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Early bye week not bad timing for W&M

Dave Johnson
Contact Reporterdjohnson@dailypress.com

College football coaches have minimal control over when their bye week falls. Most would prefer the middle of October, when bodies are bruised and the stretch run is looming.

After three games, William and Mary’s open date is already here. But Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock isn’t complaining. With injuries already mounting and eight consecutive Colonial Athletic Association games on the slate, it’s not a bad time for rest and evaluation.

“It gives us a chance to refocus and look at who we are and what we’ve done up to this point,” Laycock said. “To see what changes we need to make schematically and if there are any personnel (changes) and kind of regroup.

“Anytime you get an open date, I think you can always use it to rest some guys and get some guys healthy. Certainly we’re banged up, so I’m hoping we can utilize it that way.”

Injuries have already become an issue. Wideout DeVonte Dedmon, the most explosive player on offense, is likely out for the season with a broken wrist. Left tackle Chris Durant has missed the last two games with a knee injury.

Nick Wimmer, the projected starter at center in preseason, still hasn’t played. Cornerback Denzel Dykes, who has a leg injury, started the opener but has missed the last two games.

And there’s running back Albert Funderburke, who missed the final seven games of the 2016 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He’s still waiting to make his ’17 debut.

“I’m hoping we can get some people back after the open date,” Laycock said. “You never know. That’s two weeks away, so I can’t predict. But you can certainly hope for things like that.”

At 2-1 after the nonconference portion of its schedule, William and Mary is as predicted. The loss came at Virginia, a Power Five school. The wins came against Norfolk State and Bucknell, FCS teams who had losing records last season.

The question mark coming in was offense, particularly in the backfield. Quarterback Tommy McKee has made progress each week and is completing 60 percent of his passes. He’s also the team’s leading rusher, with 228 yards.

Nate Evans, a true freshman, rushed for 89 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s win over Bucknell. Noah Giles and Jaret Anderson, both redshirt freshmen, have provided moments.

But the offense is averaging only 299 total yards a game. Of its 175 plays from scrimmage (18 fewer than the opposition), eight have gone for 20 yards or more. The longest is a 34-yard run by Evans last week.

W&M is averaging 20 points a game, but that’s counting safety Corey Parker’s fumble return against Bucknell. Take that away, and it’s 17.7.

“It’s just a matter of being consistent,” Laycock said. “We get into a rhythm and we look pretty good, and all of a sudden we make a mistake here and there.

“We’re not turning it over (only twice in three games), and that’s the good thing. We’re taking care of the football and doing things solid there.”

Injuries to Dedmon and Durant haven’t helped. Neither has inexperience in the backfield.

“We’re a little injured, and we’re young, so there’s going to be growing pains,” McKee said. “(Bucknell) was only my third start, and it’s still the first year of Coach (D.J.) Mangas (as offensive coordinator). We’ve just got to get consistent.”

Defensively, the Tribe is allowing only 284 yards and 14.3 points a game. The front line — ends Matt Ahola and Gavin Johnson, tackles Isaiah Stephens and Bill Murray — have been excellent. So have linebackers Nate Atkins, Josh Dulaney and Arman Jones.

In 2016, William and Mary was 118th out of 122 FCS schools in quarterback sacks, with 10. This season, the Tribe leads the nation with 14.

“Coach Lewis (defensive line coach Kevin Lewis) and the defensive staff really pushed us and changed some of the techniques we do to be more aggressive rushers,” said Ahola, who has a team-high three sacks. “All four guys now, when it’s third-and-long, we’re getting after it in the pass-rush game.”

The Tribe’s practice schedule this week is Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. After a long weekend, the players will resume their normal game-week routine in preparation for their CAA opener at home against Stony Brook on Sept. 30.

After three games, Laycock’s evaluation of his team is simply stated: “We’re still a work in progress.”

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

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