Tribe Survives: Phillips, Viola lift Tribe in close win

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September 18, 2007

2:34 AM

__Tribe 48, Liberty 41 (2OT)__

p. In a game featuring a combined 89 points, a combined 909 total offense yards and two overtime periods, Tribe football needed a little bit of luck and the help of an unlikely contributor to defeat a very good Liberty University squad at a score of 48-41.

p. Junior quarterback Jake Phillips was on point from start to finish, making plays both with his arms and his legs, and also making great decisions. He spread the ball around to several different receivers and ended up with an outstanding stat line of 20 of 28 passing for 335 yards and three touchdowns, no interceptions, and the go-ahead rushing touchdown in double overtime.

p. But for all of Phillips’ heroics, there was perhaps no player more instrumental in the Tribe victory than senior running back Tony Viola. Entering the game to replace the injured junior running back DeBrian Holmes (who had an excellent game in his own right — more on him later) in the 4th quarter, Viola ran for a hard-earned 57 yards on 15 carries and made big play after big play for the Tribe when they needed it late in the fourth quarter and into overtime.

p. In contrast to the shiftier, speedier Holmes, Viola is a power back who plows forward with a full head of steam on every carry. He is going to be a very important player for the Tribe as they continue to deal with injuries at the position, as word has now come out that Holmes is out for the season with an ankle injury. The injury could not have come at a worse time, as Holmes had the best game of his career Saturday night, hitting the holes hard and using his excellent speed to bounce runs out to the outside.
While there certainly was concern for the receiving corps after junior D.J. McAulay went down with a season-ending knee injury in week one, Phillips’ targets have elevated their respective games in McAulay’s absence. Senior tight end Drew Atchison is fast becoming Phillips’ favorite weapon, as he consistently is able to find space in the heart of opposing defenses’ secondary, using his 6’7” frame to his advantage.

p. Another player who’s really beginning to emerge is junior wideout Elliot Mack. After showing flashes of brilliance during his freshman season, he never really broke out last year. On Saturday night, however, he displayed excellent speed and pass-catching ability, and is a player who really gives the Tribe a big-play threat. Senior Joe Nicholas was not involved in the offense much in his return, but as he gets back into the swing of things, Phillips will have yet another weapon to throw to.

p. The defense did not fare nearly as well as their offensive teammates for much of the game Saturday night. Liberty’s primary tailback, Rashad Jennings, rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns, and even beyond that, he always seemed to manage picking up the first down when Liberty needed him to (except, of course, on the game’s final play).

p. The defensive scheme was also questionable to say the least, as the defensive backs consistently played off of their receivers, despite the fact that the Liberty passing attack consisted only of dink-and-dunk 6-yard pass patterns that they used to march down the field. I’d be shocked if Liberty quarterback Brock Smith threw the ball further than 10 yards down the field the entire game (his longest completion went for 19 yards). Why the defensive play calling was not adjusted to put more pressure on the Liberty wideouts at the line of scrimmage is a mystery to me.

p. When they needed it most, however, in double overtime, the Tribe defense stood strong and came up with a stop on fourth and 1 to win the game. As impressive as the play was, however, it must be noted that the officiating on the play was very questionable.

p. Liberty head coach Danny Rocco made the point in the post-game press conference that the spot of the ball was adjusted to reflect the spot given by the official on the left side of the field, when the play was run to the right. The official on the right had given Liberty a much more generous spot (and from what it appeared, the more accurate one) than the one by the left official. Nonetheless, the Tribe defense still deserves credit for making the play as they did, regardless of whether or not they caught a lucky break. And after all the injuries the team has had to suffer during this young season, the Tribe has certainly earned one.

p. __Jeff Dooley may be e-mailed at jadool@wm.edu.__

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