There are two moments in particular that will haunt William and Mary in the aftermath of its season-opening 27-23 loss to Massachusetts Saturday. Both came in the fourth quarter, as the squad blew a nine-point lead that would have seemed unassailable just a season ago. But if the College’s opener proved anything, it was that this Tribe team (and this defense, in particular) is not the same one that raced to the FCS semifinals last year, and that Head Coach Jimmye Laycock and Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop have significant work to do over the coming weeks.
The College had two chances to ice this game, and converted neither of them. The first came about fiveminutes into the fourth quarter, with UMass staring at a fourth and five from the College’s 34-yard line. Leading 23-14, a stop by the Tribe defense would have handed the ball back to a smoothly functioning offense, and likely clinched the game. Instead, Minutemen quarterback Kyle Havens slipped a pass to wideout Anthony Nelson (who was seemingly constantly open Saturday) for six yards and new life. Five plays, and five rushes, later, tailback Jonathan Hernandez burst through the goalline to pull UMass within two.
The second opportunity came on the ensuing drive. The Tribe was punting from its own 39-yard line with about six minutes left, when defender Joe Carven ran into punter David Miller. Five-yard penalty, first down, and the College was back in business. A drive deep into UMass territory would have run off much of the remaining clock, while a touchdown would have ended the game. On the first play, tailback Jonathan Grimes went seven yards through the middle to cross midfield.
But then the College stalled. Grimes was hit in the backfield for a loss, before Callahan was unable to find his tailback to convert the ensuing third and four. Miller punted again, and UMass promptly marched down the field, needing only five plays (including a backbreaking 64-yard screen pass) to punch in the go ahead touchdown. The Tribe could never recover.
Neither of those chances are sure things, and most teams can be excused for their failures to convert, especially on the road, with a new quarterback, against a tough conference opponent. But, this season, the College does not aspire to be most teams. They carry a lofty ranking and the indisputable goal of the program is to win a national title. Those are the plays you have to make to achieve that goal. Last year’s squad would have likely converted both; the 2010 squad didn’t.
While the Tribe’s opener was illuminatory, it was certainly not definitive. The defense played without captain middle linebacker Jake Trantin, likely its best player. UMass, at this point, is a riddle, populated with transfers and new starters. While not necessarily likely, they could go on to become this year’s Richmond, surprising teams on the way to a playoff run. The point is, while there is certainly cause for concern in some areas, too much cannot be read into one game. But that doesn’t mean the Tribe will be any less displeased.
Ups and Downs
First a disclaimer: I was unable to make the trip to Amherst this weekend, and so watched the game on TV from Williamsburg. From that vantage point (coupled with Comcast’s mediocre coverage), it is impossible to view everything occurring on the field. One can’t see the cornerbacks locked in coverage downfield, or the battles in the trenches between linemen. But these are my best efforts at what I did see Saturday.
The senior quarterback had a very capable debut, throwing for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns on 21 of 35 passing with an interception. His 28-yard touchdown run on fourth and eight in the second quarter was electric, and he ran the offense efficiently and accurately for much of the night. The interception, to end the Tribe’s last drive with the clock winding down, was a bit of a fluke play, but came on an ill-advised dumpoff; he was lucky not to have another ball picked off and returned for a touchdown in the first half.
But overall, Callahan seemed to be very comfortable in the pocked and had a nice rapport with his receivers, especially tight end Alex Gottlieb and D.J. Mangas. His 34-yard touchdown pass to Cam Dohse in the fourth quarter was delivered with perfect touch.
The senior did come up empty with the game on the line in the final minutes, but managed to run a very good two-minute drill to end the first half. Ultimately, as Callahan himself has said repeatedly, he will be judged on wins and losses. But he should have showed enough in week one to feel fairly comfortable about his starting job, at least for the next week.
D.J. Mangas and Alex Gottlieb
What a game for Mangas, who has been a pass-catcher for about two weeks after converting from quarterback. The 6’1” junior hauled in five balls for 43 yards, and did an excellent job getting open. Gottlieb was on the same page with Callahan all afternoon, grabbing seven balls for 70 yards. Cam Dohse would merit attention on here as well, catching three balls for 70 yards, including a long touchdown. But the senior had several notable drops as well, including one in the end zone at the end of the first half that robbed the Tribe of six. Laycock was forced to settle for a field goal as time expired, and the four point difference comprised the final margin.
Filling in for the injured Jake Trantin (concussion), Mines was everywhere at middle linebacker, racking up 16 tackles, including several impressive solo stops. In the third quarter, he stuffed UMass running back Jonathan Hernandez dead in his tracks on one carry, about the only time anyone stopped Hernandez all day. It’s scary to imagine how well the Minutemen would have run the ball if not for Mines.
The All-CAA senior was excellent in his debut as a kicker and punter, nailing his only field goal, a 17-yarder to end the first half, while averaging 45.6 yards on his five punts. Four of those kept the Minutemen at their own 20 or deeper, while the fifth was a 70-yard monster into a screaming wind. Miller looked strong on kickoffs as well.
The defensive line
Mea culpa: I was among the many who thought that there would be little drop off between last year’s unstoppable unit and this season’s. At least for the first week, I was wrong. Defensive ends Marcus Hyde and Ravi Pradhanang were largely invisible on the outside, while tackle Harold Robertson did little to fill space in the middle of the field. Mike Stover drew double teams for much of the afternoon, so was unable to add much. But the stats told the story: the Minutemen ran the ball 50 times for a shocking 215 yards. 13 of UMass’ final 14 plays were rushes, as they scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to come from behind and clinch the win.
The defensive line was completely unable to slow down Jonathan Hernandez and Justin Griffin. Most surprising was the success they had up the middle; seemingly every carry got at least three or four yards. This is a major problem for the Tribe, as the line sets the tone for the entire defense. With the line on its heels, blockers were able to get into the second level to neutralize the College’s linebackers. Overall, UMass ran 50 rushing plays, versus only 26 passes. If any opponent has that kind of success against the College, the Tribe will be lucky to even be in the game.
UMass’ passing approach was clear: avoid cornerback B.W. Webb and weather the Tribe’s blitzes to pick on its safeties and cornerback Ben Cottingham in single coverage. It worked perfectly. Safeties Terrell Wells and Brian Thompson, both starting for the first time at their position, were shaky for much of the afternoon. On the 64-yard screen pass that allowed UMass to get in position for the go-ahead touchdown, Wells missed badly on the tackle, springing Hernandez. That unit will also have its hands full to improve before the Tribe’s next major test, week four at Maine.
With Grimes playing in front of seniors Courtland Marriner and Terrence Riggins, the College has one of the best tailback combinations in the CAA. So it was a bit surprising to see Marriner and Riggins get a combined six carries on the day. Grimes is an electric talent, who is one of the top players in the conference when all is said and done. But mixing in Marriner’s speed, especially, would have thrown off the UMass defense, adding another dimension to the Tribe attack, that was needed. Expect Marriner and Riggins to take a larger role next week against VMI.
1) Senior wide receiver Chase Hill was invisible Saturday, failing to grab any of the four balls thrown his way, while participating in the botched extra point snap that could have left the College needing only a field goal to tie it at the end.
2) After three years of covering this team, I’m still not a fan of the pooch kick on kickoffs. Kick the ball away.
3) While mostly blocked at tailback for significant carries, Terrence Riggins is a beast on special teams.
4) Comcast’s announcers were awful. I have never heard so many overused sports cliches in my life. It’s like they were getting paid by the word. I’d take Jay Colley and Bob Sheeran any day.
5) UMass quarterback Kyle Havens’ third quarter botched fourth down play was shockingly bone-headed. On fourth and two from the seven-yard line, Havens rolled right and had the first down picked up and was clear to run it into the end zone. Instead, he inexplicably tried to dump the ball to a receiver. The pass was batted down, and a penalty for illegal forward pass called. The Tribe got the ball back, and seven points were wasted.
6) UMass could surprise some people this year. That fourth-quarter comeback was gutsy, and any team that can do that with its running game against a national contender, is a force to be reckoned with.
7) While adequate, the offensive line really could have used suspended tackle Jake Marcey out there. He would likely have been the Tribe’s top lineman this season, and moving Keith Hill back to the right side would open up even more running room.
8) Good to see Ryan Moody get a catch and be back on the field after his horrific ankle injury and later car accident last fall. He showed a lot before getting hurt in 2009.
9) Impressive opening game for Villanova against Temple. The Owls are a solid FBS team this year, and the Wildcats played right with them, and were perhaps unlucky not to win. Villanova took a 24-22 lead, before Temple kicked a field goal to go up by one with just seconds remaining. The Owls recovered a desperation lateral by Villanova on the ensuing kickoff, taking it back for a touchdown to provide a deceptive 31-24 final score.
9) (a) Richmond looked solid for a bit, before folding late against Virginia. USC-transfer quarterback Aaron Corp showed he could make plays with both his arm and his feet, and looked impressive for much of the game. However, he was picked off late on a miscommunication with his wide receiver to kill the Spiders’ chances. Richmond will be formidable as always this season.
10) The men’s basketball non-conference schedule is out, and there are a couple games Tribe fans will look forward to. The squad goes to Virginia to open the season on Nov. 13, with road games against Richmond and North Carolina later. Tony Shaver is going to have a lot of talent this season, but it will take a bit for his young team to develop.