Since I’m not a particular fan of Virginia football, I only sparingly pay attention to them when they’re winning. But I do take joy in watching them lose, if only because I don’t like their attire during home games. For this reason, I happen to distinctly remember one particular game in 2009 that pleased me moreso than any of the other 8 losses the Cavaliers amassed that season: their home opener against William & Mary, which the Cavaliers lost 26-14. At the time, I was just happy to see Virginia lose a football game to a relatively weak opponent to start the season. That game might have been the catalyst for head coach Al Groh being fired, given that his scheme was to use three terrible quarterbacks (including Jameel Sewell); that inevitably led to 7 turnovers and a hot seat. Of course, they followed that up with two more losses before rattling off three wins (the final one coming against Maryland–ugh) then losing the rest of their games.
While I was pleased in recalling that game yesterday as I looked at William & Mary’s track record against FBS opponents, it definitely made me squirm a little in my chair. Why? Because that exact same type of thing could happen to Maryland on Saturday, when they take on a similar William & Mary team. Injury bugs stink, and the Terrapins have an infestation in the Byrd house. Just enough injuries on the offensive end so that one can give pause to thoughts like falling to an FCS opponent on an opener. Especially one that has even a small track record of success against teams like the Terrapins. By teams like the Terrapins, I mean teams coming off of disastrous seasons and resetting both the offense and defense with all new — unfamiliar to some — playbooks and formations.
William & Mary has a tendency to catch FBS opponents off guard when they play against them. They typically schedule the games as season openers or mid-season matches, and in the Terps case it’s the former. Overall, they’ve played openers 10 times and mid-season matches 9. It’s important because when a team has an entire offseason to game plan for a specific opponent, they have a distinct advantage over the one week crunch session dedicated to learning a team halfway through the season. William & Mary have that advantage this year, and you can bet that head coach Jimmye Laycock is going to have his team prepped and ready to roll out of the gates.
Since the delineation between FCS and FBS was made in the 1980s, the Tribe has beaten FBS opponents: Navy twice, Virginia twice, and Temple once. Given that they only play one FBS team a year, it’s an opportunity that all of their players recognize is huge. Playing against bigger programs, bigger fan sections, and better recruits provides their players with the opportunity of a lifetime. The opportunity for an upset puts their program into the headlines and gives confidence for the rest of the season. In other words, William & Mary gets up for these games.
William & Mary last faced Maryland in 2006, a game that the Terrapins won 27-14 with relative ease. Sam Hollenbach and Jordan Steffy were the signal callers in that game, and even though they didn’t light the lamp that game (Steffy went 0-for-5 on passing and Hollenbach didn’t have a single touchdown), the defense was good enough to get the win. That team had quite a few NFL players on its roster, including Darius Heyward-Bey, Lance Ball, Adam Podlesh, Dre Moore, Erin Henderson, etc. To put it lightly, Maryland didn’t win that game handily yet they were definitively a more talented team than the 2012 squad expected to beat up on William & Mary this year.
If you think for a second coach Jimmye Laycock isn’t going to pounce on the fact that Maryland has a true freshman starting at quarterback, then you’ll be sorely mistaken on Saturday. He is notorious for being a pretty talented scheme guy, and is a big reason why William & Mary has 213 wins since he took over in 1980. Laycock knows football, and if you heard Edsall’s press conference on Tuesday when he heaped praise on his blitz schemes and coaching style, you’d realize that this game might be tougher than most expect.
I’m not suggesting that it’s going to happen; I think Maryland is more than talented enough to overcome injuries and still come out with a W in a season opener against a FCS opponent. But it doesn’t mean that I’m not a little nervous that things could fall apart on the offensive end of the ball. Is Locksley just a recruiter or can he keep the ball moving down the field even with a true freshman in Perry Hills at quarterback. His New Mexico teams were nothing to write home about, after all. More still, who knows how that 3-4 defense is going to hold up? We aren’t going to look anywhere near the same as last year, and our defense wasn’t the worst ever then. Call it pregame jitters, call it being a cynic, whatever. I still think that this game may end up being far tougher than we all expect.
Just remember what happened to Virginia in ’09.