Football: Rematch in Philly

William and Mary head coach Jimmye Laycock had only one thing to say after his team captains presented him with the game ball following the Tribe’s 24-3 victory over Southern Illinois in the quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs, a landmark 200th win for the coach.

“When we get to number 202, then I’ll be happy,” he told his team with a smile.

For the no. 6 Tribe, win number 202, a victory in the FCS National Championship game, can only come if the College can secure number 201 this Friday. With a rematch against CAA rival and second-ranked Villanova (12-1, 7-1 CAA) looming in a FCS semifinal game that will be broadcast on national television, that won’t be easy. Each program will be looking to go through to the FCS Championship game for the first time in history.

The contest features two teams that are very familiar with one another, as the Wildcats handed the College its first loss earlier this season, a 28-17 decision in Villanova, Pa. This time around, however, redemption is the least of the Tribe’s worries, as the stakes are much higher.

“At this point, if you need more juice, you are in trouble,” Laycock said. “It’s a situation where each game is bigger than the previous game. Right now, we have to focus on playing the Villanova team we are facing this weekend, and we have to make sure we are prepared.”

The Tribe believes that it is facing a slightly improved Villanova squad compared to the one it faced in October.

“The one thing I have noticed when looking at the film on Villanova is that there have been some subtle changes since we have played them,” Laycock said. “It’s not like we are saying, ‘Okay, take the same plan, go against the same setup’, but you do know the personel, you know how good they are.”

As was the case last week against the Salukis, the majority of the storylines leading into Friday’s contest center around the battle between Villanova’s potent offense and the Tribe’s top ranked defensive unit. In the quarterfinals, the College held Southern Illinois’ heralded running back Deji Karim, a finalist for the Walter Payton award, to just 27 yards on 12 carries.

This week, the Tribe defense must contain a Villanova offense that boasts a plethora of explosive weapons.

Primarily, the College must defend Chris Whitney, a multidimensional quarterback who can make plays through the air and on the ground. In addition to boasting a strong arm, Whitney enters the game as the Wildcats’ leading rusher, having accumulated 848 yards on the ground this season.
Complimenting Whitney is wideout Matt Szczur, the CAA Offensive and Special Teams Player of the Year. Szczur ran for two scores against the Tribe earlier this season, and is widely regarded as one of the most explosive offensive players in the nation.

“He’s a great player,” junior linebacker Evan Francks said. “No team has really stopped him yet. We have a few things we are going to do … I think that if we prepare the right way, we will be able to stop him.”

In October, the College witnessed Villanova’s offensive explosiveness firsthand. On the first play of the game, the Wildcats scored on a 57-yard pass from Whitney to wideout Brandyn Harvey. Villanova then became the only squad to post more than 20 points against the Tribe.

Accordingly, the College’s main defensive goal this weekend is to subdue the Wildcats’ big play abilities, and keep things close early.

“We are going to make sure that we don’t let them get up early so that we can get the lead and force them to do things that they are not used to doing,” senior safety David Caldwell said.
Offensively, the Tribe has two main objectives heading into its rematch with Villanova’s defense — minimize turnovers, and improve on red zone efficency.

While the College managed to amass 472 yards of total offense, including a career high 354 passing yards for senior quarterback R.J. Archer in the earlier matchup, the unit committed two costly turnovers. More importantly, the Tribe drove deep into Villanova territory five times, but managed to only record one touchdown.

“We were not nearly as efficient as we need to be in the red zone,” Laycock said. “We moved the ball okay up there, but we had to settle for field goals when you cannot settle for field goals.”

The College hopes to benefit from another strong performance from sophomore tailback Jonathan Grimes. The second-year player was instrumental in last week’s victory against Southern Illinois, as he rushed for 133 yards and three touchdowns.

With the prospect of traveling to Chattanooga, Tenn. and playing for a national championship hanging in the balance, Friday’s contest promises to be one of the closest games of the season.

“Win or lose, we both know each other,” Francks said. “It’s going to be a battle, it’s going to be a great game, and whoever wants it more is going to win.”


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