William and Mary made the 120-mile trip up to Scott Stadium with the images of its last visit to Charlottesville — when the Tribe shocked the nation by upsetting Virginia, 26-14 — undoubtedly dancing across its collective conscious.
A few hours later, the Tribe rode back to Williamsburg trying to erase the rematch from memory and with questions swirling for which neither players nor coaches had answers.
The 40-3 drubbing, which dropped the Tribe to 0-1, was the result of poor performances in all phases. The passing offense was virtually non-existent, as senior quarterback Mike Paulus did nothing but heighten the lingering concerns about his accuracy, going an abysmal five of 22 for just 35 yards and leading the Tribe to just five first downs before getting yanked for sophomore quarterback Brent Caprio with 4 minutes and 25 seconds left in the third quarter.
“We weren’t moving the ball. I said, ‘let’s put somebody else in there and let them try’,” head coach Jimmye Laycock said.
When asked who would start next Saturday, the coach was brief.
“I assume Mike [Paulus] will, unless something happens,” he said.
Of course, Paulus wasn’t the only Tribe player who has had better games. Perhaps even more concerning for the College — a team built around good line play and running backs — was the lack of a ground game. The offensive woes began with the way the Tribe’s front line was consistently getting beat around by Virginia’s front four. The College ran the ball 20 times and netted just 48 yards.
“It was tough to get anything started,” senior running back Jonathan Grimes, who carried the ball six times for just 22 yards, said. “We just never got really into a flow and rhythm.”
The College’s defense kept the game close through the first half. Virginia opened the game with a 13 play, 70 yard drive that ate up eight minutes and nine seconds and culminated in a 32-yard field goal. The Cavaliers rode freshman running back Kevin Parks down the field, pounding the right side with ease and needing only one third down conversion to reach field goal range.
But things seemed like they could be turning in the Tribe’s favor when on Virginia’s next possession freshman linebacker Alex Goodman and freshman lineman Mike Reilly stuffed a Cavalier run on 4th and 1 at the Tribe’s 46 yard line, giving the ball back to the offense with good field position down three.
One of the Tribe’s few real offensive opportunities came on the ensuing third down. With just under two minutes left in the first quarter and nine yards to go for a new set of downs, senior wide receiver Ryan Woolfork ran a wheel route up the left side of the field, beating the Cavaliers’ secondary and getting space behind the safeties. An accurate throw would have given the Tribe six points easily, but Paulus overthrew the streaking Woolfork, the pass fell incomplete, and the Tribe went three and out.
Virginia expanded its lead when Parks scampered for a 19-yard touchdown run with 7:57 left in the second, then took a 13-0 lead into the locker room with an impressive 48-yard field goal at the end of the half.
“They were more efficient with the ball [than two years ago],” junior linebacker Dante Cook, who finished with 11 tackles, said. “We got into some good drops, but the quarterbacks didn’t try to force throws, just dumped it down to the backs … kind of chunked us down the field a bit. If we make some more solid tackles instead of some arm tackles, that’s the difference between getting off the field.”
After a half in which the Tribe was so badly outplayed, though, a 13-point deficit seemed like the best the team could ask for. And the College once again had a chance with the ball that, if converted, could have shifted the game’s momentum.
From their own 25 yard line, the Tribe converted on a 3rd and 4th as Paulus delivered a strong, accurate pass to senior tight end Alex Gottlieb for 21 yards up the seam at the right hash. On the next play, once again Woolfork found space behind the Virginia secondary deep down the field, and once again Paulus overthrew him.
“[The passing game] just wasn’t working out,” Paulus said. “Wasn’t on rhythm tonight.”
From there, the College unraveled. Virginia’s coaches began to loosen the reins on quarterback Michael Rocco — a sophomore making the first opening-day start of his career — and he didn’t disappoint, arching a beautiful touch pass to receiver Tim Smith that put Virginia at the Tribe’s one yard line, from which Parks punched it in to give UVa a 20-point lead. Parks would go on to gouge the Tribe another touchdown run, ending the game with 16 rushes for 114 yards. All told, Virginia racked up a whopping 240 yards on the Tribe’s defense, which wore down as the Cavaliers controlled the ball for 37 minutes 24 seconds, with 21:18 coming in the first half alone.