A day after the College’s historic upset of the Virginia Cavaliers and I still can’t believe some of the scenes yesterday at Scott Stadium. An ACC program turning the ball over seven times, often inexplicably, a redshirt freshman picking three balls in his first career appearance, a Tribe fan section several thousand strong invading an entire corner of UVA’s home field: these are images which will not soon be forgotten in Williamsburg.
Thoughts on the College’s opener:
This Tribe defense is scary good
And scary fast. The Tribe held the Cavaliers to only 269 yards of total offense, but even that number is a bit excessive as UVA picked up 50 yards or so on a garbage time final drive. All evening, the College’s defensive line was all over the Cavalier backfield, despite often rushing only three down lineman. Senior defensive end Adrian Tracy had 10 tackles and linebackers sophomore Jake Trantin and junior Evan Francks were seemingly everywhere, notching 16 tackles, a sack and three fumble recoveries between them.
The Tribe did a fantastic job of plugging every potential hole in the UVA spread, shedding blocks and rarely conceding more than a few yards on a play. For the night, 13 of 16 Cavalier drives ended in either a turnover or a three and out. 13 of 16. That is a mindboggling statistic for any game, much less a CAA-ACC matchup.
What a dream debut for the redshirt freshman. I had heard players and coaches raving about the 19-year old since last season, but this was the first real look at the cornerback for myself and most Tribe fans. And what a game he produced. Three interceptions with the final one followed by a 50-yard sprint to the end zone to seal the game. He also was rock solid returning punts, making no major mistakes.
The Tribe secondary has a great amount of depth, but was looking for a player to step up and fill the role of shutdown corner vacated by Derek Cox. It’s only one game, but Webb showed that he has all of the intangibles to be that player. Great speed, great instincts and great hands make for a great player, and Webb proved he has all of them. How he fares the rest of the season will be very exciting to watch. And you can bet Laycock will make absolutely sure to keep the redshirt freshman humble after his huge debut.
Laycock had a perfect gameplan
As I sat in the press box with Flat Hat editor-in-chief and former football beat writer Miles Hilder, Miles repeatedly expressed concern about Laycock’s game strategy. The coach repeatedly played ultra-conservatively with his offense, seeking to run the clock, retain field position and avoid the turnover. But, in the end, the strategy worked to perfection and this is in large part due to senior quarterback R.J. Archer. Archer’s numbers were nothing spectacular on the night – 23-45 for 184 yards, a touchdown and a pick – but he executed the Tribe game plan without mistake, repeatedly taking care of the football on third and long rather than risking a game-changing turnover.
Defensively, Laycock had the UVA spread figured out perfectly from the opening drive, often utilizing only three lineman and a quick linebacking corps to stifle the Cavalier quarterbacks.
Both these strategies paid off, as the 7-0 turnover margin proves.
The offense has not yet been unleashed
Some things can be drawn from the Tribe’s win, but any substantial conclusions about the offense are not among them. The o-line, a source of concern heading in, did a passable job of protecting Archer, but failed to open up any room for the running game. Sophomore tailback Jonathan Grimes had a tough night, rushing 19 times for 46 yards, often being hit at or near the line of scrimmage.
Laycock’s play-calling kept the offense from executing at normal levels, often running draws or counters on lengthy third down plays. With games against weak Central Conn.St. and Norfolk St. approaching, it’s likely we won’t see the full Tribe offense until week 4 against Delaware.
What we can now say is that redshirt freshman Ryan Moody is going to play a major role in the passing game. Moody caught three balls for 70 yards last night and Archer repeatedly looked his way when throwing the ball. If Moody can step up and support Chase Hill, D.J. MacAulay and tight end Rob Varno, that will be a big boost to a deep receiving corps that lacks a standout performer.
The Tribe fan support was incredible
This was the second major upset by the College for which I have been present. The first was the Tribe’s dramatic win over VCU in the semifinals of the 2008 CAA tournament. I was in the student section behind one basket at the Richmond Coliseum and was joined by roughly 70 other fans. While enthusiastic, and a big turnout packed the Coliseum for the next night’s championship against George Mason, there just weren’t that many students who knew what was going on.
That has now changed. The Tribe fan section was amazing, taking up a huge corner of Scott Stadium and being vocal and passionate throughout. From a rough eyeball estimate (which is very likely possibly inaccurate), it looked like 3,000-4,000 students and alumni. At the end of the game, they outnumbered the UVA fans left from what was a 54,000 person crowd, with chants of “safety school!” and “CAA!” ringing out over the field.
I don’t know how much of this is due to the creation of the Tribal Fever fan group versus the draw of people traveling to a school where nearly every student has friends, but this support was awesome to see and, hopefully, a prelude to the rest of the football season. The UVA staff and media surrounding us in the press box were extremely impressed with the Tribe’s support, comparing it favorably to many ACC opponents who venture through Scott Stadium.