Another Saturday, another William and Mary football loss. Once again, the biggest problem for the College was the slow start and ineffectiveness of the offense, along with indecisiveness by the coaching staff at the quarterback position. The College fell to defending national champion and No. 1-ranked James Madison, 46-14. The loss itself was not shocking, considering JMU has not lost in over a year, since it fell early in the 2016 campaign to Football Bowl Subdivision’s North Carolina. However, it is the Tribe’s fourth consecutive loss, and it remains winless in conference play with a record of 2-5 (0-4 CAA). With no chance of competing in conference or of making the playoffs, there are a couple things I would like to see the Tribe focus on over the last four weeks of the season to put the College in the best position for upcoming seasons.
The coaching staff must settle on a starting quarterback, preferably someone who has the best potential to lead the team in the coming years. After a five-man quarterback competition all summer, the Tribe started junior Tommy McKee for the first five games of the season. However, three different quarterbacks have played for significant chunks of time over the past three games. Against Elon, McKee gave way to sophomore Brandon Battle in the second quarter, and Battle finished out the game, a 25-17 loss. Then, in a shocking development, freshman Shon Mitchell started and played the entire game against Delaware, a 17-0 loss. Mitchell would have been eligible to be redshirted this season until he was chosen as the starter for the Delaware game. Finally, last weekend against the Dukes, Mitchell played until midway through the second quarter, when Battle replaced him. Battle was replaced in the second half by McKee, after struggling with turnovers and failing to put the Tribe on the board. McKee was able to lead the College to two garbage-time touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
First of all, this constant switching of quarterbacks is not an effective method. The team never knows who will be the quarterback in any given game or any given drive. The offense cannot get comfortable with any one quarterback. Also, none of the quarterbacks can get comfortable or improve if they are concerned about being benched and are constantly in and out of games. The coaching staff must choose one quarterback and let him practice with the first-team squad during the week, as well as play every drive of the final four games of the season. This will hopefully allow him to develop and gain more familiarity with the playbook and the offense. Then, for next fall, this quarterback would be better prepared to lead the team to success. There is no reason to keep playing multiple quarterbacks or even the quarterback that might be the best option right now. The coaching staff must focus solely on preparing for the next couple seasons, because this season is essentially over.
The vacillation over the quarterback has certainly led to some of the offense’s problems this season, but the offense has been completely inept, especially in the first half of games this season. The Tribe has averaged a horrid 3.7 points in the first half for its seven games this season. The College’s 15.6 points per game is not much better. Clearly, the Tribe has gotten off to slow starts and must do everything it can to be aggressive in the first half. The Tribe has also had troubles with turnovers, including six Saturday against the Dukes. The College has used very conservative play-calling, which is understandable with inexperienced quarterbacks. Nevertheless, the Tribe has nothing to lose the rest of the season. I would like to see it call more passing plays and passing plays downfield, because the conservative play-calling has not worked at all for the Tribe offense this season.
The College’s season is essentially over, but I think that by focusing on the future, the Tribe can set itself up for future improvement. The coaching staff must make long-term decisions at the quarterback position and make play calls to put the quarterback and the rest of the offense in a place to improve.