Football: Return to Richmond

Leading up to the Duquesne game, all I could think about was the Richmond game the week prior. Now, with the Dukes dispatched in a 52-49 shootout last Saturday, it seems only fitting we’ll talk about this past weekend’s game in anticipation for William and Mary’s rematch with the Spiders, scheduled for noon this Saturday at Robins Stadium.

There’s certainly a lot to talk about, as the Tribe revealed brand new weaknesses in the narrow victory over Duquesne without correcting many of the prior deficiencies. All and all, the College is skidding into the second-round of the playoffs, and it won’t be easy for head coach Jimmye Laycock and the team to get a firm grasp of the wheel to advance any further.

Redshirt junior quarterback Dillon Buechel had more success against the Tribe’s defense, which had the No. 12 unit in the Football Championship Subdivision in scoring defense, than he has had in every game of 2015. Duquense played exactly zero top 25 teams over the course of 2015, so it’s not like the Dukes’ stats were deflated by a difficult schedule. Buechel finished his day at Zable Stadium with an absurd statline — 33 of 53 for 423 yards and six touchdowns. The Dukes’ previous average passing yards per game was 244.8 yards. Buechel and the Dukes offense were a talented group to be sure, but the stats entering the playoff game point to an incompetent Tribe secondary being more to blame than a high-octane offense.

Prior to the Duquesne game, the College’s pass defense looked to be the strength of the unit, after the rush defense folded against Richmond to the tune of 227 yards on the ground. The pass defense didn’t look particularly stellar either, but by comparison it was decent. Perhaps fans simply imagined there must be some reason for hope when the College defense takes the field as some sort of defense mechanism.

Prior to the Duquesne game, the College’s pass defense looked to be the strength of the unit, after the rush defense folded against Richmond to the tune of 227 yards on the ground.

Well so much for that theory, as the first play of the Duquesne game was a 71-yard touchdown completion. Junior cornerback Trey Reed had decent coverage on his man, but at 5’8”, Reed faced a serious height disadvantage against 6’1” Dukes receiver Chris King, who snatched the ball out of Reed’s hands and ran down for the touchdown.

That play could be attributed to bad luck, but then the receivers kept getting open. Buechel kept throwing 50/50 balls into single coverage, and more often than not, the Dukes receiver out-muscled the defender for the ball. With the exception of a single bone-crushing sack by senior defensive tackle Tyler Claytor, Buechel was laid back in the pocket against a non-existent pass rush. After the Tribe figured blitzing was futile, the College switched to dropping seven and eight men into coverage. Not a problem for the Dukes, as Buechel completed a 42-yard touchdown pass with under a minute left and down 11 points. The game should’ve been over, as the Tribe dropped eight men into coverage with deep safeties. Still the Duquesne receiver was wide open along the sideline, running right by sophomore safety Mike Barta.

The rush defense stepped up in a couple key situations, and deserves special recognition for a game-changing stop on fourth and an inch. Sophomore end Matt Ahola hit the tailback in the backfield, as senior linebacker Ian Haislip cleaned up the tackle. Of course, it was certainly helpful that the Dukes inexplicably ran the ball out of the shotgun rather than a running formation.

Duquesne still managed over 100 yards rushing, despite losing its leading rusher to injury early in the game. In total, the Tribe defense was torched for 540 yards, the most allowed all season, even more than the yards allowed against powerhouse James Madison. If it’s any consolation to the Tribe, Duquesne did get more yards on one team this year: The Dukes racked up 551 yards on Alderson-Broaddus, 11 more yards than they ripped off on the Tribe. Alderson-Broaddus was 5-1 at the time, so Tribe fans might feel a little better.

That is, until one realizes that Alderson-Broaddus is actually NCAA Division II whereas William and Mary is a Division I team. That’s how bad the defense was on Saturday.

The Tribe also didn’t shake the recent turnover trend, as junior quarterback Steve Cluley added two picks to his season total and a fumble. The first pick wasn’t really his fault as it bounced off the hands of sophomore tightend Andrew Caskin, and the fumble was a blind-side sack. Yet that second pick, right before the end of the first half, could not have been worse.

Really, it’s difficult to be optimistic about this weekend’s game.

Really, it’s difficult to be optimistic about this weekend’s game. Richmond has the best receiver duo in the CAA in Brian Brown — No.  2 in the conference —  and Reggie Diggs — No.4 in the CAA — a far more talented pairing than any player on Duquesne’s roster. That alone should doom the season with the abysmal performance last week. Then add in the strong running attack that bulldozed the Tribe two weeks ago, a defense that shut down junior tailback Kendell Anderson and got pressure with four guys and a Tribe offense that forgot how to hold onto the ball, it looks like a disaster in the making.

The Tribe has a prayer if senior free safety DeAndre Houston-Carson and Claytor can make a game-breaking play again, as both have shown a particular talent in that department, often in tandem. A pick-six, strip-sack or a couple blocked kicks returned for points give the College a shot at upsetting archrival Richmond for the first time since 2010.

Junior kicker Nick Dorka has the talent if the game comes down to a last second field goal. But it likely won’t. One thing is for sure, and that is that the Tribe will have to enter Richmond this weekend with a new strategy to stay alive in the playoffs.


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