It’s Homecoming week! As alums flock back to the ‘Burg in droves to enjoy a weekend of nostalgic festivities, let’s not forget that the Green and Gold will be taking the field at the (still newly renovated) Zable Stadium. Specifically, this Saturday, the Tribe (2-4, 1-2 CAA) will face off against the mighty #16 Maine Black Bears (4-2, 3-0 CAA). The Black Bears are one of two CAA teams who have yet to lose a conference game — the other team being the Towson Tigers, whom W&M played last week.
This a Maine team that is looking to continue its league dominance for weeks to come. With that being said, if W&M can put everything together, the Tribe can certainly win this game.
Maine this Season (4-2, 3-0 CAA)
Coming into the year, Maine was picked to finish in the lower half of the league — #8 of 12 teams. However, at this point in the season, the Black Bears are surging, having already defeated New Hampshire, Villanova, and a surprisingly good Rhode Island team. With 5 conference games still on the docket, it remains to be seen where Maine will finish in the standings. But one thing is for certain, this is a strong Black Bears team — and one that will not relinquish its #1 spot lightly.
In the second game of the season, the Black Bears pulled off a major upset, defeating FBS-member Western Kentucky 31-28. While the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (great name by the way) are certainly experiencing a down year, Maine’s defeat of an FBS opponent portended big things to come for the Black Bears. To go along with its 4 wins, Maine’s two losses have come against 1) another FBS opponent in Central Michigan and 2) surprisingly to Ivy League member Yale.
So how do the Black Bears get it done? Defense, defense, defense. On the defensive side of the ball, the Black Bears rank #4 in scoring defense in the CAA, allowing 22.2 points per game (to #11 W&M’s 32.3). The team has racked up an incredible 26 combined sacks so far this season, which ranks #1 in the CAA; to put that number in perspective, the 2nd-best sacks team is Richmond, with 6 less sacks (20) than Maine.
The Bears also rank #2 in total defense, allowing just 267.7 total yards per game. Specifically, they’re led by the #1 rushing defense in the league, which only gives up 66.5 yards per game on the ground. Through the air, Maine isn’t as great (thankfully), ranking #9 in the league, allowing 206.3 passing yards per game. Starting to figure out how W&M can get the job done against the Maine defense this Saturday? We know we are.
Offensively, this isn’t the best Maine offense we’ve ever seen. The Black Bears rank #10 in scoring offense, averaging 22.7 points per game, boasting the #6 rushing offense (130 yards per game) and #9 passing offense (206.3 yards per game) The game plan for the Black Bears is simple: dominate on defense and manage the game on offense. Don’t turn the ball over; run the ball early and often to control the clock (Maine ranks #2 in time of possession), and continue to rely on strong defense to win the day.
Maine’s Players to Watch
LB Sterling Sheffield (#6): Sheffield is a 6’2″ 240 pound pass rushing specialist who will likely get a legitimate chance to play on NFL Sundays. The senior currently leads the entire CAA in sacks with 7.5 sacks, averaging 1.25 per game. Last season, Sheffield started all 10 games, garnering 2nd-Team All-CAA honors in the process; this season, he looks to be on on track for 1st-Team. W&M’s offensive line will need to double up on #6 all game to stave off the big negative play.
LB Deshawn Stevens (#47): Yet another senior linebacker on this star-studded defense, Stevens checks in as a 6’1″ 250 pound linebacker from Toronto. As a junior last season, Stevens finished 5th on the team in total tackles, with 50. This year, Stevens ranks #6 in the CAA in total tackles (already with 52, surpassing his total from last year), averaging 8.7 tackles per game. These numbers are easily enough to lead the Maine Black Bears in tackles; he is one of the primary reasons why opponents have a hard time running the ball against Maine. Look for #47 to key on W&M running backs this weekend.
RB Joe Fitzpatrick (#27): Fitzpatrick is a redshirt junior who currently ranks #9 in the CAA in rushing, averaging 56.3 yards per game. Already with 85 rushing attempts to his name this season, he ranks #6 in the CAA in total rush attempts. With those 85 attempts, Fitzpatrick has compiled 338 yards and 3 TDs on the year. Noting Maine’s aforementioned strategy of minimizing turnovers and controlling the clock, Fitzpatrick plays a big role in ensuring the Black Bears’ successful execution of its offensive game plan. Look for #27 to tout the ball early and often on Saturday.
W&M KEYS TO VICTORY
- Rack up Yards through the Air: As mentioned, Maine has a great defense. With that being said, they’re beatable through the air. With Maine giving up over 200 passing yards per game, the Green and Gold will absolutely have to get something going in the passing game this weekend — despite star WR DeVonte Dedmon likely out due to injury. We expect Jack Armstrong, Anthony Mague, and others to step up in Dedmon’s stead to take advantage of a Maine pass defense that is lacking. The closer to 300 passing yards the better for the Tribe this Saturday.
- Force Maine to Throw: We know their offensive (and defensive) game plans — they’re written in the stats. W&M should not be shocked that Maine wants to control time of possession by running the ball as much as they possibly can (and running out the clock). They play the long game, and will look to limit the amount of offensive possessions that W&M gets this weekend. To get the ball back into the hands of the Green and Gold, W&M will need to shut down the Black Bears’ run game and force their #9-ranked passing offense to do something they’re not great at — racking up yards through the air. This strategy, if executed, would limit Maine’s points and increase W&M’s number of offensive possessions.
- Make Each Possession Count: Given Maine’s ability for controlling time of possession, W&M’s offense will need to come away with points on each and every drive. Even if it’s just a field goal, the Tribe isn’t guaranteed as many offensive possessions in this game as it is against other teams. Step up to the plate and deliver. It’s time.
VIEWING: WHEN & WHERE
Time: Saturday, 3:30 PM
Location: Zable Stadium (Williamsburg, VA)
Watch: Online Streaming — find the link here!
W&M 23, Maine 20
In W&M’s winning scenario, this will still likely be a low-scoring affair. Maine has shown the ability to limit opposing offenses; the Tribe will need to take advantage of Maine’s obvious game plan with one that counteracts the Black Bears’ strategy. Get it done through the air, stymie Maine’s run game, and put points on the board.
Happy Homecoming — LET’S GO TRIBE!!!