CAA record. The Spiders started out the season incredibly strong, amassing a 7-2 overall record. Richmond has gone on to lose its last two games, as they fell to JMU last week, and to Maine the week before. The Spiders looked to be a sure lock to the FCS playoffs before the last two weeks, but this has more than helped the Tribe’s playoff hopes, and has now set up what amounts to a regular season playoff game between the two rivals.

Richmond Ranks among the top offenses in the CAA  [via]
Although Richmond has struggled the last two weeks, they are still an incredibly strong team. Earlier in the season, the Spiders only lost to powerhouse New Hampshire by a razor thin margin of 29-26. And just before their most recent two game losing streak, Richmond knocked off powerhouse Villanova in a heated defensive battle, 10-9. Playing the two best teams in the CAA so well and beating one of them means a lot, and the Tribe will have to play their best game of the season to defeat what will be a very hungry Richmond team this weekend.

Yet again, Richmond is led by their high-flying offense. The team comes in ranked 9th in Total Passing Offense in the entire nation. In the CAA, the Spiders are of course ranked even higher in Passing Offense, coming in at #1 in the league. Richmond is averaging 316.7 passing yards per game, and will look to air it out the entire contest against William & Mary this Saturday.

Top Scoring Offenses in the CAA [via]
But don’t think that the Spiders only pass the ball, they can run it too. Richmond is ranked 8th in the CAA in Rushing Offense, averaging 149.1 rushing yards per game. In comparison, William & Mary ranks 7th in the CAA in Rushing Offense, averaging 153.3 yards per game. A lot has been said about the Tribe’s stellar run game, especially in respect to W&M running back Abdul-Saboor’s outstanding season, but Richmond only averages around 4 yards less per game on the ground than the Tribe. The Spiders’ stellar passing attack undoubtedly opens up the run game, and allows their running backs to take advantage of unsuspecting defensive packages who are expecting the pass.

Also on the defensive side of the ball, the Spiders are more highly ranked than one might think. Don’t forget that this team recently allowed only 10 points to an incredibly talented Villanova offense. Because the Richmond offense is so widely talked about, their defense often gets overlooked.

CAA Total Defense Rankings [via]
In the CAA, Richmond ranks #3 overall in Rush Defense, only allowing an average of 134.1 rushing yards per game. Again in the CAA, the Spiders rank #3 overall in Pass Defense, only allowing an average of 179.8 passing yards per game. All of this leads to Richmond’s Total Defense being ranked a very solid #2 overall in the CAA. The Tribe will have their hands full on offense this Saturday as they look to find some holes in this Spider defense.

Richmond’s Players to Watch:

Richmond Quarterback Michael Strauss [Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports]
The Tribe must stop Richmond Quarterback Michael Strauss on Saturday. [Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports]
QB #3 Michael Strauss was ruled out for the season after he suffered an ankle injury earlier in the year. However, surprising all, he returned to action last Saturday against JMU–in a likely attempt to finish out his senior season the right way. At one point in the game against JMU, Strauss was on the ground in obvious pain, and was looked at by trainers.

He returned to the game after Rocco took over for a couple of plays, and finished with 225 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. Before his injury, Strauss was leading the CAA in passing and was on a serious roll. As stated, Richmond is known for their passing attack, and if Richmond is to win this weekend, Strauss will play a large role. While the Tribe will likely be without star cornerback DeAndre Houston-Carson, W&M’s secondary will have to fulfill a tall order in bringing the Spiders’ passing game to a halt.

William & Mary’s defense will mainly focus their game plan around Michael Strauss, but they must not forget RB #4 Seth Fisher. Stated above, Fisher ran all over the Tribe last season, gaining 131 yards and 2 touchdowns in the contest. He is also coming off a game against JMU where he gained a whopping 124 yards on the ground in just 14 carries. Fisher would have added 2 touchdowns were it not for two forced fumbles right before he reached the end zone. On Saturday, the linebackers of the Tribe will have to hit their gaps and keep Fisher in check.

Additionally, Richmond has a couple of star WRs in #11 Reggie Diggs & #12 Brian Brown. Reggie Diggs has 832 yards on the year with 3 touchdowns, and Brian Brown has 817 yards with 2 touchdowns. Both receivers average over 70 yards a game and have combined for over 1600 yards of passing offense alone. Quarterback Michael Strauss will look to these two often; Tribe cornerbacks Trey Reed and Aaron Swinton will need to play their A game to keep up with these two.

On the defensive side of the ball, Richmond has two stud senior linebackers in #24 Aaron Roane and #34 Eric Wright. Typically a member of the secondary, such as a cornerback or safety, has the most interceptions on the team, but this is not the case with Richmond. Linebacker Aaron Roane leads the Richmond defense in interceptions with 3, and has also tacked on 64 tackles to boot. Another Spider linebacker in Eric Wright leads the team in tackles with 76, and he has also added two interceptions on the year. These two senior linebackers will do their best to try and slow down Mikal Abdul-Saboor, as well as Steve Cluley, this weekend.

Tribe Keys to Victory:

  • Get to Michael Strauss. Preseason CAA Defensive Player of the Year Mike Reilly comes into this game with 11 total sacks. If W&M is to win this one, Richmond quarterback Michael Strauss, harboring an ankle injury, needs to be thrown off his game. Get to him early and often.
  • Ground and pound. William & Mary’s running game had great success against Towson last week, and that first half was probably the best offensive showing on the ground the whole season. If the Tribe can run the ball that well again, quarterback Steve Cluley will have a lot easier time picking apart the Spiders’ defense.
  • Cornerbacks, time to step up. Richmond has been shredding opposing defenses this year. The Tribe’s best cornerback, DeAndre Houston-Carson is likely to be held out of this contest, and cornerbacks Aaron Swinton and Trey Reed will need to have their best games of the season on Saturday.
  • Solid Offensive line play. Although we usually only come up with three keys to victory, this is without a doubt the most important game of the season. The Tribe has sustained injuries across each position on the offensive line, as two more players fell to injury last week against Towson. If W&M can’t establish a run game or protect Steve Cluley, it will be a long day. This patchwork offensive line will need to have a huge day against this Spider defense.

Adding to that last point, the Tribe will desperately need to win the game in the trenches on Saturday. Establishing the run game with Abdul-Saboor is one of the keys to victory. Much will be expected of Jennings and Mahfood (assuming Jones and Ugokwe are still out), and we’re hoping they can step up to the plate. The Tribe is just about down to all second stringers along the offensive line, and while this provides great experience for the back ups, this Saturday’s contest is a must-win. The play of the offensive line may dictate which way this game goes, and will be the #1 matchup to watch this weekend.

Tribe Injury Update:  Senior captain Bo Revell returned to the field last week against Towson–playing in his first game since the season opener at Virginia Tech. Center Andrew Jones suffered an injury, and was replaced by Kevin Jennings. Cornerback DeAndre Houston-Carson remained out, and was filled in for by Aaron Swinton a week ago. Again on the offensive line, right tackle Jerry Ugokwe left the contest against Towson on a cart in the 3rd quarter, and was seen walking around on crutches with a boot on his ankle after the game. Ugokwe was replaced by Junior Zach Mahfood.

Viewing: If you can’t get out to Zable Stadium this weekend (BE THERE!), the game will be aired nationally on NBCSN.

Prediction: Tribe 27 Spiders 24
William & Mary will need to take full advantage of playing within the friendly confines of Zable Stadium and knock Richmond’s quarterback off his game. Tribe quarterback Steve Cluley will likely need to rely on running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor to have a good game in order to open up some passing lanes, and Cluley will also need to connect on some great passes in order to ultimately get the job done. This contest will surely be a heated battle between two arch-rival, in-state teams that are incredibly hungry for playoff berths. It’s time to ROCK ZABLE, LET’S GO TRIBE!!!
Check out the official game notes here!

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