BY: WILSON JOHNSON
It’s almost that time of year again Tribe fans, football season! Mark your calendars, because on September 2nd the Tribe will travel to Jerry Richardson Stadium to face the Charlotte 49ers to start their much-anticipated 2022 campaign.
Just to jog your memory, the Tribe ended their season 6-5 with a 4-4 mark in Colonial Athletic Association play; good enough to be placed 7th in the conference. Shoutout to WMSB founder Kyle Chadwick for predicting that William and Mary would finish 6-5 overall and 4-4 in conference play in a 2021 preseason article. Click here to revisit those near perfect predictions from a year ago. The Tribe looks to build upon their strongest season since 2015 with much of the team still intact. A few losses on offense that may be cause for concern include wide receivers Cole Blackman and Zach Burdick, the Tribe’s top two leaders in receiving yards last season. Not to worry, you can expect to see sophomore receiver JT Mayo have a much bigger role this year alongside new transfer Tyler Oedekoven, who, in his three seasons at Albany, put up 601 receiving yards alongside six trips to the endzone. This year’s receiving core should have enough talent to be able to run any passing play in Mike London’s run-heavy scheme. Another departure for the Tribe that is worth mentioning is safety Gage Herdman; he led William & Mary with four interceptions and was third on the team in total tackles. The Tribe will need someone to step up and take some of Herdman’s impactful production in the secondary.
One player to keep an eye on not only for the season opener, but also for the entire season is Tribe defensive end Nate Lynn. Lynn has already started to show major improvement from last season to now by being named to the FCS Preseason First-Team All-America as well as being awarded CAA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Fans can expect him to emerge as a top defensive end not only in the CAA, but in all of the FCS. Opposing teams likely won’t get any easy yardage against this William and Mary defense with Lynn as its anchor.
Although the Tribe suffered a few losses on the offensive line in the offseason, you can expect a high potency of running plays with all six of their top rushers returning. In 2021, William and Mary had the strongest rushing attack in the CAA, boasting a conference-leading 203.7 rushing yards per game to go along with 19 rushing touchdowns, second best in the CAA. On the defensive end, you should plan on them being able to stop the run, too; they only allowed 107.5 rushing yards per game, ranking the Tribe 12th out of all 123 teams in the FCS. You might also see improvement in William and Mary’s passing attack this season with reigning CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year, Darius Wilson, suiting up for his sophomore season. The dual threat quarterback should be even better after building upon an excellent freshman season where he broke William and Mary’s single season record for both passing yards and total yards by a true freshman.
Last year the 49ers finished 5-7 which slotted them in tenth place out of 14 teams in the Conference USA. Leading their offense will be fifth year quarterback Chris Reynolds. He threw 26 touchdown passes in 2021, tying him for 24th in the FBS. Offseason losses were rather minimal for the 49ers on the offensive side of the ball seeing how all skill players with at least 250 yards of scrimmage last season are returning. The only noteworthy losses on offense occurred in the trenches, where the 49ers lost three out of seven offensive linemen who made at least seven starts in 2021. With all his high-usage weapons and four offensive linemen with a multitude of starts, you can assume Reynolds intends to make this his strongest season yet. As a signal caller who has thrown more than 150 passes in each season since 2018, you have to think the Tribe will throw many different defensive formations at the seasoned vet.
The same cannot be said for the defensive side of things for Charlotte, however. The 49ers lost three of their five top tacklers from 2021; those same three were also responsible for over 60% of the team’s interceptions last year. A player who will need to be gameplanned for, however, is defensive end Markees Watts. He led the 49ers with six sacks last season which ranked seventh best in the Conference USA and 81st in the FBS. The crazy thing is, that wasn’t even his best season rushing the passer. In 2019 he racked up nine and a half sacks which was 22nd best in the FBS. Fun Fact: in that particular season, he had more sacks than Kayvon Thibodeaux, a defensive end picked fifth overall by the New York Giants in the 2022 NFL Draft. Needless to say, Watts will likely see his fair share of double teams in Charlotte’s home opener.
The tale of the tape suggests William and Mary will attempt to run the ball down Charlotte’s throat and pass as little as possible. The Tribe was dead last in the CAA in passing yards and passing touchdowns last year; the next lowest team had nearly 400 more passing yards. Expect William and Mary to physically impose themselves as often as possible by running the football. This isn’t good news for Charlotte fans since the 49ers weren’t the best at stopping the run a year ago. In fact, their rushing defense was ranked 115th out of 130 teams in the FBS. In contrast to William and Mary’s offensive strengths, Charlotte was a more formidable team when passing the ball evidenced by their 27 passing touchdowns, 25th most in the FBS. Now, to be the bearer of bad news for Tribe fans, I should let you know William and Mary usually struggled against the pass last year, seen in their 249.2 passing yards allowed per game that ranked 98th out of 123 teams in the FCS and second worst in the CAA.
This game will likely be won by whichever team can take better advantage of their opponents defensive shortcomings; will the Tribe’s committee of halfbacks trample all over the 49ers’ spotty run defense, or will the 49ers’ dynamic quarterback-receiver connections carve up the Tribe’s lackluster pass defense? Will William and Mary be able to move the ball through the air consistently? Can Charlotte rely on their run game if the pass isn’t working? Whatever the case may be I know Tribe fans everywhere will be tuned in September 2nd to watch William and Mary improve upon their strong 2021 season.