The College’s season-opening victory over Virginia supplied the Tribe with a crucial marquee win that could play a large role in deciding the team’s postseason fate. What it did not afford the College was breathing room.
Fellow CAA programs Villanova and Richmond also picked up big wins over FBS opponents in week one, while James Madison and New Hampshire will have a chance to add to that tally when they take on FBS schools Saturday.
“This is a very strong league with well-coached teams, and it is extremely competitive,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “The fact that we can go and win some of these [FBS] games adds to that.”
That means the road to the FCS playoffs just got harder for the Tribe and every other CAA program. Despite moving up to no. 7 in the country, the College still ranks behind Richmond (no. 1), Villanova (no. 3) and James Madison (no. 6) in the FCS coaches poll — teams they possibly need to overcome to reach the postseason for the first time since 2004.
The Tribe has no room for error in their remaining non-conference schedule. The squad will take on Central Connecticut State Saturday and Norfolk State in week three — both considered weaker programs from lesser conferences — and a loss in either game would be a severe blow to their playoff chances. Avoiding any emotional or physical letdowns will be a chief priority for the College.
“When you have an opening ball game, and you throw so much effort into that, and you have a big emotional win, you have to bring yourself down to earth and force yourself to look for ways to get better,” Laycock said. “We can’t just assume that we’ll play well because we played well last week. We have to prepare ourselves again.”
The Tribe’s senior leadership addressed the team following practice on Monday to ensure that the squad remained focused in the aftermath of the win over Virginia.
“We basically said that ‘everybody is running high right now, but we’ve got to put [the U.Va. game] behind us,’” senior tight end Rob Varno said. “It was a good win, but we’ve got a team coming up that has 32 wins in the past four years. They’re no pushover. The biggest mistake we could make is to do what U.Va. did to us and think ‘these guys are undersized and play in a weaker conference.’ That’s not something we’re going to let happen.”
Central Connecticut opened with a strong 28-21 win over Lehigh, racking up 405 yards of offense, 228 of which came on the ground. The Blue Devils averaged 239.2 yards rushing last season and the Tribe defense will be called upon to stop the team’s option attack.
“They’re coming to our house. This is a home game, and we want to show all our home fans who weren’t able to make it to U.Va. how we’re looking this year,” senior defensive end C.J. Herbert said. “The defense has a challenge. [Central Connecticut is] a very good rushing team, and we need to prove we can stop the run. U.Va. was a strong performance, but we need to build on that by not taking any steps back.”
Keys to the game
No let downs
The Tribe will no doubt be susceptible to a letdown following their win over U.Va. and the College must make sure to forget the accolades and press that followed the upset. The team’s captains are saying the right things, but the effort must permeate throughout the entire team in order to move their record to 2-0.
Stop the option
Despite playing in the weak Northeastern conference, Cent. Conn. St. is a solid team with a strong rushing attack. Tailback James Mallory averaged 138.2 yards a game last year and posted 15 touchdowns, while quarterback Hunter Wanket is a threat as well. As they did last week, the College defense will have to stay disciplined and close their gaps.
Last week the Tribe utilized a conservative game plan to minimize mistakes. This week, senior quarterback R.J. Archer will likely have a much more varied offense at his disposal. It will be important for the College to generate offensive momentum in both the passing and ground games to open the season.