A relatively quiet day at the Tribe football media luncheon, but lots to talk about as the Tribe enters a crucial point in its season.
* Head Coach Jimmye Laycock was very brief, assessing his team’s performance against Villanova and addressing the upcoming game against New Hampshire. One of the main difficulties for the Tribe in the second half against the Wildcats was the NCAA’s new clock rules, as the play clock resets to 40 seconds after every play. Designed to cut the length of games to make them more palatable to audiences (although never-ending TV timeouts at the major conference levels do far more harm than the play clock, but that’s another issue), the College believes it lost a significant number of offensive plays due to the new system, a factor which significantly hampered its comeback attempt.
* The Tribe locker room took the Villanova loss very difficultly. The current senior class was unable to defeat the Wildcats a single time during their four years here and this game was a particular point of emphasis as the squad felt it was a home game which they could not afford to drop. The week before the game, junior defensive end Adrian Tracy was describing to me how much the Villanova game a year ago hurt and the pain in his voice was palpable. After this season’s game ended, I walked past the Tribe locker room on the way to the post-game press conference. Outside sat about 15 players, dead silent and staring at the ground, a striking image to say the least. How the squad bottles that intensity and responds from this contest will go a long way towards determining the remainder of their season.
* One positive from last week’s contest was the College’s relatively injury free state. The only major injury during the course of the game was to sophomore cornerback Ben Cottingham who had to be helped off the field with what appeared to be a leg injury. According to Laycock, Cottingham is fine and will be in the starting lineup against New Hampshire this weekend. Elsewhere, sophomore tailback Terrence Riggins continues to heal his injured ankle and could possibly be available on Saturday, though the continued strong play of freshman Jonathan Grimes gives Laycock and his staff no need to rush Riggins back prematurely.
* On the quarterback front, senior Jake Phillips is gaining strength in his foot and practiced fully last night in a non-contact, helmet only session. Laycock officially was non-committal when asked whether Phillips would be ready to start this weekend, saying he was unsure. However, talking to several team members, expect Phillips to be back under center to start the game and at nearly full strength.
* Conversely, the strong play of junior R.J. Archer against the Wildcats certified that the College will be in perfectly good shape whether or not Phillips is able to play. Talking with the converted wide receiver after the game on Saturday, Archer is extremely ready to take over the starting job and is not in the least your typical shell-shocked backup quarterback in his first start under center.
“I was prepared for this game,” he said. “I was excited as soon as Jake went down, the whole two weeks I felt like I would have been the guy.”
Archer knows the offense well after starting all 11 games at receiver last season and brings excellent leadership into the huddle. He proved his ability to make all the throws, and indeed looked even stronger than Phillips in some areas, the deep ball in particular. The offense feels every bit as confident with him at quarterback as with Phillips and the Tribe coaching staff has to be extremely excited with his performance, not only as an insurance policy for this season, but as the likely starting quarterback next year.
– Finally, how impressive has freshman tailback Jonathan Grimes been this season? After a breakout game against Virginia Military Institute, Grimes followed that up with an excellent performance versus Norfolk State before recording 307 total yards this past weekend against Villanova. Grimes’ 97 yard kickoff return for a touchdown merely accentuated his play this year, garnering the freshman the nod as the CAA special teams player of the week. If he can keep this up, expect the inevitable comparisons to Philadelphia Eagles tailback Brian Westbrook, a Villanova alum, to continue as Grimes is blossoming into on the most exciting players in the FCS.