FOOTBALL IS BACK! This Saturday, W&M will take the field to officially open the 2018 season in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Sadly enough, this will be the last first game for W&M Head Coach Jimmye Laycock, heading into the 39th season of his hall of fame career. The Green an Gold’s opponent? The Bucknell Bison of the Patriot League. W&M has not fallen to a Patriot League foe since 2012, when the Tribe narrowly lost to Lafayette 17-14, but W&M will need to establish that its come a long way since last season’s 2-9 finish.
W&M actually faced off against Bucknell a season ago; W&M won 30-9 behind a running game headlined by then-freshman Nate Evans and a strong defensive effort (6 sacks). We’re hoping that this year will be much of the same, as an improved defense and second year QB Shon Mitchell look to get this season started on the right foot.
Now let’s learn more about this year’s Bucknell squad.
Bucknell This Season
Last season was one to forget for the Bison. The team finished 5-6 (2-4 Patriot). In this year’s preseason poll, Bucknell was picked to finish tied for fifth out of seven Patriot League teams. They had only two players selected to the Preseason All-League team: offensive lineman Pat Finn and punter Alex Pechin. However, the Bison have pieces to build upon this season.
Despite their offense ranking toward the bottom of the Patriot last season (averaging 16.8 points per game), the Bison had an elite defense. Their D finished as the second best scoring defense in the Patriot (allowing just 22.6 points per game), first in the league in total defense (294.6 yards per game), and first in pass defense (148.3 yards per game). W&M’s still-young QB Shon Mitchell will certainly be tested against this stingy unit. Don’t be surprised if it takes a quarter for Mitchell to find his rhythm on Saturday.
The biggest question mark for the Bison coming into this season is centered around the quarterback position. Much like the Tribe, Bucknell has a 2-QB race between sophomore Logan Bitikofer and Junior John Chiarolanzio. Bitikofer is the favorite to win the starting job, but Chiarolanzio remains in the mix after starting 8 games a season ago. Bitikofer, the favorite, checks in at 6’3″ and 200 pounds, and was the 2017 Scout Team Offesive Player of the Year. He has a big arm. We are assuming Bitikofer will be the QB we will see on Saturday.
Players to Watch
P Alex Pechin (#1): The aforementioned Pechin was the 2017 Scholar Athlete Player of the Year in the Patriot League last season, and finished as a 2017 All-League selection. It comes as no surprise that he was chosen as a Preseason All-League player as a senior this year. Pechin averaged 45.1 yards per punt last season, with a long of 67 yards; 26 of his punts traveled 50+ yards last year, and he also finished with a truly insane 34 punts inside the 20 last year. Field position is always important, and one should expect Pechin to pin the Tribe’s new offense deep in its own territory early and often on Saturday. Shon Mitchell, DeVonte Dedmon, and the rest of the offensive unit will surely have to piece together some long drives this weekend.
RB Chad Freshnock (#20): Chad Freshnock (6’0″, 220 pounds) was Bucknell’s leading rusher last year, gaining 525 yards and 6 TDs for the Bison. The junior will look to take the lead role after the Bison lost Joey DeFloria to graduation. W&M returns all 3 of its starting linebackers from a year ago, and they will look to shut down Freshnock on Saturday.
Update: Chad Freshnock sustained a season-ending injury in the preseason, and will not play.
LB Simeon Page (#7): Page was an absolute monster last year, in what was only his freshman season. Through 9 games, Page recorded 9 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, 6 QB hits, 4 PBUs, and finished 6th on the team with 46 tackles. Now a sophomore, and with a full season ahead of him, the 6’0″ 225 pound Page will look to lead the Bison defense and shutdown the Tribe’s running (and passing) game on Saturday. Look out for #7 on the defensive side of the ball.
S Brandon Benson (#36): Brandon Benson played every game last season and finished 3rd on the team in tackles (68). He also finished with 2.5 TFLs and 1 sack. W&M has a pair of speedy receivers in DeVonte Dedmon and Jalen Christian, who will look to go deep and blow the top off the defense at least a couple times in this contest; look for Benson to play a role in trying to prevent that this weekend.
W&M Keys to Victory
- Start off STRONG: W&M had way too many games last season where the team appeared sluggish out of the gates, barely mustering any points in the first half of several games. In fact, in W&M’s eight CAA games last year, the Tribe scored just 10 TOTAL points in the first quarter. Are you kidding me? Over eight games, that works out to an average of 1.25 points per first quarter in CAA play. If you expand these numbers to include the second quarter (also known as the entire first half), W&M scored a total of 33 points over eight CAA games, or an average of 4.125 points PER FIRST HALF. Absolutely unacceptable, and something that has to change this season. It’s time to right the ship this season, and it starts in quarter #1 against Bucknell.
- Pressure on the QB: Last season, W&M had 6 sacks against Bucknell in a game the Tribe won, 30-9. Bucknell will have an inexperienced QB under center whether it is sophomore Logan Bitikofer or Junior John Chiarolanzio. As mentioned earlier, we think that the likely starter is Bitikofer –who boasts a whopping 0 career starts. W&M should test the young QB early, and often, sending the Tribe’s experienced linebackers/corners on blitzes to confuse and pressure the opposing QB.
- Establish the Run Game: Running back might just be one of the deepest position groups on the roster, with sophomore Nate Evans, junior Albert Funderburke, and redshirt freshman Owen Wright all looking to carve out roles in Offensive Coordinator D.J. Mangas’ offense. Getting the running game going will be important for the Tribe in every game this season, but especially in the first game since Shon Mitchell was named the starter. Effectively utilizing the run makes this offense much more dynamic, as opposing teams will be forced to stack the box with linebackers, allowing the Tribe’s passing game to open up as the defense keys on the run.
Viewing: When & Where
Time: Saturday, 6:00 PM
Location: Christy Mathewson–Memorial Stadium (Lewisburg, PA)
Watch: Patriot League Network — find the link here!
How W&M Wins
W&M 27, Bucknell 10
The W&M defense forces multiple turnovers on a young, experienced Bison QB. Shon Mitchell shines, and throws 2+ touchdown passes, and the Tribe’s running game dominates time of possession.