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Fresh off a victory over Florida State, No. 12 Virginia Tech will face FCS opponent William & Mary this Saturday in Lane Stadium at 2pm.
William & Mary is coached by Jimmye Laycock, who is the FCS version of Frank Beamer. In fact, their college playing careers overlapped, with Laycock playing for William & Mary from 1966-69. He has a career record of 246-189-2 since taking over the Tribe way back in 1980, and he’s led them to multiple FCS playoffs, including two trips to the semifinals.
Recently Laycock announced his retirement at the conclusion of the 2018 season. Frank Beamer and Laycock go way back, and Beamer has cancelled a trip to his son’s game at Oklahoma in order to see his long-time friend coach in Blacksburg one more time.
Laycock’s William & Mary team is 1-0 on the season after a 14-7 victory over Bucknell a week ago. However, Bucknell was only a 5-6 football team a year ago, while William & Mary was 2-9 and failed to win a conference game for the first time in Laycock’s tenure. Those were two good FCS teams that faced off last week, and the Hokies have faced much better William & Mary teams in the past.
Let’s take a closer look at the Tribe.
The William & Mary Offense
The William & Mary offense didn’t exactly light up Bucknell in week one. The Tribe posted the following numbers…
Rushing: 81 yards, 2.0 ypc
Passing: 267 yards
Total: 348 yards, 4.8 yards per play
The passing offense worked well enough, but William & Mary really struggled to run the football. That doesn’t bode well against a Bud Foster defense that completely smothered the Florida State rushing attack.
Shon Mitchell (6-0, 190, So.) quarterbacks the William & Mary offense. He started three games late last season, and though he didn’t play well in those games, he set the table for his sophomore season. The former starter at Oscar Smith, Mitchell isn’t a particularly big guy, but he had an effective game through the air against Bucknell last week. However, he’s not a great runner, with 19 career carries for -17 yards (he was sacked four times for -31 yards against Bucknell).
Here are his numbers from last week…
Passing: 21-of-32, 267 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: 8 carries, -20 yards, 1 TD
Counting his three starts last season, Mitchell has completed 48% of his career passes, with one touchdown and four interceptions, while totally -17 rushing yards. That’s not the recipe to beat a Bud Foster defense.
The four sacks of Mitchell cut into William & Mary’s rushing totals, though their traditional running game didn’t do particularly well either.
Albert Funderburke (6-0, 205, r-Jr.): 17 carries, 61 yards, 3.6 ypc
Owen Wright (5-10, 210, r-Fr.): 8 carries, 25 yards, 3.1 ypc
Nate Evans (5-10, 190, So.): 8 carries, 15 yards, 1.9 ypc
William & Mary’s longest rush of the day went for 14 yards. This does not appear to be a ground game that can significantly threaten the Hokies as long as Bud Foster’s defense is focused.
The Tribe’s wide receivers have plenty of experience, although they lack size. DeVonte Dedmon (5-9, 198, Sr.) had three catches for 125 yards against Bucknell, including a 75-yard touchdown reception. Jack Armstrong (6-0, 185, Sr.) led the team with five receptions last week. Jalen Christian (5-9, 185, Jr.) and Isaiah Kinder (6-0, 195, Sr.) round out the two-deep at receiver.
The Tribe will also use the tight end in the passing game. Nick Muse (6-5, 235, So.) caught five passes for 48 yards in week one, while Tyler Klaus (6-4, 245, r-Jr.) also added a reception for six yards.
William & Mary’s offensive line looks like this…
- LT Mark Williamson (6-5, 310, r-Jr.): Williamson missed last week’s game with an injury, but he started six games last season.
- LG Dan Evers (6-5, 305, r-So.): Evers has made three career starts, though two of them have come at right tackle.
- C Nick Wimmer (6-2, 305, r-Jr.): Wimmer has made 10 career starts.
- RG Brooks Norris (6-4, 295, r-Sr.): Despite being a redshirt senior, Norris has made just four career starts.
- RT Griffin Gilder (6-4, 295, r-Fr.): Gilder made his first career start against Bucknell, starting at left tackle.
That’s a young and inexperienced offensive line. If Williamson can’t go again this week, expect Gilder to start at left tackle. In that case, true freshman Colby Sorsdal (6-6, 290) would get the start at right tackle. Last week he became just the second William & Mary true freshman offensive lineman to start since 1982.
This is not a William & Mary offense that will threaten Virginia Tech. They only put up 14 points against Bucknell, and they scored 20 or more points only three times in 11 games last season.
The William & Mary Defense
On the other hand, the William & Mary defense was good last season, and they were terrific last week against Bucknell, allowing just 257 yards of total offense, including no plays of longer than 21 yards.
Here’s how William & Mary lines up on the defensive line, which is coached by former Virginia Tech defensive tackle Kevin Lewis.
- DE Gavin Johnson (6-3, 250, Jr.): 12 career starts at defensive end. Johnson led the team with eight tackles for loss last season.
- DT Bill Murray (6-4, 290, r-Jr.): 13 career starts. Murray started all 11 games for the Tribe last year.
- DT Will Kiely (6-4, 270, So.): 2 career starts. Kiely is a true sophomore who had 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in a reserve role last season.
- DE Joe Suarez (6-2, 245, r-Jr.): 5 career starts. Suarez has been in the two-deep for his entire career.
This is a solid FCS defensive line, though there isn’t a single senior in the two-deep. In fact, there isn’t a single senior in the two-deep in the entire front seven, and just one on the defense as a whole. Here are the starting linebackers…
- WLB Alex Purviance (6-2, 220, r-So.): Purviance made his first career start against Bucknell, posting four tackles.
- MLB Nate Atkins (6-1, 240, r-Jr.): Atkins has started every game of his career for William & Mary. He is the team captain, and he’s a Roanoke native who will be anxious to come back home and play in front of his family and friends.
- SLB Arman Jones (6-0, 205, Jr.): Jones is in his second season as a starter for the Tribe. He posted 72 tackles a year ago. He had a career-high 10 tackles last week against Bucknell.
Despite not having any seniors, William & Mary’s front seven will be good this year. However, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to hold up over the course of four quarters against Virginia Tech.
The only senior on the entire William & Mary defense can be found in the secondary.
- CB Raeshawn Smith (5-10, 178, r-Sr.): 16 career starts. Smith is a very experienced defensive back in the William & Mary secondary. He has 12 career passes defended and two interceptions.
- SS Corey Parker (5-11, 195, r-So.): Parker has started every game in his career, and he’s an All-CAA safety.
- FS Isaiah Laster (6-1, 210, Jr.): Laster has nine career starts, and he recorded an interception last week against Bucknell.
- CB Nate Lewis (6-1, 185, r-So.): Lewis made his first career start against Bucknell, and he is the most inexperienced player in the William & Mary secondary.
This is a very competent William & Mary defense, and in fact is probably a better defense than the one the Hokies will face next week against East Carolina. However, there is still a big talent gap between the two programs. The Hokies could be a little rusty in a short week, but I don’t see this defense holding them back over four quarters.
William & Mary features the dangerous DeVonte Dedmon (5-9, 198, r-Sr.) on special teams. Dedmon was the 2015 CAA Special Teams Player of the Year in 2015, returning a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns that season. However, he’s had an injury-plagued career since then, and missed all of last season with the exception of the season opener at Virginia.
However, the Tribe does not excel on special teams outside of Dedmon. Kicker Kris Hooper (6-0, 170, r-Jr.) is just 14-of-25 (56%) on field goal attempts for his career, and only 16 of his 74 kickoffs have gone for touchbacks. Punter Will Michael (5-11, 180, So.) has averaged just 37.2 yards per punt in his career.
As long as the Hokies don’t allow Dedmon to break a big return, they shouldn’t have a problem winning the special teams battle on Saturday.
This is the first of three games in a row that should go down as Hokie victories. Next week Tech will host East Carolina, who lost to FCS program North Carolina A&T at home last weekend. The Hokies will then travel to Old Dominion, who was crushed 52-10 by Liberty in their season opener. It’s possible that Tech could be ranked in the top 10 heading into their game at Duke on September 29.
Though some fans are concerned about the quick turnaround, which was an issue when the Hokies lost to James Madison five days after losing to Boise State, that shouldn’t be an issue this time around. Tech will be in a much better mood after a win, as they were in 2012 when they defeated Austin Peay 42-7 just five days after beating Georgia Tech in a Monday night game. The Hokies may or may not be sharp on Saturday, but their morale should be strong, and that should be more than enough for a relatively easy win.
Chris Coleman’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, William & Mary 3
Will Stewart’s Take: Not to be flippant, but I just finished cranking out Monday … er, Thursday Thoughts, and I have to post a podcast and do a roster card before we post this article.
Will Stewart’s Prediction: I like Chris’s prediction of 38-3, Hokies. I’ll go with that.