Column: Concerns linger even after big-time win

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October 18, 2011

1:03 AM

The more things changed for William and Mary against New Hampshire on Saturday afternoon at Zable Stadium, the more they stayed the same.

We know the Tribe’s defense is good. Really good, even. The offense, meanwhile, can be characterized as unreliable at best after averaging a meager 14 points per game. Tribe fans ought to be happy the team is another win closer to a shot at the playoffs, but if you were looking for a big breakthrough, you won’t find it here.

The Tribe has been counting on senior running back Jonathan Grimes to carry the load for the offense all year, and he came through in a big way against the Wildcats. Grimes’ herculean run late in the second quarter to give the College a 7-3 lead was a great example of a player taking the game into his own hands and making a play. Grimes, the College’s newly minted all-time leading rusher, certainly provided a spark, but the College offense can’t always count on screen passes to turn into big plays. And although Grimes had a big day, it’s hard to say how much of it was due to the poor tackling by the New Hampshire defenders.

The Tribe had two more big plays that allowed the team to put touchdowns on the board: A short pass to Grimes that he took all the way due to a baffling lack of defenders anywhere near him, and an impressive long run by freshman running back Keith McBride. Along with McBride’s run, Grimes tore up the New Hampshire run defense, and the unit—joined with strong blocking from the offensive line—was as reliable as the Tribe needs it to be.

However, the passing game hasn’t been anywhere near worry-free all season, and Grimes’s big runs masked serious issues at quarterback. Sophomore Mike Graham sat out for a second week with an undisclosed illness, and it didn’t appear sophomore Brent Caprio, who got the start in Graham’s absence, had been given the green light to make any risky throws, especially after a questionable interception in the first quarter.
Take away the two big plays by Grimes and you’re left with just 45 passing yards. The College didn’t need much more to win on Saturday given the way the defense was playing, but when the Tribe can’t spread the field, the team becomes highly predictable.

The defense certainly ought to be commended for a good game, but don’t get carried away thinking the defense is so dominant it can single-handedly carry the team. The New Hampshire offense was explosive and was unlucky to get just 10 points. The Wildcats had four turnovers, including two interceptions caused by bad decisions, which the Tribe won’t always be able to count on. It’s a dangerous offense, to be sure, but the defense does need to evaluate exactly why they gave up 517 yards. There was some standout play that reminded us why our defense is the best in the conference—junior linebacker Jabrel Mines made a great strip to cause a turnover, and the senior defensive end was a one-man wrecking crew with five sacks.

There were solid performances across the board on Saturday, but the Tribe hasn’t turned the corner. The same things that concerned Tribe fans before the game haven’t gone away, and although getting a win over a top-10 ranked team is important, it isn’t going to guarantee anything about how the Tribe executes in its final four games. The Tribe played well enough to win on Saturday, but for a team that might need to win the remainder of its games to make the playoffs, “well enough” isn’t good enough.

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