W&M Football: 2019 Report Card

Despite an up and down year, the Tribe made great strides in various statistical categories this season. [photo via tribeathletics.com]
This past Saturday, our beloved W&M Tribe (5-7, 3-5 CAA) ended the 2019 campaign in thrilling fashion by rattling off a 21-15 overtime victory against hated in-state rivals, the Richmond Spiders.

After dropping its first four CAA matchups, the Tribe finished the year strong, winning three out of four CAA contests to close out the season. The strong finish certainly gives the Tribe faithful a whole lot to be optimistic about in the coming years.

In this article, we analyze all three aspects of this year’s team, including the offense, defense, and special teams — comparing stats year-over-year and assigning overall grades for each unit. Roll Tribe Roll.

W&M Offense: A-

QB Hollis Mathis flashed legit dual-threat ability in his true freshman campaign. [photo via tribeathletics.com]

Last Year’s CAA Rankings (Jimmye’s Last Year)

  • 2018 W&M Total Offense: 241.5 YPG
    (#12 of 12 CAA teams)
  • 2018 W&M Passing Offense: 186.2 YPG
    (#9 of 12)
  • 2018 W&M Rushing Offense: 55.3 YPG
    (#12 of 12)
  • 2018 W&M Scoring Offense: 13.6 PPG
    (#12 of 12)

This Year’s CAA Rankings (London’s First Year)

  • W&M Total Offense: 340.9 YPG
    (#10 of 12 CAA teams)
    (+99.4 compared to last season) 
  • W&M Passing Offense: 154.9 YPG
    (#12 of 12)
    (-31.3) 
  • W&M Rushing Offense: 186.0 YPG
    (#4 of 12)
    (+130.7) 
  • W&M Scoring Offense: 25.2 PPG
    (#7 of 12)
    (+11.6) 

This may not come as a surprise, but W&M’s offense took an ASTRONOMICAL leap forward in 2019 (understatement). Tribe faithful had high expectations for offensive coordinator Brennan Marion’s offense, and it certainly lived up to the hype.

Marion’s “Go-Go” offense made for an entertaining style of play each time the Tribe offense took the field; fans never knew what would happen — with multiple reverses, misdirections, and trick plays baked into a fast-paced, run-first offense.

As one can plainly see in the stats above, W&M’s offensive production and overall efficiency was way up this year; in terms of rushing, W&M boasted nearly triple the amount of yards on the ground that it averaged last year, and scored almost double the amount of points.

Another crazy stat: last season, W&M never scored 30+ points and was shutout twice. This season, W&M eclipsed 30 points five times, and was never shutout all season. Re-read that. Go-Go ahead (get it?). Let that one-year turnaround sink in.

W&M Offensive Coordinator Brennan Marion led a miraculous overhaul of the Tribe’s running game this season. [photo via tribeathletics.com]
We give a ton of credit to coach Marion and the offensive coaching staff for turning things around this season, and doing so very quickly. While some may have scratched their heads when the Green and Gold turned to true freshman Hollis Mathis as its starter under center, he showed serious potential.

Sure, the true freshman had his ups and downs, but he shined in spurts under Coach Marion, and will continue to grow in this offense each and every year. If Mathis can develop a more consistent passing game, he may even develop into a future CAA Player of the Year (knock on wood).

On the season, Mathis finished with 976 yards passing, 4 TDs, 3 INTs, and an eye-popping 546 yards rushing and 8 TDs on the ground. 

On the ground this season, the obvious focal point of the Go-Go offense, W&M fans were treated to one of the best rushing offenses in the nation. Three of the Tribe’s top four leading rushers were true freshmen (Bronson Yoder – 375 yards, 4 TDs, Donavyn Lester – 271 yards, 4 TDs, Hollis Mathis – 546 yards, 8 TDs); the Tribe’s leading rusher was a sophomore, Owen Wright, who finished with 584 yards and 5 rushing TDs.

On the receiving end of things, Zach Burdick led the team (655 receiving yards, 2 TDs). True Freshman Kane Everson (585 yards, 3 TDs) finished second, and freshman Donavyn Lester (119 yards, 1 TD) rounded out the top three. Here’s a bit of good news: W&M will return its top six receivers next season.

While it seems like the Tribe will return lots of bodies on offense next year, our biggest concern is whether Coach Marion will stay. He has risen quickly through the ranks (and deservedly so), and after turning around this W&M offense (and Howard’s the seasons before), he will soon receive looks from the higher echelons of college football. But we suppose that’s par for the course with a “mid-major” athletics school like W&M.

If Coach Marion returns for a second year in Williamsburg, this offense has a legitimate chance to finish top-3 in the CAA next season.

W&M Defense: B-

Bill Murray finishes his collegiate career as an all-time W&M defensive lineman. [photo via tribeathletics.com]

Last Year’s CAA Rankings (Jimmye’s Last Year)

  • 2018 W&M Total Defense: 366.3 YPG
    (#9 of 12 CAA teams)
  • 2018 W&M Passing Defense: 190.0 YPG
    (#5 of 12)
  • 2018 W&M Rushing Defense: 176.3 YPG
    (#11 of 12)
  • 2018 W&M Scoring Defense: 26.2 PPG
    (#8 of 12)

This Year’s CAA Rankings (London’s First Year)

  • W&M Total Defense: 401.6 YPG
    (#10 of 12 CAA teams)
    (+35.3 compared to last season)
  • W&M Passing Defense: 248.7 YPG
    (#12 of 12)
    (+58.7) 
  • W&M Rushing Defense: 152.9 YPG
    (#6 of 12) (-23.4) 
  • W&M Scoring Defense: 28.2 PPG
    (#9 of 12)
    (+2.0) 

While statistically speaking, it may look like the Tribe regressed a bit defensively, it’s somewhat hard to say say, given that W&M played against 2 FBS opponents this season (UVA hung 52 on the Tribe early in the season).

While the Tribe’s rush defense improved from a season ago, its pass defense regressed. There was a lot of change in the defensive backfield this offseason, which may very well be why the defense gave up nearly 60 more yards per game through the air this season.

The Tribe defense had a penchant for forcing turnovers in the 2019 campaign. [photo via tribeathletics.com]
An encouraging sign was that the defense was opportunistic, forcing 14 turnovers this season, including 12 interceptions. Unfortunately, the Tribe will lose several key players in the defensive backfield this offseason, including its three leading interception-getters in safeties Miles Hayes (3 INTs), Isaiah Laster (3 INTs), and corner/safety Corey Parker (2 INTs).

On the positive side of things, we loved what we saw out of true freshman CB Latrelle Smith (2 INTs); he will surely look to become a shutdown corner next year.

And while the Tribe returns its leading tackler next season in sophomore LB Trey Watkins (83 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack), it loses its next 5 leading tacklers in Corey Parker (80 tackles), LB Nate Atkins (78), Safety Isaiah Laster (72), LB Arman Jones (54), and LB Gavin Johnson (53).

Suffice to say, it will be quite the offseason for the Green Swarm. However, as Coach London’s freshman class proved this serason, young players will be ready to step up. Expect Coach to bring in another strong class this year, with several true freshmen contributing to next season’s iteration of the Green Swarm.

W&M Special Teams: B

True freshman Bronson Yoder was a revelation this year for both the Tribe’s Special Teams and Offense. [photo via tribeathletics.com]

Last Year’s CAA Rankings (Jimmye’s Last Year)

  • 2018 W&M Kickoff Return Average: 19.8 yards
    (#8 of 12 CAA teams)
  • 2018 W&M Punt Return Average: 4.9 yards
    (#8 of 12)
  • 2018 W&M Punting: 31.9 yards per punt
    (#9 of 12)
  • 2018 W&M FG PCT: 6/13 – 46.2%
    (#11 of 12)

This Year’s CAA Rankings (London’s First Year)

  • W&M Kickoff Return Average: 23.7 yards
    (#4 of 12 CAA teams)
    (+3.9 yards) 
  • W&M Punt Return Average: 6.5 yards
    (#9 of 12)
    (+1.6 yards)
  • W&M Punting: 32.3 yards per punt
    (#11 of 12)
    (+.4 yards) 
  • W&M FG PCT: 9/19 – 47.4%
    (#11 of 12)
    (+1.2%) 

Two words: Bronson Yoder. In terms of kick returns, the freshman Yoder was unstoppable. He finished the season with two kickoff return touchdowns, including a 98-yard TD; overall, Yoder would average 26.9 yards per return (that’s over 1/4 the field, for all you math wizards).

Jordan Lowery also performed well in the punt return game, averaging 9.7 yards per contest. With both players back next year, the return game should continue to excel under Coach London.

In the punting game, the Tribe improved just .4 yards over last season, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Tribe finished with 11 punts inside the 20, compared to just 9 last season — and perhaps most impressively, W&M had 8 punts of 50+ yards, compared to just 2 a season ago.

True freshman George Eberle can punt, and he will get better with each passing year. He had a season-high 56-yard punt, which shows just how powerful his leg can be. Winning the field position battle does wonders in close games; we expect Eberle to help the Tribe do just that next season.

Finally, while the Tribe’s FG PCT improved just 1.2% over last season, there’s reason for optimism. The Tribe utilized both senior Kris Hooper and sophomore Jake Johnston on FG attempts this season; while Hooper graduates, the Tribe returns Johnston, who was 7/12 (58.3%) on his FGs this season. That’s +12.1% from a season ago, which is a big improvement.

In all, the Tribe special teams, much like its offense, is very young and bursting with potential. Expect the return game, punting game, and field goal percentages to all improve next season.

Conclusion

While the Tribe defense has plenty of lot of holes to fill this offseason, Tribe fans should be encouraged by the steps the team’s offense and special teams took this season — with just about everyone returning on offense and special teams in 2020, the Green and Gold should again take a leap forward.

And if Coach Marion returns and Coach London brings in another strong freshman class, this W&M team has a real chance to compete for a playoff spot next season.

 

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