On the wall of the College of William and Mary’s team meeting room in the Jimmye Laycock Football Center hangs a large chart, listing the Tribe’s offensive goals for each game. So far this season, the College has checked off different goals each week.
The foremost goal listed each week is a simple one: no turnovers. In this category, one quarter of the way through the Tribe’s season, not a single game is checked off.
Despite wrapping up a strong, 2-1 showing in non-conference play with a dominant 42-12 win over Norfolk State University Saturday, turnovers loom as a serious problem for the Tribe.
The offense has turned the ball over 11 times, a disconcerting statistic for a program that yielded just 19 turnovers last year. Most worrisome is the passing game. Senior quarterback Jake Phillips has thrown six interceptions in three games — one less than the seven he threw over 11 games a season ago.
“I don’t like it, I don’t like it, I don’t like it,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said last week. “We’re not going to be very successful if we keep that up.”
Adding to Laycock’s angst is the fact that seven of the College’s 11 turnovers have come against weak defenses like Virginia Military Institute and Norfolk State. Against the Keydets and Spartans, the Tribe marginalized those mistakes with otherwise strong offensive showings.
Over the next eight weeks, the Tribe will face five nationally ranked CAA squads. Beginning with no. 19 Villanova University at home Oct. 4, the College must find a remedy to its situation if it wants to have any chance at competing in the cut-throat CAA South division.
While the Tribe offense has been erratic and turnover-prone this season, the defense has covered for its counterparts, stepping up its play to limit the impact of those turnovers.
The defense has held opponents to a mere 24 points off those 11 turnovers, while generating nine of its own.
“That’s something that we really take pride in, we call it the ‘sudden change,’” senior safety David Caldwell said. “Whenever we get out there in that situation we basically try to go three and out and make sure no points get put on the board.”
Despite the turnovers, the Tribe has exceeded expectations just three games into the season.
The defense has been outstanding, limiting ACC program North Carolina State University to a mere 115 yards rushing and completely shutting down VMI and Norfolk State.
The offense has seen the emergence of two quality running backs in sophomore Terrence Riggins and freshman Jonathan Grimes, who has become a touchdown machine. The passing game is similarly starting to catch fire as Phillips tossed four touchdowns this week against the Spartans.
All of those positives will become inconsequential if the College cannot find a way to protect the football. The Tribe has two weeks to prepare for its first real test of the season, Villanova, a squad that no current member of the Tribe has ever defeated.
The team has its work cut out for them.