William and Mary 45, VMI 0
After allowing Massachusetts to erase a nine-point fourth quarter deficit last week, most of the midweek talk heading into Saturday’s home opener against Virginia Military Institute centered around William and Mary’s need for defensive improvement.
Five interceptions — including two by sophomore safety Brian Thompson — provided the College (1-1, 0-1 CAA) a temporary answer to those questions Saturday, as the defense held the Keydets scoreless en route to a 45-0 victory in front of 11,475 fans at Zable Stadium.
The win was the College’s 24th straight victory against the Keydets (1-1), and its seventh straight in Williamsburg. The Tribe leads the series 52-33-2.
“I was pleased with how we bounced back and took care of business, especially defensively,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “It wasn’t as good as it needed to be defensively — we still gave up some yardage — but we were able to maintain our focus and keep the shutout going, which was big.”
In addition to their stout defense, the Tribe offense also performed well, as senior quarterback Mike Callahan turned in another impressive showing. Callahan threw for 234 yards and one touchdown while converting on 12 of his 17 passes.
Junior tailback Jonathan Grimes scored three touchdowns and gained 71 yards on 15 carries for the Tribe, for an average of 4.7 yards per carry.
“I thought we got started pretty slow,” Callahan said. “But we ended up picking it up, we got our deep shots going, we had a couple runs here and there. I thought we played pretty well for the most part.”
Defensively, the College dominated the VMI passing attack, as the Keydets quarterbacks Cameron Jones and Eric Kordenbrock combined for just 10 completions and 107 yards. Jones went 5 for 19 and tossed three interceptions, while Kordenbrock did not fare much better, managing just 47 yards and two interceptions.
In addition to Thompson’s interceptions, sophomore linebacker Jabrel Mines, junior safety Terrell Wells and freshman cornerback Jerome Couplin all recorded interceptions for the Tribe. The College’s five interceptions was the most for the squad since totaling five picks against Pennsylvania on Oct. 15, 1995.
But five interceptions and just 130 passing yards allowed from the secondary, the Tribe run defense remained suspect. VMI tailback Gabe Itoka gained 105 yards on 21 carries, joining UMass tailback Jonathan Hernandez as the second back to gain over 100 yards against the College this season. The Tribe yielded a total of 113 rushing yards to the Keydets.
“I feel like we played well, but we still have a lot of improvement to do,” Thompson said. “Our goal was to stop the run, which we didn’t do as well as we should have. We felt like we should have dominated the game, and we did, but we still have a long way to go.”
After the Tribe offense went three-and-out on its first possession, sophomore cornerback B.W. Webb electrified the crowd by returning a punt return 64 yards for a touchdown, giving the Tribe a 7-0 lead with 9:55 remaining in the first quarter.
“That was something the coaches felt could be there this week if we could just get [was] past the gunners, or the guys that were coming down right away, and just hold them off so he could get a chance to get some daylight and get going,” Laycock said. “Sure enough, we blocked [for] him and he got into the open field and took off and that was pretty cool.”
From there, the College continued to hold VMI scoreless while converting its own scoring chances. Senior kicker David Miller nailed a 30-yard field goal with 2:56 remaining in the first quarter, while Grimes capped a 66-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run with 14:24 left in the second quarter.
The College continued to score at will in the second half, as Grimes’ third touchdown and a 22-yard interception return by Couplin helped the College arrive at the final 45-0 margin.
Overall, Tribe players and coaches were impressed with Saturday’s win, but still see room for improvement heading into next week’s road test against Old Dominion.
“It was a step in the right direction,” senior wideout Cam Dohse said. “We made some improvements on some things, but there were still some plays we left out there. We have to run the ball a little better and get a little more consistent outside, but we are taking baby steps. We are transitioning with some new starters, and we are going in the right direction, but we have to keep improving every week.”