Following three weeks that included a win, a bye, and a loss, the William & Mary Tribe will finally have its season opener at Zable Stadium this Saturday. It’s a strange schedule, especially with the bye week coming so early, but I think we can all agree that we’re ready for some football in Williamsburg. This week’s opponent, Stony Brook, is the first CAA game on the schedule, and poses no small task. This team knocked off a #13 ranked New Hampshire team last weekend 31-6. But the Tribe is ready.
Last Meeting with the Tribe: Last season’s matchup between W&M and SBU was an absolute thriller. On the road and in front of an crowd of 11,301, the largest in LaValle Stadium history, the William & Mary Tribe was able to overcome a large halftime deficit in order to put Stony Brook away. Senior wide receiver Sean Ballard hauled in a short pass from quarterback Steve Cluley, sprinted 52 yards past Stony Brook defenders, and scored one of the most clutch TDs in recent memory as W&M tied the game 21-21 with 25 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Mikal Abdul-Saboor would pound home a touchdown in overtime to seal the deal and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Statistically, Stony Brook did a very good job against Steve Cluley and the passing game last year. Up until Steve Cluley’s game-saving pass to Ballard in the fourth quarter, Cluley’s stats were hovering just under 200 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 interception; he was also sacked 4 times in the game. However, the Tribe running game was strong as Abdul-Saboor rushed 26 times for 116 yds and two touchdowns. On the defensive side of the ball, the unit did not perform well in the first half, which led to a 3-14 halftime score. However, they would tighten up in the second half, as the unit forced Stony Brook to punt the ball 5 out of 6 times on offensive possessions in the second half–allowing only one touchdown, and leading the comeback effort.
Stony Brook This Year: Stony Brook enters the contest 2-0, having defeated Central Connecticut State and #13 New Hampshire. Defeating CCSU doesn’t turn any heads, but having defeated one of the CAA’s biggest powers, New Hampshire, certainly captures our attention. After taking a look at last week’s highlights, one can see that Stony Brook played incredibly well and took full advantage of a couple UNH blunders.
For example, right before the first half came to a close, UNH squibbed the ball to SBU, hoping that they could take some time off the clock and finish the half. Stony Brook had other thoughts, and returned the ball deep into UNH territory. This set up a 24 yard touchdown pass with 1 second left in the first half, putting the Seawolves up 17-6. In the second half, following a failed 4th down conversion by UNH, Stony Brook marched down the field with a long run play and eventually put it in the end zone.
To make a long story short, Stony Brook’s run game was incredible, its strong defense got to the quarterback, and they were able to take advantage of UNH’s blunders in order to absolutely dominate the Wildcats.
Stony Brook’s Players to Watch: First and foremost, the Tribe will need to keep an eye on all-star running back #21 Stacey Bedell. Bedell transferred to SBU from FBS UMass after suffering a season ending injury. The 5’9″ 195 pound junior has been on an absolute tear ever since. Just last week against New Hampshire, he rushed 21 times for 193 yards and one touchdown. Through just two games this season, he has rushed for 349 yards and 4 touchdowns, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. It’s safe to say that Bedell will challenge the Tribe’s Mikal Abdul-Saboor for the CAA rushing crown this year.
Another player to watch on offense is wide receiver #13 Ray Bolden. The sophomore exploded last week for 7 receptions, 102 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Bolden, like Bedell, is also a transfer–but from Moorpark College, a community college located in California. For two straight weeks, Bolden has led SBU in receiving, and he will look to continue his streak vs. the Tribe.
At the all-important quarterback position, SBU started #10 redshirt freshman Joe Carbone, who performed well with 109 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT. However, Carbone was periodically spelled by incumbent senior #16 Conor Bednarski (who ALSO transferred from a two-year college). It seems their quarterback situation is unsettled, and this may be something to watch if one QB does not perform well. Neither of these quarterbacks seems to be particularly great, which is why the Seawolves prefer to rely on Bedell and their strong run game. We can’t blame them.
On defense, the team is led by pass-rushing defensive lineman #91 Victor Ochi, one of the only Stony Brook player listed here that didn’t transfer from another school. Last week against the Wildcats, Ochi notched an eye-popping 3.5 sacks en route to winning CAA Defensive Player of the Week honors. On top of that, he also leads the team in overall total tackles at 10 through the first two games. The 6’2″ 255 pound Ochi is looking to become the single season sack leader at SBU this season.
Tribe Keys to Victory:
- Superb Offensive Line Play: Against FBS Virginia last week, the offensive line played very well. This week, against a strong pass rush that has accumulated 9 sacks in two games, the line will not only have to run block well for Abdul-Saboor, but they will need to protect Steve Cluley. Winning the turnover battle is always key, and giving Cluley time to sit back in the pocket and read plays will be of paramount importance. Containing SBU’s vicious pass rush will be a big test for the Tribe’s offensive line.
- Fill the Gaps: Stony Brook running back Stacey Bedell is a beast. We know that. With injuries to key members in our linebacking corps last week, players will need to step up on defense to make sure Bedell doesn’t go off like he did last week against New Hampshire. Senior captain and linebacker Luke Rhodes will need to lead the way, as he always does, to ensure that Bedell doesn’t break any 40 or 50 yard scampers. Defensive line and linebacker play will need to play their part in this one.
- Balanced Offense: In years past, as the Tribe has experienced unsettled play from the quarterback position, the team has chosen to rely on the run. With Abdul-Saboor in the backfield, it’s easy to do this. However, with the maturation of Steve Cluley and his wide receivers, especially DeVonte Dedmon, it’s time for the Tribe to utilize more of a balanced offensive attack. This was evidenced in last week’s 29 point outburst against FBS-foe UVA. Cluley threw for over 200 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions while Abdul-Saboor ran for 100 yards. Let’s keep this balanced attack going, which keeps opposing defenses guessing.
Tribe Injury Update: Offensive lineman Chris Durant was held out last week. In his stead, Jared Templeton performed very well. No word on Durant’s injury situation, but either way, the Tribe should be good up front if Templeton must fill in for another week. Running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor limped off the field in the 4th quarter of last week’s game. We hope that our all-league running back will be good to go this coming week, and on a hunch, would list him as “probable.”
Defensively, the Tribe’s Ian Haislip and Zach Fetters both went down with injuries last week. The two linebackers are very important cogs to this year’s defense, and we hope that one or both of them can return to the field this week–though that may turn out to be wishful thinking. In their stead, redshirt freshman Josh Dulaney performed very well, and even notched one interception against Virginia a week ago. As of right now on the two-deep depth chart, Josh Dulaney and sophomore Keanu Reuben are listed as the starting linebackers along with all-league linebacker Luke Rhodes. And for the second straight week, starting cornerback Aaron Swinton has been left off the two-deep depth chart due to injury.
Viewing: Comcast Sports Net (CSN) at 7:30 PM
Prediction: William & Mary 27 Stony Brook 21
We think that the Tribe will ride its offensive wave from last week and be able to keep a balanced attack. This balanced attack will in turn be enough to keep the Seawolves’ defense guessing, allowing Steve Cluley to flourish. Additionally, W&M’s offensive line proves up to the task and keeps the Stony Brook pass rush at bay. Who else is pumped for the season opener? LET’S GO TRIBE!!!
Check out the official game notes/two-deep depth chart here!