Ladies and gentlemen, your William & Mary Tribe is just two wins away from the National Championship game. Let that sink in. After finishing with a program best 10-1 record and taking home the CAA crown this season, the Green and Gold absolutely demolished visiting Gardner-Webb last week to the tune of a 40-point victory in postseason play.
The Tribe is clicking on all cylinders at just the right time too, putting up 54 points on offense while holding Gardner-Webb to just 14 total points on defense in the second round playoff victory. I don’t think I need to tell you that the best time to be playing your best football is right now, and the Tribe is doing exactly that.
This week, the #5-seeded Tribe travel to Bozeman, Montana to take on the #4-seeded Montana State Bobcats. Like William & Mary, the Bobcats have an historic football program; in fact, Montana State has fielded a football team since 1897, making it four years the younger to Tribe football, as W&M’s football program began in 1893 — exactly 200 years after William & Mary’s founding date.
To get you ready for this Friday’s game, we’ve done the heavy lifting, providing you a complete game preview below. Start planning your Friday night now — it’s a late start, but it’s sure to be a good one. LET’S GO TRIBE!
Montana State this Season
Montana State hails from the Big Sky, one of the best FCS conferences in the nation (like William & Mary’s CAA). This season, the Big Sky had five teams qualify for the FCS playoffs (again, the same number as the CAA). After being picked to finish #3 in the conference’s preseason coach’s poll, the Bobcats would go undefeated in conference play, with some convincing victories over big time football schools.
Of the Big Sky teams outside of Montana State that qualified for this year’s FCS playoffs (Sacramento State, Idaho, Weber State, & Montana), the Bobcats beat Weber State (twice, once in the regular season, and just last week in the FCS Playoffs), and they also beat Montana (who lost to North Dakota State in the FCS Playoffs last week). Of all five Big Sky teams that made the playoffs this year, only two remain: #4-seed Montana State & #2-seed Sacramento State. #5-seed William & Mary is the lone CAA team that’s still standing.
In analyzing the Bobcat’s schedule, the team finished with a sparkling 11-1 record, only dropping one contest to FBS Oregon State, a team that is currently ranked #14 in the FBS. Most impressive though were the Bobcats’ regular (and postseason) victories over a strong Weber State team, as well as its demolishing of in-state arch-rival Montana. In fact, many Big Sky fans believed that Montana State would lock in a top-3 playoff seed after their dismantling of Montana; alas, the FCS Playoff Committee disagreed, as the Bobcats locked up the #4 seed.
So how does Montana State get it done? The Bobcats boast a vaunted offense that averages an eye-watering 330.9 rushing yards per game. Yes, you read that correctly, 330.9 rushing yards per game. As you might imagine, that’s good enough to rank #1 in the Big Sky; oh yeah, it’s also good for #1 in the entire nation. And yes, their quarterback(s) run(s) the ball (you’ll see why I included those parentheses soon enough) — and of course, the team runs it far more than they pass it. Through the air, it’s a different story though, as Montana State averages just 183.5 passing yards per game — ranking #12 of 12 in the Big Sky in passing yards per game.
On the other side of the ball, the Bobcats boast a solid defensive unit. The team’s rush defense has held opponents to just 128 yards rushing per game, good enough to rank #1 in the Big Sky. The team’s passing defense isn’t as good though, giving up 235.8 passing yards per game, ranking #7 of 12 in the Big Sky.
Montana State Players to Watch
QB Tommy Mellott (#4) – Sophomore, 6’0″ 205 lb
Averaging 102.3 rushing yards per game, quarterback Tommy Mellott is a run-first quarterback who knows how to get it done on the ground. Mellott finished the season ranked #3 in the entire Big Sky in rushing, good enough to earn him a Big Sky Second Team selection as only a sophomore. Shutting down Mellott, who went off for 167 rushing yards on 21 carries & completed 13 of 19 pass attempts for another 91 yards last week against Weber State, will be priority #1 for the Tribe defense this Friday.
QB Sean Chambers (#10) – Junior, 6’3″ 232 lb
If Mellott is priority #1 for the Tribe defense this Friday, then Chambers is priority 1B. The junior transfer from FBS program Wyoming was selected as the Big Sky’s Newcomer of the Year. And while the aforementioned Mellott finished 3rd in the Big Sky in rushing, Chambers wasn’t far behind, finishing #5, averaging 79.1 rushing yards per game. In last week’s victory over Weber State, Chambers was the QB who found pay dirt, rushing 14 times for 83 yards and one touchdown, while also completing 2 of 2 passes for two touchdowns and 75 yards through the air. The Bobcats’ offense certainly likes to keep opposing defenses guessing, but one thing the Tribe won’t have to guess about is which two players mean the most to this Bobcats offense: #4 and #10. Expect one of these two to touch the on ball every single play the Bobcats run on offense this Friday.
ILB Callahan O’Reilly (#47) – Senior, 6’2″ 230 lb
O’Reilly was selected as a Big Sky First Team selection this year, and is undoubtedly one of the most important leaders on this year’s Bobcats defense. Let’s not forget, Montana State’s defense ranked #1 in the Big Sky in rushing defense; in no small part, this is due to the likes of O’Reilly and his fellow Bobcats getting to the ball on defense. On the season, O’Reilly finished with 75 total tackles and two sacks. Expect to see #47 all over the field for Montana State on defense this weekend.
W&M Keys to Victory
William & Mary’s offensive line must impose its will on Montana State’s defensive line
With a rush defense ranked #1 in the Big Sky, the Bobcats excel at stopping the run. But if there’s one thing William & Mary has executed at an elite level on all season long, it’s rushing the ball. Boasting the best stable of running backs and the top offensive line in the CAA, the Tribe averages 276.7 rushing yards per game, good enough to rank #1 in a deep CAA conference with some explosive offenses. Last week against Gardner-Webb, William & Mary gashed the Bulldogs for 306 rushing yards. Led by quarterback Darius Wilson (86 rushing yards), running backs Donavyn Lester (87 rushing yards and one touchdown) & Bronson Yoder (72 yards and two touchdowns) had their way with Gardner-Webb. In no small part this season, the Tribe’s stable of backs has benefited from a veteran offensive line, anchored by 6’6″ 305-pound NFL prospect Colby Sorsdal. It’s not hyperbole to say that this might just be the single most important match-up for the Tribe this Friday: William & Mary’s offensive line against Montana State’s defensive line.
Force Montana State to throw the ball by containing the Bobcat’s vaunted rushing attack
You know the numbers now. The Bobcats are going to run the ball. A lot. Sure, they’ll mix in the pass here and there, but what they want to do is put the ball in the hands of their two rushing quarterbacks and let them do what they do best: advance the football on the ground. With the 4th-ranked rushing defense in the CAA and the 3rd-ranked passing defense, and especially after knowing what the Bobcats want to do offensively, William & Mary must commit to stopping the run, forcing Montana State to throw the ball more than they would like. And not for nothing, the CAA’s Defensive Player of the year, W&M’s John Pius is just one sack away from setting the William & Mary single-season sack record. The goal here has to be to force the Bobcats to pass so that W&M can unleash the best tandem of pass rushers the CAA has to offer in John Pius and Nate Lynn. And you know what would help with forcing the Bobcats to throw the ball? Getting ahead on the scoreboard! So how can the Tribe do that? Let’s talk about that next.
Strike the Bobcats through the air & take advantage of Montana State’s average passing defense
Obviously, the Tribe will want to run the ball. Regardless if W&M is able to establish the run or not, the Green and Gold must strike the Bobcats through the air early and often. Luckily for the Tribe, W&M QB Darius Wilson is coming off perhaps his best-ever game as a member of the Green and Gold. Against Gardner-Webb, Wilson completed 14 of 24 passes for 240 yards and 3 touchdowns. Wilson’s three touchdown passes included tosses of 34 yards, 43 yards, and 8 yards. With Montana State’s pass defense giving up 235.8 passing yards per game, ranking #7 of 12 in the Big Sky, the Tribe will look to several players offensively here, likely including: 6’6″ 255-pound NFL prospect and senior tight end Lachlan Pitts, another player coming off the best game of his W&M career in JT Mayo (77 yards, 2 TD), Caylin Newton (of course, Cam Newton’s brother & probably the most consistent and clutch receiver for the Tribe this season), and Tyler Rose (TD against Gardner-Webb).
Viewing: When & Where
Time: Friday, 10:15 PM EST (8:15 PM Mountain Time in Montana)
Location: Bobcat Stadium (Bozeman, MT)
Watch: ESPN 2
FINAL WORD: THERE’S ONLY ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
At kick-off, the temperature will be in the teens. The Bobcats are ranked #4 in the country and boast a stadium that seats over 17,000. The environment will be different for W&M, to be sure, but the Tribe has already proven itself in several high stakes games against strong, nationally-ranked CAA opponents on the road this season. Remember the Richmond game, anyone? And let me be explicitly clear with this: we all saw what how Richmond played the Big Sky’s highest-ranked seed, #2 Sacramento State last week, barely losing 38-31 on the road — proving that CAA teams can more than hang with the Big Sky’s best. And the Big Sky has yet to play CAA Champion, William & Mary.
Picked to finish just #5 of 13 in preseason CAA polls, no one expected the Tribe to win the CAA this season. Picked #5 of 13, no one expected the Tribe to finish the season with the best record in program history. Picked #5 of 13, no one expected this W&M team to be just two wins away from the National Championship game.
Oh yeah, there’s one more thing no one expected from the Tribe this year. And heading to Montana, it’s the only stat that matters:
For the first time in program history, William & Mary is undefeated on the road (6-0).
We believe. LET’S GO TRIBE!!!