Game Preview: William & Mary vs. Maine

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Homecoming Weekend has come and gone for the W&M Tribe, as has the the team’s bye week. Following a slightly horrendous start to the season that witnessed the Green and Gold drop its first three CAA contests to lowly Elon, a resurgent UNH, and a strong JMU team (all three games could just as easily have been W&M victories), the Tribe got back in the win column vs. the Delaware Blue Hens in Week 7. The victory marked W&M’s first win since Week 3, and provided the team with some much needed momentum going into the bye week.

After plenty of rest, extra practice, and time to reset themselves, we’re looking for a completely different Tribe team the rest of the way. With just four games left in the season, it’s been truly surprising to us that the offense has struggled as much as it has. What was once thought in the preseason to be the strength of this year’s team has perhaps become one of its greatest liabilities.

Currently, the team ranks 9th in the CAA in Scoring Offense (20.4 points per game), and toward the bottom of the pack in Total Offense per game at #8 (336.6 total yards per game). Thankfully, a revamped defense full of young studs has stepped up, currently checking in at #2 in the league in pass defense (allowing just 154.1 passing yards per game). But unfortunately, the defense also checks in at #11 for rushing defense (yielding a staggering 215.6 rushing yards per game). Despite the numbers, if the W&M offense can put it together and fully utilize all of its many weapons, the Tribe truly can contend with any team left on the schedule. However, it won’t be easy, as three out of the four opponents left rank in the top half of the league. Regardless, the tools are there, and anything is possible. We believe.

Last Season: W&M vs. Maine 

Maine rolled over W&M when the two teams last met in 2013, 30-24. [photo: The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram]
Maine rolled over W&M when the two teams last met in 2013, 30-24. [photo: The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram]
W&M has not played the Maine Black Bears since October 2013, almost three years to the date. In that game, the Tribe dropped a 34-20 contest on the road to a strong 6-1 Maine team. Maine racked up 420 yards of total offense, as quarterback Marcus Wasilewski threw for an efficient 192 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, while also rushing 14 times for 71 yards. Maine running back Rickey Stevens also contributed by tallying 99 yards on 24 carries, including 1 rushing touchdown.

For the Tribe, QB Michael Graham got the start, going 5 for 17 with 58 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT before being pulled in favor of QB Brent Caprio, who finished with slightly better numbers (91 yards, 1 TD through the air). Running Back Kendell Anderson, then just a freshman, led the Tribe in rushing with 53 yards and a touchdown, while WR Sean Ballard led the Tribe receiving, with 3 receptions for 72 yards. At the half, Maine led 24-7. They never looked back; it was never really that close, as the Black Bears finished on top 34-20.

maine thumb Maine This Year

The Black Bears’ first three games of the season included loses to UConn, Toledo, and JMU (final score vs. JMU: 31-20). But since beginning the year 0-3, the Black Bears have been on an absolute tear. Beginning in week 4, Maine would go on to defeat Bryant, Delaware, Albany, and Rhode Island. All of these contests have been close games, as Maine has yet to defeat a team by more than 7 points this season. Two of their wins were by 7 points (Delaware, URI), the other two by 4 points (Bryant, Albany). But when it’s all said and done, all that matters is the win column, and the Black Bears currently sit 6th overall in the CAA with a 3-1 CAA record–easily within striking distance of a league title.

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Maine has had an impressive year so far, and remains firmly in the hunt for this season’s CAA crown. [photo: goblackbears.com]
But how are they getting it done? We mentioned at the outset some of the Tribe’s rankings in certain statistical categories, but let’s analyze Maine. In terms of scoring offense, they rank in the middle of the pack at #7 (22.1 points per game). This is a team that doesn’t like to run the ball, as they check in at #10 in rushing (139.7 rushing yards per game). With that being said, they can sure air it out: Maine currently ranks #3 in the CAA in Passing Offense, averaging an impressive 214.6 passing yards per game. And with that stat, I believe we just answered your key matchup of this Saturday’s game: the #2 ranked W&M Passing Defense vs. the #3 ranked Maine Passing Offense. This will be a great matchup, and we predict that whichever team gets the better of it will come out on top.

Defensively, Maine ranks toward the bottom of the pack in the CAA. In terms of Total Defense, the Black Bears check in three spots below the Tribe at #10, allowing 402.7 total yards per game. There is no one area on defense that seems to be better than the other, as the team ranks #8 in Rush Defense (allowing 180.7 rushing yards per game) and #9 in Pass Defense (allowing 223 passing yards per game) respectively. If W&M’s defense can contain the Maine air raid, and if the Tribe offense can fire on all cylinders, the Green and Gold should be good to go this Saturday. It’s surely easier said than done, but is altogether possible nonetheless.

Maine’s Players to Watch

Senior QB Dan Collins currently leads a passing attack that ranks in the CAA's top three. [photo: goblackbears.com]
Senior QB Dan Collins currently leads a passing attack that ranks in the CAA’s top three. [photo: goblackbears.com]
  1. #7 Dan Collins (QB, Senior, 6’3″, 215 lb): Coming off a season lost to injury, Collins appeared in nine games with seven starts last year, completing a career-high 1,542 yards with 6 passing touchdowns. So far this year, Collins has eclipsed most of those totals, having already amassed 1,502 passing yards with 12 TD and 8 interceptions. He averages around 214 passing yards per game, and leads a Maine offense that currently ranks #3 in the CAA in Passing Offense. In a league such as the CAA, that is no small feat. If there is one drawback to Collins’ play, it’s that he isn’t very mobile. In fact, he actually boasts a negative rushing average per game. But really, how often did Peyton Manning run? How often does Tom Brady run? We think you get the point — despite sticking to the pocket, Collins has shown that he has what it takes to sling the ball, and the W&M defense will need to be at its best to force a turnover or two come Saturday.
    WR Micah Wright headlines a group of receivers that know how to get open. [photo: goblackbears.com]
    WR Micah Wright headlines a group of receivers that know how to get open. [photo: goblackbears.com]
  2.  #10 Micah Wright (WR, Sophomore, 6’1″, 190 lb): Wright leads a strong Maine receiving corps that seems to have a few solid options. Defenses truly do have to pick their poison, but they leave Wright open at their own peril. So far this year, he leads the team in receptions (24), receiving yards (381), and receiving touchdowns (4). He is a tall, lanky wide receiver, with breakaway speed that can leave defenders in the dust. Wright averages 76 yards receiving per game, and is a good bet to crack the century mark on any given Saturday. Again, the #2-ranked W&M Pass Defense will need to step up to the plate this weekend in what will likely be the matchup that will decide the contest.

    LB Sterling Sheffield has a propensity for getting to the ball, and has been marked his name all across the stat sheet this season. (photo: dailygazette.com]
    LB Sterling Sheffield has a propensity for getting to the ball, and has been marked his name all across the stat sheet this season. (photo: dailygazette.com]
  3. #52 Sterling Sheffield (LB, Sophomore, 6’2″, 237 lb): Only a sophomore, Sheffield has more than proven his worth for Maine this season. Through the first seven games, he has racked up he third most tackles on the team (39), and is tied for the team-lead in sacks (3). Let’s not forget to add that he also has an interception to his name. Impressive numbers for such a young player, no doubt. Sheffield really is a player that likes to fill up the stat sheet, and is one the W&M Offensive Line will have to keep an eye on if the Tribe hopes to both protect QB Steve Cluley and open up the run game for RB Kendell Anderson. Watch out for #52.

Tribe Keys to Victory

  • Defend against the Pass: I think this is what, the third time we’ve mentioned this? W&M’s Pass Defense, including the likes of CBs Trey ReedAaron Swinton, and others will need to be playing at their best to defend Maine’s pass-first offense. This is a Maine team that really doesn’t like to run the ball — which actually plays to the Tribe’s favor. The Green and Gold has not been a team that’s known for stopping the run, actually, quite the contrary. Moreover, the Black Bears’ QB has shown a slight propensity for turning the ball over, already with 8 interceptions on the year. This is something the Tribe will have to take advantage of if it hopes to come away victorious in Zable Stadium on Saturday.
  • Get off to a QUICK Start: Yes, we put that in capital letters. Slow starts have crippled the Tribe so far this season. In the team’s latest victory over Delaware, W&M had to post 21 points in the fourth quarter to put the Blue Hens away. Let’s not make this a habit. Get off to a quick start by connecting on short passes, running the ball effectively, and putting together some continuity from the QB position. It all starts under center, and we expect third-year starting QB Steve Cluley to really up his game coming out of the Bye week.
  • Force Turnovers: There is perhaps no better way to keep momentum on your side than to force turnovers. In what will be a pass-first Maine offense, the W&M defense will have plenty of opportunities to force some Black Bear turnovers and get the ball back for the Tribe. Whether this be through strip sacks or interceptions, whatever the defensive unit can do to help the offense get the ball back in their hands is a good thing. Take some risks, jump some routes, and get to that ball early and often.

Viewing: When & Where

Live stream on Tribe TV at 3:30 PM. Save the link here! 

W&M Sports Blog Prediction

William & Mary 24 Maine 17

This will likely be a close game between a solid, upper-half CAA team and a struggling, recently-mighty CAA power. But in front of a home crowd hungry for a victory, we believe that the Tribe will come out on top this Saturday. If W&M can withstand Maine’s passing attack while putting up some points of their own, there is no reason that the Green and Gold will not prosper on Saturday. All eyes will also be on the Tribe offense in hopes of a strong, fast start. See you in Williamsburg, and LET’S GO TRIBE!!!

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