Make no mistake about it: Virginia Military Institute doesn’t come close to the level of competition that the College of William and Mary is going to face in CAA play.
In fact, the Tribe’s 52-17 Saturday night dismantling of the Keydets more closely resembled a scrimmage between Varsity and JV squads than it did a real, live college football game. Even taking this talent disparity into account, however, there are two big reasons for optimism as the Tribe steers its way toward the tougher part of its schedule.
For starters, yes, the defense is improved
Maybe this is a little too soon to rush to judgment (check back with me once they’ve faced the likes of Villanova University and the University of New Hampshire), but all indicators are that this is a different Tribe defense from last year. There’s a visible energy about this unit, which returns almost everyone from last season, that wasn’t present a year ago. Senior cornerback Derek Cox said Saturday night that the unit is no longer worrying as much about the schemes and formations they’re running, but instead focusing more on flying to the ball and making plays.
They’re also letting last season’s disappointment — and the resulting criticism — fuel them this season.
“People have just been knocking us down, knocking us down, knocking us down,” Cox said. “We want to respond to that.”
Second, the passing game is poised to go off
Senior quarterback Jake Phillips and his receiving targets have yet to scratch the surface of their potential this season. Saturday’s air attack consisted mostly of check downs and shorter hitches to wideouts, but that was done by design to exploit the College’s one-on-one advantages out on the edges. Head Coach Jimmye Laycock and the rest of the staff also saw Saturday as a good opportunity to give the running game lots of work.
“For us to be a team in this league, I don’t think we can be one dimensional [on offense],” Laycock said.
So airing out a lot of deep balls wasn’t a priority.
Phillips did take one shot downfield — an under-thrown ball that was intercepted — and the senior certainly did not look as sharp as he did last season. Once the team enters play against more evenly matched competition, however, things should start clicking.
The return from injury of junior wide receiver D.J. McAulay has been huge, as he is perhaps the Tribe’s most explosive playmaker. His presence also takes pressure off of senior wideout and fellow deep threat Elliott Mack and allows sophomore receiver Cameron Dohse to man the slot position, a spot more suited to his talents.
Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that this was only one game of what will be a long season, and it was played against the easiest opponent on the Tribe’s schedule. Next Saturday’s home matchup with Norfolk State University should give us a better idea of what’s in store this year.
E-mail Jeff Dooley at [email protected]