It has been 2 long years since ‘The Debacle”. William & Mary marched into Charlottesville two years ago to play the Hoos, and trotted out of Scott Stadium with a victory. It also converted the last 10% of fans that thought that Al Groh was still going to be productive at UVa. It definitely marked a low point in the modern Virginia Football era, a mistake that is not soon forgotten.
But this is 2011. And as the Cavs were trending down entering the 2009 season, they are most certainly heading in the opposite direction now. London has a lot of question marks entering year 2 of his tenure, but one thing is certain: neither him or his players are overlooking this game. Let’s get to the first breakdown of the year for the William & Mary Tribe.
One of the most respected coaches around the Commonwealth has always been Jimmye Laycock at W&M. This season he enters his 31st season with 208 victories, 21 winning seasons, 9 playoff berths, and 2 I-AA Semifinal Appearances. He also has his team ranked #3 in the preseason. Shoot, they even named the athletic center after him. So there should be no doubt he will have his players ready…again.
The Tribe will run a pro-set offense, similar to the Hoos, although you won’t see too many multiple receiver combos like the Hoos will utilize. More on that in a second. They bring back the former UNC quarterback Michael Paulus, who played in about half the games last year and threw for 883 yards, 4 TDs, and 2 INTs. But the real guy that drives the offense will be All-World Jonathan Grimes. He is 4 year starter and has rushed for just over 3,100 yards, and 24 touchdowns in his career. On top of that he is versatile both out of the backfield as a receiver (career 863 yards, 3 TD) and on special teams as a returner (1,472 yards, 1 TD).
But the news isn’t all good for William & Mary. The wide receivers took a hit over the off season from graduation and injury as the top 2 options. They will have some senior leadership in D.J. Mangas and Ryan Woolfolk, but this being the first game, expect some miscues. And while most of the line has experience, Paulus will sure miss A-A left tackle Keith Hill, Jr. protecting his blindside.
As do most teams around the nation, W&M runs a 4-3 base defense. And while the defensive unit was the backbone of this team, they will be going through some growing pains early on, mainly up front. They will be missing some key cogs to their stellar defensive team from last year, but do retain captain DE Marcus Hyde (63 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, 5.5 sacks), and linebackers Jake Trantin and Dante Cook. With Cook lined up behind Hyde should make for a duo similar to Johnson-Reynolds for the Hoos. The secondary remained in tact and will be leaned on early, led by CB B.W. Webb and SS Brian Thompson. Webb was probably single handedly responsible for the loss in 2009 with his 3 interceptions, including one that went to the house.
While returning the ball will not be a problem at all this year for William & Mary, the kicking duties will be. Gone is All-CAA punter David Miller, and kicker Drake Kuhn was shaky to start the season last year. How they piece this together was a focus of the off-season.
How Virginia Wins:
With this being the first game of the season, you have to go to what works. For Virginia, on offense that will be the ground game. Jones is proven he can pick up yardage, and should get the lion share of the carries. With Rocco getting the nod, he should be looking for Kris Burd early and often to pick up first downs. If they can get the running game and possession receiving going, then they can look for Tim Smith down the field for some big plays. Defensively, pressure should be coming from the outside again this season, and that is okay for this game. As the year goes along, the DTs and MLBs need to get in the mix as well. So this would be a good game to work on developing that middle pressure. The secondary should be fine against a depleted Tribe WR core, so look for multiple stunts off the edge to get pressure on the quarterback.
How Virginia Loses:
While can’t believe this could happen again, there is always a chance. Again we look to what troubled UVa last year. (1) Costly turnovers, especially ones that led to short fields for opponents. (2) Long drives ending in 0 points, whether that came from poor decision making or missed field goals. (3) Front 7 stoping the run/short pass. (4) Penalties. Penalties. Penalties.
I hope Mike London puts up 24-16 all over the locker room. It needs to be a mindset among the Hoos that this has to be a win. Anything less, and they will have lost 2 years of progress. Virginia just needs to be consistent on offense and efficient on defense and the game should come to them. If they try to get cocky, they will make a game out of it, and that shouldn’t be the case at all. This will be a test for UVa, but they should prevail in the end. Cavalier Prediction: Hoos 31, William & Mary 21.