Overwhelming defeat

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November 14, 2007

6:40 PM

__Loss indicative of disappointing year__

After a firm walloping at the hands of James Madison University that left the College sporting a mediocre 4-6 record, Head Coach Jimmye Laycock and his staff must now be asking themselves what the Tribe can take from this year as they move forward. If Laycock is seeking to address the problems his team has faced all season, the JMU game is a good place to start.

p. In fact, this weekend’s loss serves as a microcosm of everything that has gone wrong this year for the College, starting with injuries.

p. From week one, the offense has been decimated by injury, and it showed Saturday. The Tribe’s top two wide receivers, junior D.J. McAulay and redshirt senior Joe Nicholas, have been out for the better part of the season. The team’s first two options at running back, redshirt junior DeBrian Holmes and redshirt senior Tony Viola, were also on the sidelines. Even redshirt freshman running back Courtland Marriner, who started against JMU, has been hampered by a hand injury all season.

p. Redshirt freshmen Ben Cottingham, Evan Francks and Michael Alvarado all saw significant action Saturday on defense due to injuries, while true freshman Terrence Riggins, Marriner and redshirt freshman Cameron Dohse factored into the Tribe’s offensive plans. No matter how much potential these players have, it is hard to expect them to make a significant impact in a big game with so little experience, and they could not.

p. Inconsistent play, which has also beleaguered the team’s chances for success through the season, reared its ugly head again this weekend. The offensive line, boasting the largest contingent of upperclassmen on the Tribe’s roster, has battled through a season full of ups and downs, while the College’s collection of young talent, including last year’s breakout stars redshirt sophomores Adrian Tracy and C.J. Herbert, saw their production waver during rocky sophomore campaigns. The Dukes blew past the offensive line on multiple occasions Saturday, sacking redshirt junior quarterback Jake Phillips three times.

p. The arrival of new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, whose presence was supposed to reinvigorate a Tribe defense that suffered from lapses in 2006, has for the most part been a disappointment this year, and Saturday was no exception. In the Tribe’s six losses, the team has allowed an average of 49.5 points. Against JMU, the defense looked completely overmatched, allowing 371 rushing yards and 460 overall.

p. Missed chances and poor special teams continue to plague the Tribe as well. Failure to convert on field goals cost the Tribe against the University of Massachusetts, while failure to get off punts and tackle on kickoffs led to two blocked punts and three easy scores for the Dukes this weekend.

p. Redshirt junior receiver Elliot Mack, who made an excellent play to steal an interception from a JMU defender on the Tribe’s first drive, lost a sure touchdown catch in the lights on the Tribe’s second possession. Tight end Drew Atchison, who turned in multiple 100-yard receiving games earlier this year, caught just one pass for 18 yards in his final home game. Marriner and Riggins showed only flashes of their true potential thanks to difficulty hitting holes and picking up blockers.

p. Make no mistake, the College possesses a host of young and maturing talent. The kind of talent that Tracy and Herbert showed as hard-hitting and fearless freshmen will surely manifest itself again over their college careers, and the speed and power that Marriner and Riggins displayed this season will only grow as their careers progress. And don’t forget Phillips, who has the chance to expand on his breakout season with one more year of eligibility and most of his key weapons returning.

p. However, for the Tribe to be successful in the future the team must grow up, and a big part of that is learning to limit inconsistencies and play with confidence. The sporadic flashes of greatness that the Tribe showed Saturday will not be enough come next year, when the team’s potential will be expected to turn into on-the-field results. Examining games like this last one will go a long way toward correcting the problems that the College has faced all season.

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