Commentary: Tribe needs to start games stronger in CAA

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October 27, 2008

11:00 PM

Second-half comebacks have become the trademark of this year’s Tribe squad. Saturday’s Homecoming affair against the University of Rhode Island was no different, as the College of William and Mary rallied from a three-point halftime deficit.

The Tribe produced just seven points in the first half on a 12-yard run by freshman running back Jonathan Grimes, and entered the locker room trailing to a Rhode Island team without a CAA win.
And much like previous CAA games, the Tribe morphed into an offensive juggernaut in the second half, taking the field with a renewed sense of urgency and scoring touchdowns on its first two possessions en route to a 34-24 victory.

Second-half heroics aside, this Tribe team has been uninspiring during the first 30 minutes of each of its CAA games. In their last four games, the squad failed to put up more than 13 points in the first half, with the College trailing at the break in three of four of these contests.

“We just had to come out here [in the second half] and play the way we are capable of,” junior defensive end Adrian Tracy said after the Rhode Island game. “We had some people during halftime go in there and fire the boys up and get us on the right page. We had to come together as a unit, collectively, and get it done.”

The last four contests have shown that halftime pep talks work. The College has scored 100 second-half points compared to a measly 27 in the opening 30 minutes. While rallies are inspiring, and the mark of an experienced and confident squad, it’s hard to understand why this energy appears 30 minutes into the game, instead of at kickoff.

After the URI match-up, Head Coach Jimmye Laycock stated that his team was a step slow and a step behind in the early going. Senior quarterback Jake Phillips threw his tenth interception of the season in the first half. The pick was Phillips’s eighth pick in the opening 30 minutes of games this year, partly adding to the Tribe’s diminished scoring touch.

The College have had four more drives in the second half in comparison to the first half of games this season, yet four drives does not make up for an interception difference of eight nor an overall point difference of 73.

“I think one thing you have to be careful of when you are down at halftime is it [can] very easily to turn into a slippery slope where we go out there and we are flat again,” senior guard Michael Grant said. “It is more of a regrouping than riling up. You’re riled up before the game, and everyone is excited. It isn’t like we are coming out flat on purpose. We are coming out [of halftime] as if it’s a new ball game.”

Finding a way to translate that second-half attitude into a 60-minute mantra will be key for the Tribe down the stretch because the CAA is not a conference for teams to sleep-walk through first halves.

The College should enter its next two games against Towson University and Northeastern University as the favorites despite its underwhelming first-half performances. So far this season, Towson and Northeastern have each scored more first-half points than the College.

If the Tribe continues digging itself into holes in the first half, more pressure will fall on the shoulders of Phillips to get the College into the end zone. To date, Phillips has handled the late-game pressure, and the defense has come up with momentum-changing three-and-outs in the second half, in addition to two defensive touchdowns.

If the Tribe can adjust earlier to its opponents and capitalize on mismatches, halftime deficits should disappear, and the rest of the CAA will be on guard, because this year’s Tribe is a second-half team.

E-mail Chris Weidman at [email protected]

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