CAA Football Look-Around & Analysis

Well Tribe fans, we made it to the halfway point of the 2021 season. After six games, your William and Mary Tribe (4-2, 2-1 CAA) sits in 4th place in the Colonial Athletic Association standings — quite the upgrade from the preseason pick of 11th in the preseason rankings! After a tough setback against in-state rival Virginia, the Tribe rattled off a string of four straight impressive victories, capped off by an 18-point comeback on October 9th against Albany in front of an electric Homecoming crowd at Zable Stadium.

Last week, however, the Tribe suffered its second loss of the season with a road loss to the Maine Black Bears (2-4, 1-3 CAA) 27-16. The loss pushed William & Mary’s record to 4-2 through 6 games, and to 2-1 in the CAA. Up next, the Tribe returns home to face the Towson Tigers on Saturday at 3:30 pm. But before we get into the keys of the game, let’s take a look around the CAA to see what fans should expect for the rest of the Tribe’s 2021 campaign.  

One of the toughest conferences in the FCS, the CAA currently has three teams ranked in this week’s top-25 polls, with a number of other CAA teams contending for an at-large bid in the 2021 FCS playoffs. Sitting atop the league is Villanova (5-1, 3-0 CAA). The Wildcats have been consistent in all facets of the game, currently ranking 2nd in the conference in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Running back Justin Covington ranks 4th in the conference in rushing, with 469 yards to go along with his 3 touchdowns, while ‘Nova quarterback Daniel Smith has been consistent under center as well, with 1,180 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Wildcats will look to contend with James Madison for the conference title and the coveted automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.

Speaking of the Dukes, JMU (5-1, 3-1 CAA) continues its long streak of impressive seasons in 2021, sitting in 2nd place in the conference. The Dukes lead the conference in scoring offense, scoring defense, and rushing defense. Quarterback Cole Johnson is completing 70% of his passes with 1,560 yards and 15 touchdowns with only 1 interception. He certainly has plenty of talent in the receiving core with receivers Antwane Wells Jr. and Kris Thornton ranked 1st and 3rd in receiving, respectively. The Dukes will look to contend for yet another playoff berth in the later stages of the season. 

This brings us to the 3rd-place Rhode Island Rams. The Rams (5-1, 3-1 CAA) opened the season with an impressive 5-0 record before falling to Towson 28-7 on the road last weekend. Quarterback Kasim Hill leads the way under center with 1,186 passing yards and 6 touchdowns. Alongside him in the backfield is Justice Antrum, who sits in third in rushing with 515 yards and 6 touchdowns. The Rams face top-ranked Villanova on Saturday in what promises to be a blockbuster match up.

Not to be left out is the surging Elon Phoenix (3-3, 2-1 CAA), who have won two straight games since dropping the conference opener against William & Mary 34-31. The Phoenix have won two straight games and are coming off a bye week before hosting New Hampshire (3-3, 2-1 CAA) this week. Quarterback Davis Cheek has dazzled this season, leading the conference with 1,719 passing yards. His primary target, Jackson Parham has caught 35 passes for 485 yards, ranking second in the conference in receiving totals. 

The CAA is always a tough battle and this season certainly is no different. Only one team escaped the first half unblemished, that being the Villanova Wildcats. In this week’s polls, the Wildcats rank 5th, two spots ahead of JMU in 7th. Delaware ranks 23rd, with William & Mary receiving votes for the second straight week. Enough with the rest of the CAA though, let’s get into the highs and lows so far for your William & Mary Tribe. 

Not many folks outside of Williamsburg expected much out of this team in the preseason, with the media picking the Tribe to finish 11th in the conference. I realize that we’re only halfway, but the Green and Gold sure doesn’t look like an 11th place team out on the field. But if you know anything about the Tribe in recent years, the team’s success on the field in 2021 should not surprise. The Tribe leads the conference in rushing yards per game, racking up 186.8 yards per contest. Donavyn Lester leads the team and ranks 6th in the conference with 388 rushing yards. Darius Wilson and Bronson Yoder have also been effective in the ground game, ranking 15th and 16th in the conference in rushing. The list of talent is extensive for the Tribe, with Malachi Imoh and Martin Lucas getting carries in the backfield as well.

All of this rushing success has come behind a stout, veteran offensive line that has allowed the fewest sacks in the CAA. On the defensive side of the ball, Will Kiely and Nate Lynn have devastated opposing offenses all season, both ranking in the top five in sacks and tackles for loss. Defensive back Gage Herdman ranks 3rd in the CAA with 3 interceptions as well. However, we would absolutely be remiss without mentioning punter Will Whitehurst. The junior from Greenville, North Carolina leads the CAA in punt average, including a booming 63-yard kick against Albany on Homecoming. 

While there was a fair share of skepticism from critics surrounding this William and Mary team going into the season, Mike London and his staff have more than risen to the challenge to lead the Tribe into a very real chance at playoff contention. This week’s match up against Towson is pivotal, and this team will need the support from the Tribe faithful at Zable Stadium to get the job done. Kickoff is set for 3:30 pm.

LET’S GO TRIBE.

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