By Dave Fairbank, firstname.lastname@example.org
11:44 PM EDT, September 21, 2013
Challenges await in a severely back-loaded schedule, but William and Mary’s first three weeks of 2013 were promising, particularly on defense.
The Tribe had answers for everything Rhode Island tried and stuffed the Rams 20-0 on a soggy Saturday night at Zable Stadium.
“I think it was pretty obvious that the story of the game was our defensive play,” Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said. “That was outstanding defense. Any time you take on a CAA opponent and shut them out, I think that’s quite an accomplishment.”
Laycock was an infant the last time the Tribe had a similar defensive stretch to start a season. The 1948 Dixie Bowl team, coached by Rube McCray, was the last edition to hold its first four opponents to fewer points (27) than the Tribe has given up in the first four games (37).
William and Mary (3-1, 1-0 CAA) already surpassed last season’s win total, on the strength of a defense that has held opponents under 100 yards rushing for three consecutive weeks and its own productive ground game.
“I think we’re playing great right now,” W&M defensive end Mike Reilly said. “I know we’re doing really well on third down. That’s been big this year. In years past, that’s been a hard thing for us. But this year, we’re buckling it up on third down, making plays, and that’s really the difference. If you get three-and-outs, you can hold any team. Everyone’s doing well at every single position.”
The Tribe held Rhode Island to 96 net yards rushing and 215 total. W&M limited the Rams to 6 of 18 conversions on third down, which was actually a higher percentage than the Tribe allowed through the first three games (23.3 percent).
William and Mary’s defenders kept the Rams in front of them all night and were stout when necessary. Most notable was a fourth-quarter goal-line stand that preserved the shutout. URI’s 230-pound back Justin Semmes was stopped on third and fourth down inside the 3-yard line – Reilly and linebacker Luke Rhodes combining for the stop on fourth down.
“We just had the mindset of going out and getting the shutout,” free safety Jerome Couplin said. “The fact that we were able to do it – the last couple weeks we’ve been kind of flirting with it, messing around, we give up something right at the end or give up a field goal here and there. But to stay tight, stay together, stay focused and get it, that’s a big confidence booster.”
No one confuses Rhode Island with the CAA’s elite programs. The Rams just snapped a 15-game losing streak dating back to the 2011 season the week prior to coming to Williamsburg. The school was set to de-emphasize football and change leagues before doing an about-face in the wake of the CAA’s addition of Stony Brook and Albany.
But coming off of a 2-9 season, William and Mary will take progress in any form, against any opponent.
“I feel like we want to go out there and play fast, play with passion, kind of play with a chip on our shoulders, coming back from last year,” linebacker Airek Green said. “We’ve got a lot of returning starters coming back. But other than that, I don’t think we have a personality just yet. We just want to kind of ball out and show people what we can do.”
Soggy conditions dictated that the Tribe keep its offensive playbook fairly simple and permit its defense to take over. Rain fell the entire game, heavily for portions of the second half.
Mikal Abdul-Saboor (108 yards) rushed for more than 100 yards for the third consecutive game. Quarterback Michael Graham completed 13 of 20 passes for 155 yards and one big play – a 49-yard touchdown to wide-open Bo Revell, who got behind the defense for an easy pitch-and-catch.
John Carpenter added a pair of third-quarter field goals at the end of short drives to conclude the scoring.
The Tribe has a bye week and then faces defending CAA champ Villanova – the start of a gauntlet that includes six ranked opponents.
“We have tons of confidence right now,” Reilly said. “Everybody’s got confidence in each other. That’s really the big thing – confidence in the coaches, confidence in each other. It’s really like a family. Going into the bye week this year, our spirits are high, we’re feeling good. We can take a little time off and get our bodies back and feel good going into Villanova.”
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