William and Mary’s decorated senior class has accrued 20 wins, three All-Conference honorees and one major upset over a BCS team. But its football resume suffers from one glaring omission. Over the past five years, the College has yet to defeat its biggest rival, James Madison.
Since a 27-24 upset win in 2004, the Tribe is 0-5 against the Dukes, losing each game by an average of 14.8 points.
Saturday, on Homecoming, will likely mark the final opportunity for the football class of 2010 to end that losing streak.
“We know it’s a big game,” senior safety David Caldwell said. “Just knowing that we’re not going to play this team again, you want to leave your mark and play the best you can.”
The noon kickoff will find the two squads in a reversal of their usual positions. The College has not faced the Dukes as the favored team since its final contest of the 2004 season, a national semifinal which saw the no. 6 Tribe fall to no. 8 James Madison 48-34.
Now, the College is ranked fifth in the country, entering with a 5-1 record. James Madison is 2-4, losers of three straight and unranked for the first time in four years.
The Dukes lost starting quarterback Drew Dudzik to injury for the season during a loss to no. 1 Richmond Oct. 10, and have suffered several key injuries on the defensive side of the ball.
But, while James Madison is down, the College is not taking the Dukes lightly.
“They’re a very good team that’s played very well against us,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “You look at them on tape and you understand that they’re good players. They were within a couple yards of beating Richmond a couple weeks ago.”
After entering the season ranked eighth in the nation, James Madison has suffered from a run of bad luck and a brutal schedule. The squad took ACC opponent Maryland to overtime in its season opener before losing, and held a fourth quarter lead on Richmond, ultimately falling 21-17.
Additional losses to Hofstra and no. 4 Villanova have all but eliminated the Dukes from the hunt for a postseason bid.
James Madison will also arrive in Williamsburg without the primary weapon in its last several defeats of the Tribe, quarterback Rodney Landers, who graduated last spring.
In the past two seasons, Landers averaged 308.5 total yards against the Tribe, as the Dukes rushed for 672 yards in the two games.
“That’s the big thing, we haven’t been able to slow them down,” Laycock said. “You look at the last few years with Rodney Landers at quarterback, we just weren’t able to stop him. And then they would sometimes overpower us up front and force us into long yardage situations.”
This season, the Tribe leads the conference in rushing defense, ceding only 64.8 yards per game.
The Dukes will also have to deal with a much more balanced Tribe offense. Last year, James Madison took away the run at the game’s outset, forcing the College to throw early and often on the way to a 48-24 defeat.
The Tribe now leads the CAA in passing offense, but also ranks fourth in rushing, preventing opponents from focusing on only one of the units.
“What you want to do is be in a situation where you can dictate the action, and I think that allows us to do that better,” Laycock said. “It’s been big, because that kind of [balance] determines how fast we can go.”
That factor, coupled with the results of past years, has the Tribe motivated to finally put an end to their losing streak.
“Anytime you take a loss like that you put in a little extra preparation, so that way the game will have a different ending this year,” Caldwell said. “It’s a rivalry. I’m pretty sure both teams will come out ready to go.”