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The Hokies finally open their 2014 season on Saturday afternoon when William & Mary comes to town. Jimmye Laycock’s program is ranked #22 in the FCS Coaches Poll. The Sporting News ranks the Tribe #23 in their preseason poll. Athlon has them at #15.
All of those publications agree that William & Mary will ride one of the best FCS defenses in the country to a strong season. Beside having a good defense, the Tribe and Virginia Tech have other things in common. In some ways, this William & Mary team is the FCS version of Virginia Tech. In what ways? Well, each school has a legendary long-time head coach, a great defense, a struggling offense, and both have knocked on the door of a National Championship, yet fell just short.
William & Mary has a pretty good football pedigree. Hall of Famers Marv Levy and Lou Holtz were both head coaches in Williamsburg. Former Tribe players have also found success in the NFL as coaches. Mike Tomlin is the current head coach of the Steelers, while Sean McDermott is the defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers. Alan Williams was the defensive coordinator of the Vikings, and now he’s the defensive backs coach in Detroit. Three other former William & Mary players are assistants in the NFL, and there are six former Tribe players on NFL rosters right now.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the Tribe.
Jimmye Laycock and Frank Beamer
Think Frank Beamer has been at his alma mater for a long time? Jimmye Laycock has him beat. Laycock graduated from William & Mary in 1970, and has been the head coach of the Tribe since 1980. He has 222 career wins, and he has led his school to nine NCAA Tournament appearances.
Laycock has knocked on the door of a National Championship twice, advancing to the National Semifinals in 2004 and 2009. In 2004, they were defeated by eventual National Champion James Madison 48-34, and in 2009 they were knocked off by eventual National Champion Villanova 14-13.
Simply put, Jimmye Laycock is a legend at his alma mater, and likely the best football coach his school will ever have. He is the Frank Beamer of FCS football.
Unfortunately for Laycock, William & Mary has dropped off since that National Semifinal appearance in 2009.
2009: 11-3, National Semifinals
2010: 8-4, NCAA Second Round
2011: 5-6, No playoffs
2012: 2-9, No playoffs
2013: 7-5, No playoffs
The dropoff likely occurred because of the rise of ODU football as an FCS program, which hurt William & Mary in recruiting. However, they are very capable of getting it back. They also had some lean years following the 2004 National Semifinal appearance (5-6, 3-8, 4-7, 7-4), but they returned to prominence in 2009. Now that ODU has moved up to Conference USA in the FBS, the Tribe are clear to move forward again.
Academics hurts William & Mary’s ability to build a consistent program (even under Laycock, the season-by-season records have been up and down), but there is no question that Jimmye Laycock, like Frank Beamer, has established his own legacy at his own alma mater.
William & Mary’s Experienced and Talented Defense
The Tribe will present more of a challenge up front than probably any FCS team the Hokies could face. Not only do they have experience, but they have a number of All-CAA players in their front seven.
DE Stephen Sinnott (6-4, 250, Sr.): Sinnott is entering his fourth season as a starter, and he is a team captain.
DT Jasper Coleman (6-4, 290, Sr.): Coleman is entering his third season as a starter. He has been a productive player for the Tribe over the last two seasons.
DE Mike Reilly (6-4, 265, Sr.): Reilly was an All-American in 2013. He is the Preseason CAA Defensive Player of the Year in 2014. He has a great motor, and he should present a challenge for Tech offensive tackles Laurence Gibson and Jonathan McLaughlin.
WLB Airek Green (6-0, 225, Sr.): First Team All-CAA in 2013. He was a playmaker, finishing with 13 TFL, four sacks, three interceptions, seven passes defended and two defensive touchdowns.
MLB Luke Rhodes (6-2, 244, Jr.): First Team All-CAA in 2013. Rhodes has been starting since he was a true freshman, so he is a very experienced player.
To put that into perspective, nearly half of the CAA’s First Team front seven plays for William & Mary. However, there is talent and experience in the secondary as well.
CB DeAndre Houston-Carson (6-1, 205, Jr.): Preseason All-CAA pick. Houston-Carson is also a special teams standout who blocked a field goal and a punt last year.
FS Ivan Tagoe (6-1, 220, Sr.): Tagoe is a captain and second year starter. He is regarded as perhaps the best tackling safety in the CAA.
SS Jared Valasquez (6-0, 205, Jr.): Valasquez started at strong safety last season and broke up four passes.
That’s eight returning starters, all of which are juniors and seniors, half of which are Preseason All-CAA picks, and one of which is an All-American and Preseason CAA Defensive Player of the Year. The Hokies do have the overall talent edge, but first-time players like Isaiah Ford, Bucky Hodges, Wyatt Teller, Augie Conte, Marshawn Williams, Shai McKenzie, Cam Phillips, etc. are going to be facing a lot of guys who have a lot of snaps under their collective belt.
Because of their experience and talent level (when compared to FCS teams), it’s easy to see why the Tribe finished with such a good defense in 2013. Here’s a look at their stats:
Total Defense: #8 (305.5 ypg)
Rush Defense: #13 (118.1 ypg)
Pass Defense: #21 (187.4 ypg)
Pass Eff. Defense: #11 (107.41)
Scoring Defense: #2 (14 ppg)
Sacks: #19 (2.58 per game)
3rd Down Defense: #15 (33%)
The Tribe can reasonably expect to be even better than that this season with so much experienced talent returning, including perhaps the best front seven in the FCS ranks. A full one-third of the preseason First Team All-CAA defense plays for William & Mary.
Going up against that defense will be a very inexperienced Virginia Tech offense.
QB: Michael Brewer, 1st career start, 58 career passes
RB: Marshawn Williams: 1st college game
RB Shai McKenzie: 1st college game
WR Isaiah Ford: 1st college game
WR Cam Phillips: 1st college game
WR Carlis Parker: 1 career start, 61 career plays
TE Bucky Hodges: 1st career game
RG Augie Conte: No starts, 13 career plays
LG Wyatt Teller: 1st career game
RG Alston Smith: No starts, 9 career plays
RT Wade Hansen: First career game at the Division I level
LT Colt Pettit: 1st career game
That’s a ton of guys in the two-deep who have basically never played before. Also, some of Tech’s most experienced players are mere sophomores, such as Joshua Stanford, Trey Edmunds, Jonathan McLaughlin, Kalvin Cline and Sam Rogers. The Hokies have more overall talent than the Tribe, but William & Mary has a big advantage in terms of experience.
I can see William & Mary’s defensive experience presenting problems for the Tech offense in this game. I do believe the Hokies will move the football on them, but I don’t think that Tribe defense will go down quietly. I think they’ll acquit themselves well.
William & Mary offense ranks near the bottom
Remember how I said William & Mary was the FCS version of Virginia Tech? That’s true on the defensive side of the ball, as noted above, but it’s also true on the offensive side of the ball. Check out the Tribe’s numbers from last season:
Total offense: #101 (318.9 ypg)
Rushing offense: #77 (148.9 ypg)
Passing offense: #96 (170 ypg)
Pass efficiency: #83 (117.85)
Scoring offense: #91 (21 ppg)
Third downs: #73 (37.8%)
Fourth downs: #122 (18.2%)
Though William & Mary had one of the best defenses in the country, they also had one of the worst offenses on the FCS level. If you’re a Virginia Tech fan, that sounds like a familiar story, doesn’t it?
William & Mary offensive line and quarterback are too young to handle Tech
When you look at the William & Mary depth chart, the first thing you notice is the youth on the offensive line.
LT Chris Durant (6-4, 300, r-Fr): Has never played in a college game
LG Connor Hilland (6-4, 287, r-Fr.): Has never played in a college game
C Andrew Jones (6-1, 280, r-Jr.): Started seven games in 2013, played in 11 career games
RG Domenic Martinelli (6-4, 295, r-So.): Started nine games at right tackle
RT Jerry Ugokwe (6-8, 305, r-So.) Started seven games at left tackle
William & Mary will start r-freshmen at left tackle and left guard. Right guard Domenic Martinelli and right tackle Jerry Ugokwe both started over half of last season, but they are moving to different spots for 2014.
Center Andrew Jones is the only returning starter up front who is back at the same position. However, he is undersized and he’ll be going up against the strength of the Tech defense: Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall.
You all know how difficult it has been for Virginia Tech to put a quality offensive line on the field with 85 scholarships. Imagine how difficult it is for FCS teams who have just 63 scholarships to give. Tech’s defensive line should be able to completely outplay this William & Mary offensive line.
Under center, the Tribe will start Steve Cluley (6-3, 215, r-So.). He has played in four career games, and he has thrown a pass in just one game. He went 4-of-9 for 33 yards and an interception against Villanova last season, and the rest of his game experience has been handing the ball to tailbacks to run out the clock.
With a brand new quarterback playing behind freshmen and sophomores on the offensive line, it’s hard to envision the Tribe getting much accomplished against a very good Virginia Tech defense.
The Tribe have playmakers, but will they matter?
Despite their inexperience up front and at quarterback, William & Mary does have a couple of good skill position players who are capable of causing trouble.
RB Mikal Abdul-Saboor (5-11, 215, r-Jr.): Abdul-Saboor averaged 91.6 yards per game last season. He had a 100-yard game in six of the nine games in which he played. If he can stay healthy, he can be one of the top backs in the CAA.
WR Tre McBride (6-2, 205, Sr.): McBride was the CAA Special Teams Player of the Year in 2013. He has put up some very good career stats:
- 132 receptions, 1,844 yards, 14 ypc, 15 touchdowns
- 31 kick returns, 25 yards per return
Last season, McBride averaged 27.5 yards per kickoff return, thus the reason he was named CAA Special Teams Player of the Year.
However, McBride will have to go up against arguably the best secondary in the country, while Abdul-Saboor will likely be neutralized by a VT front that will have its way with the William & Mary offensive line. Even with these two playmakers in the lineup, I can’t see the Tribe offense as a serious threat to the Tech defense.
McBride provides test for the kickoff team
Virginia Tech’s coverage teams were lacking last season. William & Mary finished #5 in the country in kickoff returns, thanks to Tre McBride’s gaudy average of 27.5 yards per return. Tech’s kickoff team will have a test in the very first game of the season, and it will be a good sign if they can shut down McBride.
On the other hand, the Hokies won’t be facing a big test when it comes to punt coverage. Sean Ballard (6-0, 190, Sr.) is a solid starting receiver for the Tribe, but he doesn’t blow anyone away with his athleticism. He is very reliable when he comes to fielding the punt, which is why he is back there, but on nine returns in 2013 he averaged just 2.4 yards per return. If Tech struggles to contain Ballard, that will be a bad sign.
John Carpenter (6-1, 190, Sr.) will handle the kicking duties for the Tribe. He was a Third Team All-CAA selection last season after going 15-of-21 on his field goal attempts. He appears to have a strong enough leg, as his long last year was 47 yards. Carpenter also handles the punting duties for the Tribe, though he is listed in a tie with VT transfer Hunter Windmuller (6-4, 185, r-Fr.) on the depth chart. He averaged 39.5 yards per punt and pinned the opponent inside the 20 on 20 occasions.
Windmuller battled A.J. Hughes for Tech’s starting punting position two years back. Many expected him to win the job, though Hughes won a close August competition with Frank Beamer looking on. Windmuller could finally get his chance to play in Lane Stadium on Saturday, but he’ll be wearing a William & Mary uniform instead of the Orange and Maroon.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m ready for some football. My excitement level is a bit higher than normal this year, for a few reasons.
1: With scrimmages closed this August, Saturday will be my first chance to see this team play. I don’t have any idea what to expect, unlike most seasons.
2: Tech has so many young players, especially true freshmen on offense, who will be making their college debut. That’s exciting.
3: The Michael Brewer era begins. I don’t know if it will last one game or two years. However, breaking in a new quarterback is always exciting, though it can cause some anxiety as well.
4: A 4pm kickoff. The game won’t be a sellout, but the crowd should be a little more, ummm, prepared for this one. I’m looking forward to a good tailgate.
Some of you might be worrying that the Hokies will look past William & Mary towards Ohio State. Don’t worry about that. This is the first game of the season. For many Tech players, this Saturday will be their first college game. Those guys aren’t looking past the Tribe. On the contrary, they are directly focused on this Saturday’s opponent. If Tech doesn’t play well, it will be because of that inexperience factor on offense and a veteran William & Mary defense.
I really don’t know what my expectations are, other than I expect the defense to play very well against an undermanned William & Mary offense. I think the Tribe will have a lot of trouble scoring. All the matchups on that side of the ball favor Virginia Tech.
Offensively, I’m not sure what to expect. I want the Hokies to be efficient in the passing game, I want them to be able to push the pile on short yardage situations, and I want them to generate more big plays than they did a year ago. If they can do that, they’ll be okay. As far as special teams go…well, anything would be an improvement over last year.
I think that William & Mary defense will play pretty well, but I think the Tech defense will be dominant. The Hokies will pull away to an easy win and start the season 1-0.
Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, William & Mary 0
Will Stewart’s Take: This is an excellent test for the Hokies’ new offense. Ideally, you’d like for Virginia Tech to be able to beat the Tribe with a straight-up, vanilla offense that keeps a few things behind the curtain for the Ohio State game. But as good as W&M is on defense, that will be a challenge.
The Hokies do have the luxury of knowing that the Tribe is going to struggle mightily to score against a Virginia Tech defense that should overwhelm W&M’s offense line and give their inexperienced quarterback fits. If the Hokies don’t come out hitting on all cylinders on offense, there’s no reason to panic, because the defense has a good shot to shut out William & Mary.
The keys for Virginia Tech are thus: don’t turn it over and give up cheap points; don’t give up cheap points on special teams; shut down William & Mary’s offense; and be patient on offense, work on the simple stuff, and get comfortable with each other without getting too fancy.
The theme during yesterday’s interviews was — no surprise — the 2010 loss to JMU. One of these things is not like the other. VT played JMU on four days rest after a crushing road loss for the Hokies late on Monday night, and the JMU game was a rainy slopfest. On Saturday, the forecast is for mid-80s and sunny skies, the Hokies will be healthy and rested, and they’re raring to go. I expect VT to respect the Tribe defense and be very excited to try out the new guys on offense.
I think the Hokies will play it conservative on offense, rely on the defense, and work their way through things. VT might pop some big plays here or there, but I don’t think you’ll see many fireworks offensively on Saturday from the Hokies. I think this offense will build as the season goes along.
All bets are off with the defense; they’ll probably be foaming at the mouth.
Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, William & Mary 0
What's your prediction for the William & Mary game?
- VT wins by 30+ (24%, 354 Votes)
- VT wins by 20-29 (33%, 489 Votes)
- VT wins by 10-19 (35%, 512 Votes)
- VT wins by 1-9 (6%, 82 Votes)
- William & Mary wins (2%, 25 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,462