How W&M Can Beat UVA This Saturday

Alright Tribe fans, it’s time. It has been a long off season, but it’s finally game week as your William and Mary Tribe football team takes on the Virginia Cavaliers this Saturday night at 7:30 pm in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The game marks the season opener for both teams, and the Tribe’s return to actual Fall football for the first time since Fall 2019. UVA was the last FBS opponent the Tribe faced (again, in 2019) when William and Mary took on the Cavaliers, who, as a reminder, W&M head coach Mike London spearheaded as the Cavs’ head coach from 2010-2015. It’s safe to say that an upset this weekend would be the biggest win of London’s William & Mary tenure to date.

The Virginia Cavaliers are coming off a 2020 season in which they finished a disappointing 5-5. A year earlier in 2019, UVA was led by prolific quarterback Bryce Perkins, finishing with their best record of the Bronco Mendenhall era at 9-4 — a season that culminated in a trip to the Orange Bowl.

That same year, the Tribe traveled to Scott Stadium, falling to the Cavaliers, 52-17; the last victory for W&M over UVA came in 2009 when the Tribe triumphed in a 26-14 victory thanks to three interceptions from B.W. Webb. The Tribe forced seven total turnovers in that game, and it will take another monstrous defensive performance to defeat UVA this Saturday night. We know we can dream of Tribe victories, but does W&M really have a chance? The short answer is yes. Let’s dig in.

We know we are biased here, but there is significant evidence to suggest that the Tribe can pull off a victory on Saturday night. Four words: experienced quarterback & turnover differential. With QB Hollis Mathis (shoulder) unlikely to play, we at the WMSB predict transfer Cole Northrup to get the start against the Hoos. Northrup is the only QB on the Tribe roster with actual, in-game collegiate experience. During his time at Lafayette, he saw action in nine contests, starting four — including all three games in the shortened 2021 Spring season. This past Spring, the lefty QB led Lafayette to a 2-1 record, throwing for 602 yards and four touchdowns. In our minds, he seems to be the move if Hollis can’t go — but it also wouldn’t surprise us if London and the staff had another trick or two up their sleeves.

But a solid, turnover-free offense won’t get the job done on its own, not against an FBS power in UVA. What the Tribe will need is a bit of luck. But the kind luck that is earned, not given; and by that I mean W&M’s defense must capitalize on even the smallest of UVA mistakes come Saturday. If a ball is thrown six inches in the wrong direction, if a punt returner muffs a ball, or if a UVA running back doesn’t protect the ball correctly, W&M’s defense absolutely must capitalize. It’s how the Tribe defeated the Cavs in 2009, and it’ll be the recipe for how W&M defeats UVA this Saturday. It’s no small task, but one that is certainly possible.

On the defensive side of the ball, William and Mary will look to senior linebacker Trey Watkins, the Tribe’s 2019 team leader in tackles. Watkins started one game in the abbreviated season this past Spring, recording a career high in tackles. On special teams, Bronson Yoder leads the way for the Tribe. The preseason All-CAA punt returner led the entire nation in kickoff returns for touchdowns in 2019 and set the single-season school record with 913 kickoff return yards that same year, the second-highest mark in the nation. 

On the opposite side of the field, the Cavaliers offense is led by QB Brennan Armstrong, who threw for over 2,000 yards last season. Armstrong also led the Cavaliers offense in rushing, with over 500 yards on the ground. William and Mary will need to limit the offensive production of the Hoos, who scored 42 points per game last season.

Despite the Cavaliers’ offensive prowess, UVA’s defense struggled last season, giving up 442 yards and 29 points per game; in fact, UVA’s defensive unit ranked near the bottom of the ACC. If there’s a current weakness in Charlottesville, it’s their defense. And this is something the Tribe offense will need to capitalize on this Saturday evening: getting into scoring position as often as possible — every point matters, and the Tribe’s field goal unit will need to be clicking on all cylinders if W&M wishes to remain in the game and even pull of the upset on Saturday. The longer the Tribe can remain in the game, the better. Remain within striking distance, come away with a few key turnovers, and do “just enough” on offense to get the job done. Again, easier said than done, but not altogether impossible. See: 2009.

Will the Tribe need a miracle on Saturday night? No, definitely not. Will the Tribe need to be at the top of their game in all facets of the game? Definitely. This is not outside the realm of possibility, and the Tribe have a legitimate shot to shock the world. Virginia will certainly be the toughest test of the season, and will prepare the Tribe for a tough CAA campaign later in the season. Stay glued to your television sets on Saturday folks, it’s go time.


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