Another one in the books for the Tribe, and this one was not pretty. The Tribe was shutout on the road against the Delaware Blue Hens, as the Danny Rocco curse continues; it seems the former-Richmond-now-Delaware head coach still has the Tribe’s number, despite his recent move north. With the loss, W&M falls to 2-4 (0-3 CAA).
- The Green Swarm (What’s that you ask? The Tribe Defense, of course!): Each week, the Tribe defense seems to impress us in one way or another. They are a hard-working, balanced and very talented bunch; you certainly can’t blame the Green Swarm for many losses, if any, this season. The unit held Delaware to just 195 yards of total offense, including a meager 78 yards through the air. Yes, Delaware did score 17 points, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. On one touchdown drive, the Blue Hens started at the W&M 38-yard line. On another, they started in the red zone after a Jalen Christian muffed punt. And their field goal came at the end of the first half after W&M QB Shon Mitchell threw an interception inside the Tribe’s 20-yard line. This game could easily have been 0-0 if not for some untimely plays by the W&M offense and special teams unit. In short, despite W&M’s recent shortcomings on offense, this defensive unit is legit, ranking second in the CAA in pass defense, 6th in rush defense, and 5th in scoring defense. The future is bright for the Green Swarm, as several studs are young (see LB Arman Jones, LB Nate Atkins, S Isaiah Laster, S Corey Parker, DT Bill Murray, and many more). It is just shame that a playoff caliber defense will not find itself in the playoffs this year. But there is always next year…
- Interception at the end of the first half: With just 54 seconds to go in the first half, W&M took over at its own 15-yard line. With the game still well within reach and the Tribe down 0-7, everyone expected the Green and Gold to run the ball and go into halftime within one score. Well, everyone was wrong. On first down, running back Albert Funderburke rushed for 6 yards, no harm no foul. All good up to this point. On second down, however, to the surprise of all watching, W&M decided to throw the ball. WHY?! The Tribe’s highly touted true freshman Shon Mitchell made a rookie mistake on the play, throwing an errant pass to tight end Tyler Klaus. The ball was picked off and promptly returned 8 yards to the W&M 18. Thankfully, the Tribe defense held, and the Blue Hens were forced to take a field goal. But in a game where points were far and few between, giving up an unnecessary field goal before half hurt. And it certainly didn’t help the psyche of the W&M offense going into the second half.
- Coverage on Punt Returns: Going in to the game, Delaware ranked among the worst in the FCS in punt return yardage. Yet, in this game, W&M’s special teams unit allowed the Blue Hens’ return men to run wild. Delaware had two punt returns for 15 and 13 yards, as well as a 25-yard return that landed them at the W&M 38-yard line; that drive would eventually end in a TD. W&M has not been especially good at special teams coverage in recent years, and that was the case again on Saturday.
- Lack of Caskin: In what was the story of the game, W&M started true freshman Shon Mitchell last week against the Blue Hens — starting over sophomore Brandon Battle, who replaced Tommy McKee last week, filling in admirably. Mitchell didn’t do so hot in his debut, finishing 18/36 for 101 yards, 0 TDs, and 2 INTs. What didn’t help was that Mr. Reliable, senior captain TE Andrew Caskin, missed a second straight game due to injury. The loss hurts, and it shows, both in the receiving game, and in the run-blocking game. Young quarterbacks tend to rely on their TE as a security blanket, but Mitchell did not have that luxury on Saturday. We need Caskin to get healthy, and would love to see him return to the lineup, especially against the #1 team in the nation on homecoming this coming weekend. Though we’re not sure on the exact timetable for his return at this point.
- Muffed Punt: With 10 minutes left to go in the 4th quarter, W&M’s defense held, and the Blue Hens were forced to punt. Even though W&M’s offense could do nothing all day, the score was still just 10-0, well within reach. W&M’s Jalen Christian would go on to muff the punt, recovered by the Blue Hens on the W&M 14-yard line. The play all but sealed the game, making it virtually impossible for W&M to come back as Delaware would go on to score a TD, going up 17-0. Coach Laycock teams are typically known for making few mistakes, but in this one, the team made far too many to win.
- 0 points: Wow. When was the last time a Jimmye Laycock team didn’t put a single point on the board? After W&M QB Brandon Battle nearly led a comeback victory last weekend against a ranked Elon team, he, as previously mentioned, sat this week in favor of true freshman QB Shon Mitchell. While Tribe fans were excited pregame to see what Mitchell could do, they certainly didn’t feel that way at the end of the game. Mitchell looked a bit overwhelmed at times, throwing a couple bad passes, and finishing with a bunch of balls batted down. But it wasn’t all Mitchell’s fault. It was just his first start this season, and he did play high school ball just last year, so we’ll cut him a break. There were also some bright spots, like a perfectly thrown deep ball that was defended on an outstanding play by a leaping Delaware cornerback. We have all the faith in the world in Shon, but it’ll take time for him to develop.
But overall, it was a collective offensive nightmare on Saturday. Albert Funderburke rushed for just 47 yards and a 3.8 average, as fellow RB Nate Evans finished with similar numbers: 42 yards and a 4.1 average. The leading Tribe receiver mustered an unimpressive 33 yards. Tribe receivers, a position of depth going into the year, do not appear to be getting open very often in the early going this season. Perhaps the loss of DeVonte Dedmon hurt more than we thought it would, but we expect a lot more out of this unit. There was one bright spot on offense, however. After posting a dud last weekend against Elon, the W&M offensive line rebounded in this one, giving up just 2 sacks. But whatever way you slice it, W&M scored 0 points against Delaware. Yikes. Did we mention that W&M’s next opponent happens to be the #1 team in the land, who has one of the most prolific offenses in the nation?
Around the CAA
With the loss, W&M is now at the bottom of the barrel in the CAA. It’s a painful sight to see, as we think the team is better than Towson and Rhode Island, and with the talented Tribe defense, the squad has the potential to at least be in the upper half of the league. In any event, JMU picked up a big victory over Villanova after College Gameday paid a visit. Elon had a bye, remaining undefeated in the CAA, holding a 5-game win streak. Stony Brook picked up an impressive win over #14-ranked UNH, and looks poised for the playoffs this season.
The road certainly doesn’t get any easier for the Tribe. In what will likely be a sellout Homecoming game this coming Saturday, W&M will face off against the #1 team in the nation, the JMU Dukes. While the teams seem to be going in opposite directions, don’t count W&M out of this one. The crowd will be loud, with JMU coming off a huge week, potentially looking past the “lowly” Green and Gold. On top of that, William & Mary always plays JMU close in the rivalry game, no matter how good the Dukes are; we expect the same in this one. Be on the lookout for our Q&A with the JMU Sports Blog later this week. LET’S GO TRIBE!!!