So just how is William & Mary getting it done? Well, that’s what we’ll look into with three key stats below. But before we do, it’s important to keep in mind the bigger picture too when analyzing these stats. When one takes into account the very fact that W&M’s starting QB Hollis Mathis is still QB2 (nursing a shoulder surgery recovery), and that a true freshman in Darius Wilson is operating as QB1 — what the Tribe has done becomes that much more impressive.
But while the 4-1 start is certainly talk of the town, there is undoubtedly room for improvement on both sides of the ball for the Tribe. If William & Mary wants to keep momentum heading into the teeth of the CAA slate, the team must improve on both sides of the ball to reach its postseason goals. Let’s explain. Roll Tribe roll.
Stat #1: William & Mary ranks #3 in the CAA… in both rushing offense and rushing defense.
Yes, William & Mary is absolutely winning the famed “battle in the trenches” so far this season — but what’s perhaps most impressive is that this victory is occurring on both sides of the ball. Coming into the year, the Tribe’s offensive line was touted by W&M’s coaches and fans as one of the best in the FCS; yes, you read that correctly, in the entire nation, outside the FBS of course. To date, William & Mary averages 172.6 yards per game on the ground — just under Stony Brook’s 2nd-ranked 173.7 yards per game. It’s safe to say W&M’s running game has been elite so far this season, and in large part that’s because of the big guys up front.
Anchored by William & Mary’s 6’7″ senior left tackle Andrew Trainer and captained by center Ryan Ripley, the entirety of the Green and Gold’s offensive line has played lights out during W&M’s 4-game win streak. If Trainer and the rest of the Tribe’s vaunted offensive line can continue dominating at the line of scrimmage, opening up gaping holes as they did last week against Albany, William & Mary’s stable of running backs could be in for some historic totals. One thing is for certain, running backs such as Donavyn Lester (55 yards per game) and Malachi Imoh (11 yards per carry) will be very happy.
Flipping to the defensive side of the ball, the Tribe’s defensive line has also lit up opponents this season, with opponents averaging just 113 yards per game on the ground. Senior defensive end Will Kiely ranks #1 in the CAA in tackles for loss (6), while W&M senior linebacker Trey Watkins has averaged 9.5 tackles per game over the last two contests. With juniors and seniors scattered throughout the Tribe’s defensive front, it’s perhaps unsurprising to see the success that this unit has had stopping the run so far this year. W&M defensive coordinator Vincent Brown should also be commended for an incredible job well done through the season’s first five contests.
Stat #2: William & Mary ranks bottom-3 in the CAA in passing defense…. as well as dead-last in the CAA in passing offense.
With the good, there has also been some bad, specifically in the passing department. Like in stat #1, stats included in #2 seem to mirror themselves on both sides of the ball for W&M — but this time, the numbers don’t seem to paint a pretty picture. Defensively, as good as the Tribe has been up front, the defensive backfield hasn’t been great. The Tribe currently gives up just over 267 yards per game in the air. Only New Hampshire and Maine give up more. With W&M yet to play teams such as James Madison and Villanova, two teams who know how to chuck it down the field, the Tribe desperately needs to improve its passing defense moving forward.
In the same vein on the offensive side of the ball, the Tribe hasn’t been able to get much going through the air. As mentioned earlier, W&M’s offense is led by true freshman quarterback Darius Wilson. Despite a lack of experience, the 6’3″ freshman has flashed some incredible talent — especially in the running game; undeniably, Wilson’s greatest asset to date has been his elusiveness and game-changing, breakaway speed. Darius currently averages 6.5 yards per rush, and his 245 rushing yards are only 43 less than running back Donavyn Lester’s team-leading total.
The “issue” is that Darius currently only averages around 16 pass attempts per game. And what’s crazy is that, when he’s thrown the ball, he has experienced success. Here’s a stat that might surprise many: Wilson currently ranks 10th in the country in completion percentage (67.1%). Despite the high completion percentage, through five games this season, only once has Wilson attempted more than 19 passes (mind you, we’re not talking completed passes, merely attempted passes — big difference).
Now, because Wilson is a true freshman (i.e. he was playing in high school at this very time just last year), it is entirely unsurprising that W&M’s coaching staff has elected to maintain a ground-heavy attack. Even still, given Darius’ passing success when given the opportunity, a more balanced offensive approach would only serve to make this offense that much more dangerous. Elite defensive teams such as JMU and Villanova are more than capable of shutting down W&M’s top-3 run game…so what happens to W&M’s offense then? How does it adjust? Over the second half of the season, we fully expect Wilson to throw the ball more as he continues to learn and grow in the system.
Stat #3: William & Mary has given up the least amount of sacks in the CAA… and has produced the most sacks in the CAA.
We did mention how good William & Mary’s offensive and defensive lines were in stat #1, right? Well, it gets better. Not only have both lines produced when it comes to the rushing game, but both lines have also produced when it comes to QB pressures. Offensively, W&M has given up the least number sacks in the league (5). It’s fair to attribute the majority of that achievement to three primary things: W&M’s offensive line, QB Darius Wilson’s rare ability to evade the rush, and most boringly, W&M’s propensity to run the football (leading to fewer sack opportunities for opposing teams). Any way you splice it, the Tribe has experienced immense success in protecting the passer so far this season, and it’s in no small part due to elite offensive line play and the pass-rush evading maneuvers of Darius Wilson.
On the other side of the ball, William & Mary’s defensive line has been an absolute nightmare (spooky Halloween reference, see what we did there?) for opposing quarterbacks. Through five games, W&M averages over 3 sacks per game; in fact, the team’s 16 total sacks holds the #1 spot in the CAA. W&M defensive end Nate Lynn currently leads the entire CAA with 5.5 sacks through just five contests. A truly insane start for the season by the junior Lynn. Will Kiely, opposite Lynn, is not far behind, ranking #2 in the CAA in total sacks (5). Even W&M’s senior nose tackle Zyquan Bessant is getting in on the action, as Bessant registered a sack earlier in the season against Colgate. With elite talent across the line that has proven it can both stop the run and get to the quarterback, there isn’t much more a coach could ask for out of the defensive line. And with the hardest parts of the CAA schedule still on the docket for W&M, much will be expected from this unit moving forward.
So you see, William & Mary is getting it done on both sides of the ball. Almost eerily so, the team’s efforts have seemingly mirrored themselves across several key statistical categories so far this year. But as the season progresses, the Green and Gold will need to improve in key areas to truly compete with modern day powerhouses of the CAA; and with games against Villanova, Delaware, and JMU soon approaching the horizon, the Tribe will need to be firing on all cylinders to get the job done.
But if there’s one thing we’ve learned so far this season, it’s not to underestimate the boys from the ‘Burg. Riding a 4-game win streak, William & Mary is out to prove its doubters wrong this year.
LET’S GO TRIBE.