In a game that will likely decide who continues to post-season play, one aspect will likely determine the outcome.
William and Mary faces Richmond Saturday at Zable Stadium. The game looks to be a loser-leaves-town match, as the outcome has serious Football Championship Series playoff implications.
At first glance, the Spiders (7-4, 4-3 CAA) appear to be the odds-on favorites. Despite losses to Maine and James Madison the past two weeks, Richmond has starting quarterback Michael Strauss back for a second week after he missed the previous four starts with an injury.
Richmond has outgained opponents by over 100 yards per game in the air this season, and the receiving tandem of Brian Brown and Reggie Diggs each have more than 800 yards receiving on the year. The Spiders also feature a two-man backfield of Seth Fisher and Jacobi Green, who have combined to rack up over 1,100 yards on the ground.
However, Richmond has given up the ball 33 times, as compared to a total of eight turnovers for the Tribe (7-4, 4-3 CAA).
Richmond has suffered from some bad luck, losing 15 of its 19 fumbles. 11 of its 18 interceptions came from Strauss’ backup Michael Rocco, but the Tribe will still look to swing the game with takeaways.
The Tribe has been effective at seizing its opportunities when it comes to turnovers. The College has recovered 13 of the 14 fumbles it has forced, an incredible statistic considering defenses usually only recover about half of all fumbles.
Sophomore cornerback Tre Reed leads the College with three forced fumbles, while 11 other players have chipped in with one a piece.
On the other side of the ball, junior running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor has only fumbled twice all season, and sophomore quarterback Steve Cluley has thrown just three interceptions.
Abdul-Saboor’s ability to hold on to the football is key to the College’s offense, which has relied heavily on the ground game in recent weeks. Over the past four games, Abdul-Saboor has averaged nearly 165 yards per game in addition to seven touchdowns.
Cluley’s passing numbers have taken a hit due to the Tribe’s focus on the ground game, but he has been effective as a game-manager. Cluley has no interceptions and nearly a 62 percent completion percentage in the past five games, keeping the offense moving when opposing defenses manage to bottle up Abdul-Saboor.
One area the Tribe has struggled with, though, is limiting the opponent’s pass rush. Despite the fact that Cluley drops back to throw less than most collegiate quarterbacks, the offensive line has allowed 33 sacks this year.
The Tribe has had success putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, however, as the College has racked up, coincidentally, 33 sacks. Senior defensive end Mike Reilly has led the pass-rush of late, accruing four and a half sacks in the past three games.
If the Tribe hopes to slow-down Strauss and the Spider’s passing-attack, the secondary will need to be sharp as well. Richmond has protected its quarterbacks extremely well, allowing only 11 sacks, so expect junior cornerback DeAndre Houston-Carson and the rest of the secondary to cover Richmond’s receivers for long periods of time.
Another significant statistic is the third-down conversion rate. Richmond has converted third-downs at a remarkable 54 percent clip while limiting opponents to a 36 percent conversion rate.
The Tribe has been far less effective, converting only 36 percent of its third downs. If the College hopes to keep drives alive and keep the ball out of Strauss’ hands, the Tribe will have to stay out of third-and-long situations while giving Abdul-Saboor opportunities to pick up short-yardage first downs.
Overall, the two teams are likely going to approach the game in very different ways. Richmond will rely on Strauss and its receivers to make big-plays downfield while hoping to avoid turnovers. The Tribe, meanwhile, needs Abdul-Saboor and its offensive line to keep up its stellar play in order to win the crucial time-of-possession battle while hoping that the defense can create all-important turnovers.
The game is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. at Zable.