Home Opener Preview: #13 W&M vs. Norfolk State

tribe-vs-norfolk-state-2016

It’s FINALLY TIME to see the RENOVATED ZABLE STADIUM on GAMEDAY! Zable Stadium’s renovations are complete, and the excitment that has built since the renovations were announced in August of 2014 has come to an all-time high. This weekend, the William & Mary Tribe is set to host the Norfolk State Spartans in a Home Opener that will surely be one for the ages. There’s an entirely new upper deck, brand new concession areas, a freshly installed turf field with new logos, banners hanging of past Tribe greats, and much, much more. Don’t believe us? Show up on Saturday and find out for yourself.

But with all the Zable pageantry set to take place this weekend, let’s not forget there’s also a game to be played. W&M will face off against a Norfolk State team that has given the Tribe some trouble in the recent past. The Green and Gold will need to build off of last weekend’s strong second half and get off to a strong start. If they don’t, it might be a long Saturday afternoon. We at the W&M Sports Blog are confident that the boys will come ready to play this weekend in front of a raucous Zable Stadium, because if they can’t get ready to go for “new Zable,” then there’s something wrong! But let’s get to it. Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you: the Norfolk State Spartans.

Last Meeting with the Tribe

Two seasons ago, W&M faced off against Norfolk State within the friendly confines of Zable Stadium. As a matter of fact, the game, just like this year, was W&M’s Home Opener. Ultimately, the 2014 game would end in a 29-14 victory for the Tribe. However, it was not such an easy win; the first sentence of our recap article that year was as follows:

Although William & Mary defeated Norfolk State by 15 points, it was by no means an easy victory. The Tribe defense played well enough, but the offense still has some work to do before CAA play in two weeks.

To make a long story short: W&M’s offense had an off night. Steve Cluley, in his first season as starter, went just 12 for 27 (44.4%) with 166 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. The ground game couldn’t get anything going, as Mikal Abdul-Saboor was held to just 66 yards on 19 carries, and the Tribe offense finished with just 234 yards of total offense. A bright spot for the Green and Gold in this contest was its own defense, which completely dominated the Spartans’ offense. The unit notched 2 interceptions, 4 sacks, a safety, and a forced fumble. The unit was led by Jared Velasquez (pick six) and DeAndre Houston-Carson (interception).

Norfolk State came up short against William & Mary in 2014. [photo: Jason Hirschfield, Virginia Pilot]
Norfolk State came up short against William & Mary in 2014. [photo: Jason Hirschfield, Virginia Pilot]
Now while Norfolk State may not be as good was it was in 2014, this is all to suggest that no team on the Tribe’s schedule this year is a push over, and W&M shouldn’t expect to come out and knock this one out of the park. However, if the Tribe is on its game this Saturday, there’s no reason why we won’t see a large margin of victory. And wouldn’t that be nice in new Zable’s grand opening?

Norfolk State this Year

Since it’s so early in the season, it’s a little hard to say just how good (or bad) this year’s Norfolk State team really is. The squad’s first game was played against a small Division-II school called Elizabeth City State. And this game was surprisingly close. At the half, the Spartans led just 14-12. It would take a third quarter touchdown to put the Spartans up 20-12, the final score of the game.

Norfolk State’s second opponent of the year came against a more familiar opponent: the Richmond Spiders. As we all know by now, Richmond more or less obliterated UVA on the road this season in an incredibly impressive offensive showing that saw the Spiders hang 37 points on the Cavaliers, while holding them to just 20. This success carried over for the Spiders, as they completely dominated and shut out the Spartans in week 2, winning by a 34-0 score. The Spartans offense was completely anemic in this contest, posting just 46 passing yards, and 76 rushing yards (on 39 attempts). Obviously, their defense wasn’t much better.

Norfolk State was shut out by a strong Richmond squad a week ago. [photo: Mark Gormus/Times-Dispatch]
Norfolk State was shut out by a strong Richmond squad a week ago, 34-0. [photo: Mark Gormus/Times-Dispatch]
So what do we know about Norfolk State this year judging by their first two games? They certainly don’t look as strong as they did in 2014. But even in 2014, despite their stronger performance against the Tribe, they only finished with a 4-8 record. Last season in 2015, the Spartans finished with another 4-win season, finishing 4-7. Simply put, they don’t seem destined to break that 4-win mark this season. But hey, conference play hasn’t started yet, and anything can happen. What we do know, is that W&M should be favored in this one. Heavy favorites, to say the least.

Norfolk State’s Players to Watch

[photo via nsuspartans.com]
QB #7 Greg Hankerson accounts for 60% of Norfolk State’s offense this year. [photo via nsuspartans.com]
  1. #7 Greg Hankerson (QB, Senior, 6’0″, 190 lb): If you want to understand Norfolk State’s offense this year, look no further than Greg Hankerson. Originally beginning his collegiate career at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), the now-senior quarterback started all 11 games last year in his first season as a Spartan. Last year, he completed 177 of 347 (51%) of his passes for 2,052 yards, 13 TDs, and just 5 interceptions. He also rushed for 423 yards and 3 TDs. He can run, and he can pass! Yes, just like Booby Miles in the Friday Night Lights movie. And yes, they feed him the ball early and often. Through the first two games, when you take into account Hankerson’s passing and rushing yards, he accounts for 60% of the Spartans offense. Despite this staggering statistic, Hankerson really hasn’t played well through the first two games, completing just 39% of his passes for 188 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Following a season in which he only threw 5 interceptions, this is slightly surprising. But if you’re a betting person, Hankerson will most likely run or pass the ball in over half of Norfolk State’s offensive plays on Saturday. Watch out for #7.
    #12 DL Terrell Reid (photo via nsuspartans.com)
    #12 DL Terrell Reid is a regular behind the line of scrimmage, consistently getting to opposing teams’ quarterbacks. [photo via nsuspartans.com]
  2. #12 Terrell Reid (DL, R-Senior, 6’2″, 245 lb): Truly a menace on the defensive front, Reid has already accumulated 2.5 sacks through two games. You might be thinking, “but they played Elizabeth City, so that’s where those numbers are coming from!” But you’d be wrong. Reid racked up 2 sacks against Richmond last week, and was awarded half a sack against Elizabeth City in the season opener. He is an imposing force, checking in at a solid 245 pounds. W&M’s offensive line will have its hands full protecting QB Steve Cluley in this one, as they’d better be sure to keep their eye on #12 if they plan on keeping Cluley upright throughout this contest.
    #10 DB Sandy Chapman [photo via nsuspartans.com]
    #10 DB Sandy Chapman is a ballhawk, who not only forces interceptions, but also leads the team in total tackles. [photo via nsuspartans.com]
  3. #10 Sandy Chapman (DB, Senior, 5’10”, 180 lb): Another transfer, Chapman found himself at ODU for the first two seasons of his collegiate career before transferring to Norfolk State entering his junior season. Last year as a junior, Chapman started in all 11 games for the Spartans, ranking fourth on the team in total tackles. Chapman undoubtedly has a nose for the ball and knows how to wrap up. He already leads the team in tackles this year, as a defensive back nonetheless, with 15 total tackles. He also has an interception to his name. Chapman will have his hands full this week against DeVonte DedmonJack Armstrong, and the rest of the Tribe’s receiving corps. However, #10 is no pushover. Look for him to be around the ball often on Saturday.

Tribe Keys to Victory

  • Get off to a Fast Start: Last week’s 7-7 halftime score against Hampton left Tribe fans scratching their heads. Cluley didn’t look sharp, the run game couldn’t get going, and the offensive unit could not get in rhythm. This week, in what will be the last game before CAA play, the Tribe has to get off to a better start. We’d like to see at least 14-21 points in the first half on the back of strong quarterback play out from center and a strong running game.
  • Overwhelm the QB: As noted, the Norfolk State QB will control the ball on the vast majority of snaps. If the Tribe wants to truly stall this unit, getting to Hankerson will be key. This includes stuffing his run attempts, sacking him as he drops back in the pocket, and forcing interceptions. We’d like to see more sacks from this year’s Tribe defense, especially as CAA play begins next week. W&M will be faced with even stronger QB competition in the coming weeks, so there’s no better time to step up than now.
  • Put Together a Complete Game: Saturday marks the grand opening of Zable Stadium. For the seniors, this is the last home opener they will ever play in. That includes the likes of QB Steve Cluley, OL Jerry Ugokwe, DE Peyton Gryder, and many more. Adrenaline will be running high, and W&M will have to use that to its advantage. Don’t take a quarter, drive, or even single snap off. Four quarters of consistent effort across the board will be needed from all units. If that happens, then this one shouldn’t be close, and Tribe fans will walk away with a truly memorable Home Opener experience.

Viewing: When & Where

Tribe TV (Free): Saturday, 6 PM Save the link here!

Prediction

Tribe 38 Spartans 17

For those of us lucky enough to experience new Zable Stadium’s grand opening in person, it will be quite an experience. And with this week’s opponent, we truly believe the Tribe will walk away with a victory. It won’t be a walk in the park, but W&M is the stronger team, and shouldn’t have much of a problem putting Norfolk State away. A fast start will be key in this one, as the Tribe will need to put up points on its opening drive(s) and maintain consistent play throughout all four quarters, in all three phases of the game. See you in Williamsburg. We believe. LET’S GO TRIBE!!!

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