With a victory this weekend, William and Mary can advance to the national semifinals for the first time since 2004, become the first Tribe squad to win a playoff game on the road, and notch its 11th win, tying for the most in school history. Head Coach Jimmye Laycock would secure his 200th career victory, and the College would continue its storybook 2009 campaign.
But before the Tribe can begin contemplating its place in the history books, it must first shut down no. 2 Southern Illinois in a FCS quarterfinal playoff matchup Saturday in Carbondale, Ill. Unfortunately for the Tribe, getting past the Salukis and their nationally-acclaimed rushing attack will be no small feat.
The spotlight will be squarely fixed upon the battle between the Salukis’s fourth-ranked rushing attack and the Tribe’s top-ranked rushing defense.
“They like to run the ball a lot, and we are looking forward to the challenge,” sophomore linebacker Jake Trantin said. “They are a great team, and it is definitely going to be a fight in the trenches.”
With the FCS’s fourth-ranked rushing offense, third-ranked scoring offense and the nation’s second-leading rusher in senior tailback Deji Karim, the Saluki offense should prove challenging indeed.
Karim, a finalist for the Walter Payton Award as the nation’s top offensive player, has rushed for 18 touchdowns, 1,667 yards and an average of 7.3 yards per carry this season.
“He makes really good cuts,” Trantin said. “We have seen him on film, he’s big, he’s fast, he’s powerful, he sees well. He is definitely a very good back.”
Although the majority of the focus will be on Karim, Saluki quarterback Paul McIntosh also presents a legitimate rushing threat. The freshman has rushed for 100 yards in both of Southern Illinois’ previous two games.
“Their quarterback makes plays with his feet, too,” redshirt freshman cornerback B.W. Webb said. “That’s another thing we will have to worry about.”
In order to contain both of the Salukis’ formidable rushing threats, the Tribe must disrupt a stout Southern Illinois offensive line. Although the Tribe ranks fourth in the nation in sacks, it will be challenged by a Saluki offensive line that is ranked seventh nationally in sacks allowed.
With the Tribe defense in for a tough battle, the responsibility will fall on the College’s offense to produce.
“We have to make sure that we pick up the defense because they always pick us up,” sophomore running back Jonathan Grimes said.
The Southern Illinois defense leads the nation with 22 interceptions, so the College’s offensive gameplan will likely revolve around the rushing attack.
“I think in any game, if you can establish the run, passing will definitely be easier,” Grimes said. “Hopefully we can establish the run, take some pressure off of [quarterback] R.J. [Archer], and the defense will have to back off.”
Regardless of the game plan, the matchup seems fitting for a national quarterfinal.
“That’s why they sell tickets,” Laycock said. “We will take our people, go out there, and do the best we can.
They have a very good running back and running game, a very balanced offense, a very complete offense, and obviously a great defense. We are who we are, and we just have to go out there and play our game.”