Yet another winnable game goes down the drain. As has been the theme so far this season, W&M and its offense got off to yet another slow start, finding itself down 3-23 at half. We have continually stated that if the Tribe continues its “slow start trend” in the CAA, it’ll come back to haunt them. And, well, we hate to say we told you so… But despite all the negatives, there were actually some positives from Saturday’s game. Below, we provide “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” from last Saturday’s loss to Elon. Roll Tribe Roll.
- Brandon Battle Leads the Tribe on 2 TD drives (almost 3) in the Second Half: Following a Tommy McKee strip sack fumble midway through the second quarter, Coach Laycock pulled a struggling McKee in favor of Sophomore QB Brandon Battle; he did not disappoint. If you remember, Battle was one of three QBs remaining during this past summer’s QB competition, which included the aforementioned McKee, as well as true freshman Shon Mitchell. In Battle’s first series, he marched the Tribe offense forward for 52 yards and a field goal — the first points of the game for the Green and Gold. In the second half, Battle really turned it on. He led W&M down the field on a beautiful 9 play, 58-yard drive that ended in a 1-yard Riley Wilson TD pass. On that drive, Battle scampered for a 20 yard rush, and tossed a beautiful 26-yard pass to Isaiah Kinder on 4th and 3 to set up the short TD pass. On the following drive, Battle and freshman RB Nate Evans led the Tribe down the field, with Battle connecting on another long pass, this time a 39-yard bomb to a diving Jack Armstrong. Evans would eventually cap off the drive with a 2-yard TD plunge, completing touchdown efforts on back-to-back drives for W&M. On the next drive, Battle would again lead the Tribe down the field, all the way to the 14-yard line. On 3rd and 8 from the Elon 14, Battle just missed on a ball to Daniel Kuzjak in the endzone, who dropped the pass. It would have been 3 straight TD drives for W&M and a 24-23 lead. Unfortunately, kicker Kris Hooper would go on to miss the 31-yard field goal attempt on 4th down. Ouch. Nonetheless, we were impressed with Battle’s ability to come in and make an immediate impact. He has the tools to get the job done, as our quarterback profile article suggests. Look for Battle to take the reins of the W&M offense next week.
- RB Nate Evans/Return of Albert Funderburke: I mean, we can’t say enough about running back Nate Evans. Every week he earns his way into our “Good” section. This week, the shifty running back rushed for 78 yards and 1 TD, while averaging 4.1 yards per carry. We love his ability to be a factor in both the running and passing game. Also in this game, sophomore running back Albert Funderburke returned from an injury he suffered last season. While not dominant, rushing 6 times for 21 yards, we are very encouraged to have him back on the field. W&M definitely eased Funderburke back into play in this one, and he should be a full go this week against the Blue Hens. We cannot wait to see how the Evans/Funderburke duo provides an immediate impact to this Tribe offense, a unit that finds itself in dire need of a spark.
- W&M Second Half Defense: Wow, did the Green Swarm flash displays of brilliance in the second half against Elon. After the Phoenix notched 23 points in the first half, they were held to ZERO offensive points in the second half. The team’s only points in the final two quarters came on a safety late in the fourth. Just as impressive, W&M held Elon to FOUR straight 3 and out’s in the second half, marking just two yards of total offense in the third quarter. By the numbers, W&M held Elon to a meager 63 yards in the second half. This allowed the W&M offense to scratch back into the game, and had it not been for a drop in the end zone, the Green and Gold could very well have won this game. The unit was led by the strong performances of sophomore DE Gavin Johnson (1.5 sacks, 2.5 TFLs) and senior Josh Dulaney (1 sack, 2.5 TFLs). This unit is young, talented, and the potential to step it up in crunch time.
- Another Slow Start: William & Mary got off to yet ANOTHER atrocious start on Saturday — especially offensively, but defensively as well. Elon scored the first 16 points of the game, and at half, again, the score was 3-23 in favor of the Phoenix. We cannot emphasize enough just how important a fast start is. If everyone remembers, last week’s game was more of the same; W&M allowed Stony Brook to score the first 21 points. A stat for you: in W&M’s first 5 games, it has been outscored by opponents 63-26 in the first half (by 37 points). In the CAA, those numbers are even worse, with the Tribe finding itself outscored by opponents 37-3 in the first half (by 34 points). That is absolutely unheard of. This team needs to figure out how to show up to games and be ready to play from the beginning, not just in the second half.
- W&M FG Miss in Crunch Time: Ugh. In the preseason, we noted that Tribe’s special teams could be an issue this year, and that was certainly the case on Saturday. After a drop by Daniel Kuzjak in the endzone, W&M had the chance to hit a 31-yard field goal. A field goal conversion would have brought the Tribe within three, 23-20, with 7 minutes remaining in the game. Instead, Hooper missed the attempt, and the momentum shifted from W&M to Elon. The Phoenix would then force a safety on W&M’s next possession, ending the contest at 17-25. Now, while a missed field goal may not seem like that big of a deal on the surface, there is no denying that a make would have drastically changed the outcome of this game. The play-calling both on defense and offense would have been very different. Especially on the last drive, W&M would only have needed 3 points (with all the momentum) to force OT. Instead, the team needed 7 points, and started on its own 3-yard line. Safe to say, chances were slim. Up to this point, it’s been a down year for Tribe kicker Kris Hooper, who has hit 4/8 field goals (50%) and 9 out of 11 extra points. We know he has potential, as he put in a good season last year — so we’re not giving up on him. Let’s hope that he, along with the rest of the W&M offense, turns it up toward the end of the year.
- W&M Offensive Line: The offensive line did not necessarily help Tribe QBs Tommy McKee and Brandon Battle on Saturday. In a game that saw the likes of LT Chris Durant and C Nick Wimmer return to action, the unit gave up 7 sacks and 10 TFLs. Both Tribe QBs were hurried by opposing defenders throughout the game as they attempted rushed throws and were often forced to run outside the pocket. It’s hard enough to run a complex offense, but to to run one while giving up 7 sacks and 10 TFLs is nearly impossible. Perhaps this was due to rust, or perhaps it was due to inexperienced QB play, but any way you slice it, we hope that the tides turn soon as W&M will face stout defenses in its next two contests against Delaware and JMU.
- Daniel Kuzjak missed TD Pass from Battle: Yeah, this one hurt. In the second half, W&M had all the momentum, outscoring Elon 14-0 and cashing in on TDs in 2 straight drives. Elon, on the other hand, was held without a first down in the third quarter and just 63 yards of offense in the entire second half. On a third and 8 from the Elon 14, with W&M trailing 23-17, Brandon Battle threw a decent (but not great) throw to Daniel Kuzjak. Kuzjak would go down to get the ball, which hit his hands, before dropping into the end zone. That would have given the Tribe a 24-23 lead, and given how the Green and Gold was playing on defense, could have led to a clutch come-from-behind W&M victory. Instead, W&M missed the ensuing field goal, lost the game, and fell to 2-3 (0-2 CAA) on the season. We’re definitely not blaming this loss on Kuzjak. I mean, did you see that first half? But my goodness, would that catch have helped!
Around the CAA
With many teams on the BYE, there were just 4 games in the CAA this past weekend. Villanova shutout Maine, dropping the Black Bears to 0-3 in the CAA and setting up a big matchup against JMU next week. So big, in fact, that ESPN’s College Gameday will be in Harrisonburg to cover it. Tune in to ESPN next week on Saturday morning! Wrapping things up, Delaware beat Stony Brook on the road in a very tight contest, and Richmond pulled off the exciting double overtime victory over UAlbany behind 353 yards from QB Kyle Lauletta.
This week, W&M travels to Delaware to take on the Blue Hens. Delaware is 3-2 (1-1 CAA) on the season. Their defense will be a good test for the (budding?) W&M offense. Let’s not soon forget that the new head coach of the Blue Hens is Danny Rocco, the ex-Richmond coach who is known for being a Tribe killer. It would be nice to beat Delaware and Rocco, to avenge many losses against Richmond as well as the 2015 loss at Delaware. Wouldn’t it? LET’S GO TRIBE!!!