William and Mary’s season has unfolded with surprising drama through four games. The Tribe is still forming an offensive identity as sophomore quarterback Steve Cluley acclimates to his new starting role. The College has suffered injuries to key players across the roster, with senior receiver Tre McBride, senior tight end Bo Revell, senior linebacker Airek Green and junior running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor each missing time.
Despite the uncertainty and injuries, the College rode a wave of heroics from McBride, its backs and a seemingly endless flow of timely turnovers by the defense, picking up three consecutive double-digit wins and a 3-1 record. Adding to the chaotic success, Cluley surprised fans by rushing for 111 yards in last weekend’s comeback win over Lafayette. The Tribe’s season is still in its early stage, and the team appears to be discovering its own capabilities as it moves forward.
The College needs to operate at full capacity Saturday, when it travels to New York to face Stony Brook (1-3). The game marks the opening of the Tribe’s Colonial Athletic Association conference schedule, a sequence of eight games that will determine its fate. Although Stony Brook has struggled so far this year — averaging just 11.5 points over its first four games — the College cannot afford a stumble so early in its CAA slate.
Offensive creativity will once again be important. The Tribe piled up 210 rushing yards against Lafayette, proving once again that its offense starts from the ground. But the College will be unable to rely on simple rushes between the tackles all season long, explaining its diverse attack over the past few weeks.
Head coach Jimmye Laycock and his staff have remained committed to throwing downfield, with modest success so far. McBride has corralled long passes, which immediately led to Tribe touchdowns in the past two games, but the College needs to be more efficient on those plays to keep defenses fearful of a deep threat. Establishing a more potent passing game has been a top priority since the beginning of the year and is all the more critical as CAA play begins. Stony Brook is a less intimidating conference opponent and the Tribe can afford to experiment offensively in this matchup.
Another storyline to watch this week concerns Cluley’s newly-revealed rushing ability. Cluley’s 60-yard run on a designed read-option rush was a crucial play in the win over Lafayette and the College needs to decide how to incorporate the weapon into its arsenal. Read-option rushes with a mobile quarterback can be difficult for unsuspecting defenses to combat, and using Cluley as a runner gives the Tribe another offensive outlet as it continues to straighten out its passing game.
Defensively, the College must focus on Stony Brook’s running game. The Seawolves have leaned heavily on their rushing attack this season, controlling the time of possession in three out of their four games by running the ball and keeping opposing offenses off the field. Notably, the Seawolves rushed for 300 yards and attempted just two passes in the team’s sole win of the season, a 20-3 rout of American International. To win, the Tribe must stop Stony Brook’s rushing attack and force the Seawolves to throw.
As has been the case for the past three weeks, Saturday’s game gives the Tribe another chance to show early season adjustments and build offensive confidence. The College has a week off following its contest against Stony Brook, so a win would allow it to carry momentum into the rest of the season. The game kicks off at 6 p.m.