The football season has officially kicked off, with W&M dropping its opening game against the Virginia Cavaliers. The game progressed more or less as expected; the Tribe played multiple QBs, couldn’t get much going on offense, and actually played some pretty good defense. It was an early test for the Green and Gold that taught us a lot about this year’s Tribe Football team. Below, we run through “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly” from this week’s game. Enjoy!
- Rush Defense: A season ago, W&M gave up more than 200 yards a game on the ground, on average. Certainly not a recipe for success. Defensive Coordinator Trevor Andrews clearly made the rush defense a priority this offseason, and it showed. Even against an FBS opponent in UVA, the Hoos only rushed for 92 yards on 32 carries. That’s an average of just 2.9 yards per rush, a remarkable feat for a Tribe defense that struggled mightily last year to stop opposing running backs. If W&M can keep this up, it will bode well for CAA play, where star running backs are the norm.
- Held UVA to just 138 yards in second half: Yes, you read that right, the Tribe defense held UVA to a meager 138 total yards in the second half. In fact, W&M actually out-gained the Cavaliers in the second half. In an FBS-FCS matchup, if it’s ever close, it’s usually close in the first half. The second half is known as the time when FBS teams break away due to their depth. That was not the case in this one. W&M held strong in the second half, and scored 10 points to UVA’s 14. This goes to show that perhaps all the hard work W&M put in the offseason will pay off late in games down the stretch. And like the sound of that.
- Tommy McKee’s Legs/W&M’s rush game: Tommy McKee the running back? Boy, can this guy run. In fact, he actually rushed for more yards (89) than he passed (63). In the second half, when the UVA defensive backs were blanketing the Tribe WRs, and Tommy had nowhere to go in the air, he used his legs to pick up numerous first downs. In fact, on the Tribe’s only TD of the game, Tommy ran it in from 2 yards out after leading the Tribe all the way down the field with his running ability. We like what we see out of Tommy so far. The dude is a competitor. He works hard, and is clearly a gifted runner. We would like to see him throw the ball more, as 12 pass attempts won’t cut it in the CAA — not even close. But we will continue to evaluate McKee in the coming weeks against Norfolk State and Bucknell, where the passing game will surely improve. As for the rushing game as a whole, we really liked what we saw from redshirt freshman Noah Giles. In his first ever game action, Giles rushed for 54 yards on 11 carries (4.9 average). The Tribe offense as a whole rushed for 168 yards on 42 carries, averaging 4.1 yards per rush. Those are impressive numbers, especially considering the team was playing against a UVA defense that returned 9 of its 11 starters. Things are also looking up for W&M’s rush offense, especially knowing that superstar Albert Funderburke is set to return this season some time in the near future, hopefully before CAA play begins.
- UVA TD on 4th and 9: This was the drive that changed the game and essentially put it out of reach for the Tribe. W&M’s offense was not performing in the first half, but its defense held UVA to just 7 points through 1+ quarters. However, with just 4:29 left in the half, the Hoos would drive it down to the W&M 34-yard line, throwing an incomplete pass on 3rd and 9. It seemed like a victory for the Tribe, as they would likely send it into half down just 7. Instead of punting, UVA would go for it on 4th an 9 from the W&M 34. On the ensuing play, QB Kurt Benkhert would throw a beautiful 34-yard TD pass to Andre Levrone. In the end zone, nonetheless. This put UVA up 14-0 at the half, a lead that seemed difficult to overcome for the Tribe. As a side note, UVA ran the same exact play in the second half, only for Benkert to overthrow his receiver out of bounds, missing the touchdown. But I digress.
- William & Mary Passing Defense: Last season, W&M had the number-1 ranked pass defense in the country, allowing just 154 yards per game through the air. In this game, UVA QB Kurt Benkert finished 27/39 for 262 yards and 3 TD’s with 0 interceptions. Time and again on third and long UVA made conversions through the air. What is more concerning, star CB and senior captain Aaron Swinton did not play in this contest, and was seen on the sidelines in street clothes. That is not a good sign for Tribe fans, as we need our star players to be on the field if we want to have a successful season. Denzel Dykes is a good replacement, but he doesn’t have the playmaking ability that Swinton possesses. It will be interesting to see when Swinton returns to the lineup. We hope soon!
- William & Mary Passing Offense: Tommy McKee was held to just 62 yards passing on the day. Stud receivers DeVonte Dedmon and Daniel Kuzjak were held to just 11 and 21 yards, respectively. We don’t know what happened on Saturday. Were the receivers getting shut down? Were the receivers open and Tommy wasn’t seeing them? Whatever the reason, this needs to be fixed. W&M returned its top 5 WRs from a year ago, so there is no excuse to finish with a mere 62 yards passing. To be fair, Tommy had just 12 passing attempts. But with that being said, we hope that the Tribe coaches will open up the gameplan next week and allow Tommy and the offense to pass it a lot more. If the passing game doesn’t pick up, changes may need to be made.
- 3rd Down Conversions: Tribe finished 1/11 (9.9%), while UVA finished 9/18 (50%) on 3rd down conversions. Along with the UVA TD pass on 4th down late in the first half, 3rd-down conversions may have been the story of the game. Even though W&M held its own defensively, the Hoos got the job done on third down — especially third and long. On the flip side, there were many times when the W&M offense missed third and short/third and medium. This needs to be an area of focus for Laycock and his staff in the coming weeks, and something that will need to be improved upon before CAA play opens.
Around the CAA
Defending National Champion JMU picked up an impressive blowout victory over ECU, of the FBS. With its 13th win in a row, JMU now has the longest win streak in NCAA Division 1 Football. Meanwhile, Maine lost to UNH in the first CAA game of the year. It was a very tight contest throughout, as Maine missed a PAT that would have tied the game up late in the fourth.
Stony Brook held a lead over #19 ranked USF for most of the game before losing it in the 4th quarter, but it was quite the showing for the Seawolves nonetheless. We are also impressed with how Rhode Island performed against FBS Central Michigan, taking them to 3 OTs before ultimately losing. It will certainly be another exciting year in the CAA!
William & Mary will stay on the road next week, looking for its first win of the year against the Norfolk State Spartans. We’ll be looking for the defense replicates its strong play, and the offense to open up the passing game. We believe, ROLL TRIBE!