Tribe facing perfect storm of a season

Contact Reporterdjohnson@dailypress.com

There was a reason why William and Mary was picked seventh in the CAA’s preseason poll. In fact, there were several.

With seven games down and four remaining, the Tribe will need to climb to meet that expectation. Having lost its first four conference games for the first time since 2006, W&M is in a three-way tie for 10th place.

It hasn’t been easy to handle, not for a senior class that went to the playoffs two years ago. Not for Jimmye Laycock, who ranks second among active Division I coaches with 245 wins.

“There no guarantees in this business,” said Laycock, whose team is at Maine Saturday. “You have to do the best you can and go from there.

“That’s what I tell the players: If you’re afraid to lose, don’t play the game. That does happen sometimes.”

What almost certainly will be the Tribe’s second consecutive losing season has been a perfect storm.

The quarterback position remains as unsettled as it was in August. Wideout DeVonte Dedmon, W&M’s biggest playmaker, has missed all but one game with a broken wrist. The right side of the offensive line hasn’t been as effective as the left side.

A school-record five true freshmen have played, including Shon Mitchell at quarterback. The two-deep includes 26 players who are either freshmen or sophomores.

And, to state the obvious, the CAA isn’t a forgiving league. The Tribe’s four conference opponents so far — Stony Brook, No. 18 Elon, Delaware, and No. 1 James Madison — are the top four in the standings. Their combined record: 23-5.

“We’ve gone against some really good defenses,” Laycock said. “It’s been a challenge for us.”

The offense is averaging 15.6 points a game, which would be the lowest at W&M since 1980 — Laycock’s first season. The defense is giving up 21.7, but Saturday’s a good example of why that’s misleading.

W&M held JMU to 389 total yards, 95 fewer than the Dukes’ per-game average. Madison scored 46 points, the most the Tribe has given up in a CAA game since 2012, but the defense faced some tough situations.

At one point, JMU began four consecutive possessions inside the W&M 25-yard line thanks to two interceptions, a fumble and a 42-yard punt return. The score went from 10-0 with 3:06 left in the second quarter to 29-0 with 8:30 to go in the third.

“I felt we played fairly well with the cards we were dealt,” defensive end Gavin Johnson said. “We were put in certain situations, and sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand and do what you can.”

William and Mary’s biggest problem area has been the quarterback position. Tommy McKee, Brandon Battle and Mitchell are combining for 51-percent accuracy with seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

McKee, a redshirt junior, started the first five games. Mitchell has started the last two and is listed at No. 1 going to Maine.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Laycock said of the position. “We’re still trying to chip away at it and get a little more consistent. If it’s not one thing, it’s something else.”

NOTES: Laycock said McKee, who injured his shoulder trying to make a tackle on an interception vs. JMU, is “OK” and expected to practice this week. … W&M has been penalized only once in each of its last two games. The Tribe is fourth nationally in fewest penalties per game at 3.4. … Noah Giles’ 66-yard touchdown run last week was W&M’s longest play from scrimmage this season.

Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveJohnsonDP.

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