In plotting strategy for William and Mary's football opener, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop studied tape of Oregon, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Northwestern and Bowling Green.
Oh, and Virginia.
Gregg Brandon is Virginia's new offensive coordinator, and he's installed a spread attack that deploys three, four and occasionally five receivers, with a mobile quarterback operating exclusively out of the shotgun.
Vic Hall and Jameel Sewell, the Cavaliers' top quarterbacks, are as difficult to assess as Brandon. Sewell, the 2007 starter, missed last season on academic suspension, while Hall spent virtually all of the last three years on defense — his college quarterback debut came in the 2008 finale at Virginia Tech.
So what's an opposing coach to do?
Shoop broke down the offenses at Bowling Green, where Brandon served as head coach and offensive coordinator, and Northwestern, where Brandon coached receivers. He watched Hall against the Hokies, and Sewell in 2007.
Further, Shoop analyzed other spreads: Oregon's balanced approach, Texas Tech's pass-crazy show and West Virginia's run-first tendencies.
He's like a film-school freshman studying violence. Tarantino, Scorsese and Coppola all are must-sees.
Neither Shoop nor Tribe head coach Jimmye Laycock has seen an all-spread, all-the-time opponent. Colonial Athletic Association rivals New Hampshire, Villanova and James Madison employ elements, but not exclusively.
"I don't want to overstate how unique it is," Shoop said of this week's game-planning, "but (Brandon) is pretty clever at what he does. … We're going to have to be really good game-day coaches and adjust. It'll be fun. These are the type of challenges you enjoy."
The challenge is easier to enjoy with talent at your disposal. And that Shoop has with a defense that returns eight starters and should rank among the Tribe's best in memory.
Please don't misinterpret. A quality Football Championship Subdivision defense is unlikely to stifle an efficient Bowl Subdivision offense. But there's no denying W&M's progress from 2007.
"We may not be there yet, but we're a heck of a lot faster than we were," Laycock said. "We can play some defense. I don't know how well we'll do (Saturday), but in our league, we're going to be able to play defense."
In 2007, Shoop's first season as coordinator, the Tribe defense ranked 108th nationally against the run, 96th against the pass, 83rd in yards allowed and 111th in points allowed. That was among 116 FCS teams.
Not coincidentally, William and Mary finished 4-7.
"I don't think there's an adjective to describe the season we had on defense," senior end Adrian Tracy said of 2007.
As fast a defensive end as you'll find in the CAA, the 6-foot-4, 243-pound Tracy was the linchpin of the Tribe's defensive upgrade last season. He recorded 10 sacks and 51/2 other tackles for loss to earn first-team all-conference and honorable-mention All-America honors.
William and Mary's national defensive rankings improved to 69th versus the run, 24th versus the pass, 37th in yards and 55th in points. The Tribe's record flipped to 7-4, with a season-ending overtime loss to eventual champion Richmond denying W&M a playoff invite.
"Let's not get carried away," Shoop said. "We weren't the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. We were just better (than in 2007)."
Those teams rode fast, dominant defenses to Super Bowl championships. Dominance for the Tribe is unlikely in the thorny CAA, and certainly against an ACC team, but Shoop says his bunch can slow the Cavaliers.
The keys, he said, are ends Tracy and C.J. Herbert, outside linebackers Wes Steinman and Evan Francks, and safeties David Caldwell and Robert Livingston. Each runs well, and if they play effectively "in space" against the likes of Hall, Jared Green, Torrey Mack and Javaris Brown, William and Mary has a puncher's chance.
Tracy, for example, had arguably his finest game last season against New Hampshire's spread-like offense. His 14 tackles and two sacks helped the Tribe upset the No. 4 Wildcats 38-34 on the road.
"It's more about how we play than what they do," Shoop said. "When we turn it up, we play at a pretty high level."
Said Tracy: "I know what we're capable of. It's exciting. It kind of gives me goose bumps."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.
Tribe will try to beat the spread ... Virginia's offense, that is