Post-disaster Diagnosis

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September 6, 2011

2:38 AM

Regardless of how you watched the 40-3 shellacking William and Mary received in its season opener against rival Virginia, you are most likely exhibiting a few symptoms of Tribal fever. Not the good kind of Tribal fever, either. Symptoms of this new strain include heartbreak, surprise and loss of direction.

For those of us who made the trek out to Charlottesville and spent the day scoffing at the “fourth years” and “grounds”, all while trying to figure out what a Wahoo is, it was pretty tough to be sent home with our Griffin tails between our legs after such a beatdown.

While I’m no doctor, I’ve suffered through enough Tribal fever myself to suggest some explanations and treatment options.

First, you’re most likely suffering from a high degree of shock. Many of us entered Scott Stadium on Saturday with fond memories of the College’s thrilling 26-14 upset of the Cavaliers, and fully believing that the Tribe could do it again.

Apparently, we all forgot how great an achievement that actually was for the College two years ago and how wide the talent gap between FBS and FCS schools really is. It took a near perfect performance from then-senior quarterback R.J. Archer, and seven turnovers from the Cavaliers to make that upset a reality. And while the College proved that it could beat the Cavaliers, it was going to take another great performance from the Tribe, and another awful performance from the Cavaliers, to make it happen. There is a reason the two schools are in different leagues, and it is largely due to the aforementioned talent gap.

And remember, this was just one early-season, non-conference game. While the lopsided score was surprising, losing to an FBS opponent doesn’t carry that much weight at the end of the year. The College has reached the playoffs each of the past three seasons, and only 2009 included a victory over an FCS team. Basically, it’s way too early to write this team off.

Now, we’ll address the stomach problems you may be enduring after watching the play of the College’s offense.

Senior Tribe quarterback Mike Paulus looked lost and confused under center. While Virginia has certainly added speed and athleticism to its defense, Paulus was a sitting duck, showing little or no mobility in the pocket, and his accuracy, which everyone knows is not one of the stronger aspects of his game, failed him—as he consistently overthrew his targets. Perhaps most jarring is that the senior, who finished 5 for 22 for 35 yards, is the same quarterback that went 24 of 35 for 209 yards and two touchdowns last year against another FBS opponent in North Carolina.

But there are two reasons to be hopeful about the team’s offense. First, one can’t fully evaluate the performance of the College’s quarterbacks because the College’s receivers weren’t getting open, and the team’s backup, sophomore Brent Caprio, wasn’t much better. Second, just last year, the offense didn’t come into its own until much later in the season. Paulus’s play last season gives me no reason to suggest his performance in Charlottesville wasn’t just an anomaly or that he can’t be a successful quarterback for the College. He showed glimpses of brilliance last year, and one bad game doesn’t mean he won’t have a good senior season.

There were also many reported instances of sickness after watching the College’s defense as well. Particularly concerning was the College’s run defense, which allowed 254 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Virginia tailback Kevin Parks accounted for 114 yards and three touchdowns alone, and appeared to glide effortlessly through the Tribe defense. One must hope that Virginia’s possession time, 37 minutes, 24 seconds, wore down the Tribe defense.

And while the defense certainly wasn’t good, it wasn’t quite as bad as the numbers would indicate. Junior cornerback B.W. Webb had a great game at corner for the College, and junior linebackers Dante Cook and Jabrel Mines were frequent contributors and showed a great deal of promise. Sure, the defensive front might have made Virginia’s offensive line look like it was full of All-Americans, and Parks like a future Heisman-winner, but the unit will have two straight games — first against Virginia Military Institute this weekend, and then against New Haven the following weekend — where it will have a real size advantage.

Perhaps the largest question concerning the Tribe is its identity. The loss is so surprising because we thought Virginia to be a middling team in a sub-par FBS conference and the Tribe to be one of the best in the FCS and a national championship contender. Given how badly the College lost, the question lingers: Is the College really that bad, or is UVa simply that improved? To answer that, we’ll have to wait a few weeks at the least.

Finally, as your Tribal fever begins to subside, remember how embarrassing it was for Virginia to lose to the Tribe two seasons ago. That game essentially led to the firing of then-Cavaliers coach Al Groh, and a commitment to rebuilding the UVa football program. There was no way they were going to underestimate us this time around.

One year ago, the College was in a similar position. It had just lost a particularly tough season opener, and couldn’t wait to redeem itself against VMI. The Tribe went on to win 45-0. Once again, the College will bear a large chip on its shoulder when it takes on the Keydets Saturday, searching for its first win. And that may be just what the doctor ordered.

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