Football: Tribe transformed into defense-first

For years, under Head Coach Jimmye Laycock, the William and Mary football team had been known for one thing: offense. Prolific, in your face, run-and-gun offense. But with the introduction of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop three seasons ago, the culture around Zable Stadium began to change, and the Tribe’s transformation into a defense-first squad was cemented during the team’s 38-0 shut out victory over Weber State in the first round of the FCS playoffs Sunday.

“I thought throughout the whole game we played very well defensively,” Laycock said Monday. “I thought we had some fine efforts defensively — Adrian Tracy, Sean Lissemore, Jake Trantin, B.W. Webb — a lot of those guys played very, very well. The story of the game probably was our play defensively.”

Probably? Try definitely.

The first five offensive possessions resulted in three three-and-outs and just three first downs for the Tribe. During that stretch, Weber State took an early advantage in the field position battle, attempting but missing two long field goals.

It wasn’t until Trantin’s interception return for a touchdown six minutes into the second quarter that the game swung permanently in the Tribe’s favor. Trantin’s pick came on first down at the Tribe’s own 38-yard line as Weber State moved the ball downfield.

The pick was just one of three game-changing plays by the Tribe defense in the first half.

The second, which received as much fanfare as Trantin’s score, was Webb’s own pick six. That interception came with only 12 seconds remaining in the first half and Weber State seemingly poised to attempt another long field goal to cut into what was a 10-point Tribe advantage. Webb’s score gave the Tribe a 17-0 halftime lead, and the team didn’t look back after that.

Yet, the most vital play by the defense may have preceded both of the touchdowns. It won’t show up in the box score either, but without it those two defensive scores and the Tribe shutout might never have occurred.

In the first quarter, Weber State lined up to attempt a 50-yard field goal with tight end Tyrell Francisco hiding in play near the Weber State sideline. Francisco was completely unguarded at first and could have moonwalked into the end zone had the ball been snapped and thrown to him. But right before that could happen, senior safety Robert Livingston noticed and sprinted to cover him. The Wildcats were forced to attempt the long kick, and it sailed wide left.

In retrospect, that may have been one of the biggest non-plays of the Tribe’s season. An easy touchdown for Weber State could have ignited the Wildcats’ potent offense, and been a significant setback to the Tribe’s defensive unit. At that point in the game, the Tribe’s offense had been struggling to find its rhythm as well.

Trick play or not, when the dust settled, it was a dominating performance by the Tribe defense. Weber State entered the contest averaging over 30 points and 420 yards per game. The Wildcats hadn’t been shut out since September 2006. An opportunistic defense and suffocating defensive line changed that.

The Wildcats managed just 161 yards of total offense. The team was held to minus-six net rushing yards on 18 attempts and amassed only nine first downs compared to the Tribe’s 23. Weber State also committed five turnovers, four of which were interceptions, against none from the Tribe.

Next week against Southern Illinois could be a different story. The Salukis have a nation-leading 22 interceptions, and the team is no stranger to the pressure of the playoffs, having reached post-season play in the last six years. The Tribe hasn’t sniffed the post-season since a run to the national semi-finals in 2004.

The game will be played in Carbondale, Ill., where the Salukis are 18-2 over the last three seasons. The one positive for the Tribe: those two losses were both season-ending defeats in the FCS playoffs.

The Tribe will look to its defense to help continue that trend Saturday. The game is slated for a noon kickoff.


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