Can someone say rivalry week? After cruising to a comfortable victory over Lafayette in week 1 and a poorly-timed bye in week 2, the William & Mary Tribe is set to take on in-state nemesis UVA this Saturday. The matchup will mark the third time in seven years that Thomas Jefferson’s two favorite colleges have squared off on the gridiron, and as NFL great Terrell Owens would say, “Get your popcorn ready!”
Last Meeting with the Tribe: The Virginia Cavaliers blew out the Tribe in the teams’ last meeting, as William and Mary fell in the season opener 40-3. Former Virginia running back Kevin Parks had a field day, rushing for 114 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries against an overmatched Tribe defense. In comparison, Tribe running backs combined for a mere 48 yards, with three different Tribe quarterbacks connecting on just 11 of 34 passes, 0 touchdowns, and 1 interception. In the end, W&M put up a weak fight, and Virginia took full advantage.
However, in a 2009 game that will forever live in W&M lore, the Tribe knocked off the Cavaliers 26-14. Unlike the 2011 matchup, William and Mary only played one quarterback (not three), R.J. Archer, who passed for 184 yards and one touchdown. Former Tribe great Jonathan Grimes also rushed for 46 yards, but the biggest star of the day was cornerback B.W. Webb. Webb notched an incredible three interceptions, including one game-ending pick six. It’s certainly safe to say that this game was not only the highlight of Webb’s collegiate career, but also one of the biggest accomplishments for Tribe football in recent memory.
Virginia this Year: Most of the nation heard about Virginia’s contest with the #9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish last Saturday—a game that surprisingly produced a thrilling finish. The Cavaliers came back twice from a 12-point deficit to acquire a late 27-26 lead. With just 12 seconds remaining, Notre Dame’s Will Fuller caught a 39-yard touchdown pass, sealing UVA’s fate, and stealing victory from the Virginia faithful.
A week earlier in their season opener, the Cavaliers lost to another ranked team in #13 ranked UCLA. UVA ended up on the losing end of a 34-16 rout in the Rose Bowl, and was picked apart by UCLA’s high-profile freshman quarterback Josh Rosen. Rosen went 28/35 for 351 yards with three touchdowns, as UCLA added 152 yards rushing in what turned out to be a very strong offensive performance.
Virginia’s Players to Watch: Despite the loss, Virginia quarterback Matt Johns had a great game against a high quality Notre Dame defense: Johns went 26/38 for 289 yards and two touchdowns against the Irish, and will be looking to carry the momentum this week. Junior running back Taquan Mizzell will be a key cog in the Cavalier rushing attack; he had 18 carries and 4 receptions against Notre Dame a week ago. Virginia’s senior wide receiver Canaan Severin has averaged 105.5 yards receiving in the Cavaliers’ first two games, including 11 receptions and 153 yards last week.
Saturday, Notre Dame ran all over the Cavaliers to the tune 253 rushing yards. This weekend, the Cavaliers will rely on senior defensive tackle David Dean to contain Mikal Abdul-Saboor and the Tribe’s strong rushing attack. Talented safety Quin Blanding will anchor the back end of the Virginia defense, which lost Anthony Harris a season ago. Ultimately, UVA will likely attempt to stop the Tribe running game first and foremost, forcing Steve Cluley to throw. This may work to Virginia’s advantage if W&M’s inexperienced receiving corps is not up to the task.
Tribe Keys to Victory:
- Penetrate the Backfield: The Tribe defense has to put pressure on quarterback Matt Johns, who could easily have a big game after last week’s impressive showing if he’s not held in check. The pressure up front would force the Cavaliers to stick with a rush-first attack, making them one-dimensional and easier to defend—especially in the passing game, where W&M cornerbacks are at a serious height disadvantage this week. Forcing Johns to throw before he wants to should also bait him into bad passes, creating interception opportunities for the Tribe defense.
- Involve the Running Backs: UVA’s linebacker corps has a combined 0 years of experience coming into this season, so Mikal Abdul-Saboor and the William & Mary running backs need to be involved in the run and pass game. Attacking the linebackers as much as possible should allow the Tribe to consistently move the ball and create balance in the offense.
- Efficiency from the passing game: Quarterback Steve Cluley will need to keep the Tribe offense on schedule as they try to keep pace with the Cavaliers. This means a high completion rate, and most importantly, 0 turnovers. FCS teams only upset FBS teams if they win the turnover battle. The Tribe cannot afford turnovers in this game if they hope to pull off the upset. Against a decent Virginia defensive line, the Tribe’s stellar offensive line has to provide time for Cluley to find open receivers, as well as open holes in the running game. This will be the biggest test of the year for W&M’s offensive line, which has been touted as the strongest position unit on the team this year.
Tribe Injury Update: As Tribe faithful know, head coach Jimmye Laycock keeps injury updates very close to the vest. Wide receiver DeVonte Dedmon was out last week with an apparent illness, and most are suspecting mono. Even though Tribe receivers performed very well last week, one wonders how long the receiving corps can sustain itself without its top receiver in Dedmon. Additionally, cornerback Aaron Swinton left last week’s game with an injury in the second quarter–a huge blow to the Tribe defensive backfield, especially against a surging UVA quarterback. On this week’s two-deep depth chart, neither Dedmon nor Swinton are listed as starters this week. It looks like Denzel Dykes and Raeshawn Smith will fill in for Swinton, while Daniel Kuzjak and Kevin Hart will fill in for Dedmon.
Viewing: 3:30 PM ET, ESPN 3
Prediction: William & Mary 24 Virginia 21
The Tribe offense exploits the inexperienced Virginia linebacker corps, and scores three touchdowns in Charlottesville. The defense does just enough to hold Matt Johns and his offense in key stops at the end of the game. This one will go down to the wire, and may even require the Tribe to halt a Virginia two-minute drive. Forcing UVA to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns is the best way for the Tribe to keep pace on the scoreboard. See you in Charlottesville, and LET’S GO TRIBE!!!