The situation was familiar for William and Mary fans, as the Tribe trailed No. 3 New Hampshire 15-3 entering halftime last Saturday in Durham, N.H. The College had shaken off halftime deficits of 19-9 against Lafayette and 14-3 against Stony Brook and prevailed with strong second halves, so there appeared to be little need to panic. But the comeback never materialized, and the Tribe’s dreams of a third straight win dissolved into the nightmare of a 32-3 road loss.
The loss dropped the No. 11 Tribe (4-2, 1-1 CAA) from its first top 10 ranking in three years, and the performance was likely the worst of the College’s season. New Hampshire held the Tribe to 217 yards and just 105 yards on 30 passing attempts from sophomore quarterback Steve Cluley. By contrast, New Hampshire overwhelmed the College’s defense with 402 yards. The matchup was supposed to be a titanic clash between two top-10 conference rivals, but the numbers indicated that the Tribe didn’t belong on the field with New Hampshire.
The College is in desperate need of a confidence-restoring win, but its upcoming opponent, No. 5 Villanova (5-1, 3-0 CAA), will be difficult. The Wildcats are averaging 41.8 points per game so far, boasting a punishing rush attack and a star in quarterback John Robertson.
Robertson, the pre-season CAA Offensive Player of the Year, has met all expectations for Villanova: He has completed 71 percent of his passes for 1456 yards and 20 touchdowns against just one interception. If the Tribe’s defensive line cannot pressure Robertson, the Wildcat quarterback will carve up the Tribe secondary, just as he has read every defense Villanova has faced. However, the Tribe cannot afford to focus solely on Robertson, as the Wildcats average 237.8 rushing yards per game. If their first six games are any indication, there is no simple response for the fine-tuned Villanova offense.
Simply put, the College will struggle to compete with Villanova if it does not show some offensive improvement. The Tribe’s longest gain against New Hampshire was a 21-yard rush by freshman receiver DeVonte Dedmon; otherwise, the College lacked any offensive spark. Cluley’s 3.5 yards per attempt and senior receiver Tre McBride’s four yards per catch were season lows — the College has to improve those figures against Villanova.
A Homecoming victory over Villanova is possible for the Tribe, although it will be a challenge. The College’s defensive line needs to dominate the line of scrimmage, both to slow down the Wildcats’ running game and disrupt Robertson’s outstanding rhythm. Though the College has stalwarts in the defensive backfield — including senior linebacker Airek Green and senior safety Ivan Tagoe — their efforts will be fruitless if the College cannot seal running lanes and apply consistent quarterback pressure.
Offensively, the game plan is nothing new. The College has to establish a running threat with junior tailback Mikal Abdul-Saboor, and Cluley has to perform like he did against Stony Brook, when he threw for 243 yards and showed poise under pressure. The Tribe has to complete deep passes — simply attempting them will not be enough to keep the Wildcats honest defensively. Finally, the College cannot afford to commit turnovers; if anything, it needs to force Villanova’s offense into rare miscues to turn the tide of the game.
With so many conditions necessary for victory, logic says that the College will struggle against Villanova. But in this chaotic season, which has featured multiple double-digit comebacks and a thrilling overtime victory, a win certainly isn’t out of the question. The College will look to secure a Homecoming victory over Villanova at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Zable Stadium.