I know how easy it is to immediately jump to conclusions. It only takes a couple of consecutive losses, a couple of heartbreakers, or — in the Tribe’s case — a very close call against a Division II team to ring in pessimism and doubt about the season. The Tribe was ranked No. 1 in the FCS in the coaches’ preseason poll, and was even believed to stand a chance against notorious rival Virginia. So far the squad has failed to live up to the expectations, losing toVirginia in a 40-3 landslide, and barely beating New Haven by a final score of 13-10. Heading into the start of its conference schedule — a sold-out showdown with No. 12 James Madison at Zable Stadium Saturday — a number of questions about this team remain.
First, is there a quarterback on the roster who can lead this team to the FCS playoffs? Senior quarterback Mike Paulus — the North Carolina transfer who was supposed to be the clear starter for the 2011 campaign — has now been benched twice in three games for his failure to move the ball through the air. With a 37.5 percent completion rate, and an efficiency rating of 72.2, Paulus has struggled mightily with his accuracy. Sophomore Michael Graham has fared better, leading the Tribe on its only scoring drive of the UVa. game and playing an integral part of the New Haven win. He’s shown that he has the potential to take the reins, but Laycock won’t commit to the sophomore just yet. So if not Graham, who?
Secondly, can the College’s defense keep swarming? The unit kept the Virginia game close for as long as possible, allowed just one score to Virginia Military Institute and essentially won the game Saturday night.
The Tribe held the Chargers to 33 rushing yards on 27 carries, and recorded three key interceptions. Laycock knows that this team can only go as far as the defense takes it, if that. Last year, the Tribe was No. 1 in the nation in run defense, and second in points allowed. As of right now, it appears as though the team will have to produce near that level to give the Tribe a shot at defending its CAA title.
And finally, the most obvious: If this team can’t do any better than a three-point margin over New Haven, how can it be expected to win games against teams like JMU? With the high rankings comes pressure to perform, and a tendency from every opponent to want to knock you from your perch. It’s true that
sometimes it often takes a team a couple of games to start playing to its potential, and that some don’t reach their peak until later in the season. But starting Saturday, Laycock’s squad will really have to start finding answers.