By Tommy Keeler Jr.
It would be easy for James Madison University's football team to overlook William and Mary, coming off such a big win over Towson last week. JMU coach Mickey Matthews knows how dangerous the Tribe can be, and is determined not to let his team have a letdown.
JMU plays host to William and Mary today at 3:30 p.m. and Matthews knows the Tribe are always a tough opponent.
"They very seldom turn the ball over, they don't beat themselves," Matthews said. "They have, always, good running backs. You have to defend both. You have to stop the run, and the pass if you want to beat them."
William and Mary coach Jimmye Laycock has been head coach at William and Mary for 33 years. He has a career record of 215-155-2, and has led the Tribe to nine playoff berths and two national semifinal appearances.
Laycock has coached many players who have went on to the NFL, including four-time Pro Bowler Darren Sharper. Current Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin also played under Laycock.
Matthews said Laycock's team have always been known for their offense, but they've really improved on the other side of the ball.
"Jimmye's a tremendous offensive football coach," Matthews said. "The biggest thing with their programs is how much better they've played defense the last four or five years. They're vastly improved. The tempo they have on defense. The sense of urgency they have on defense."
The Tribe (2-4, 1-2 CAA) started out with four losses this season, including a one-point defeat to Maryland. However, they've won their last two games despite having to deal with numerous injuries.
There could be as many as three quarterbacks who see playing time against the Dukes today. Injuries have caused them to shuffle their quarterbacks around all season.
Last week junior Brent Caprio threw for 220 yards on 18 of 28 passing with two touchdowns in his first start for the Tribe. Sophomore Rapheal Ortiz has played in five games this season and is 45 for 85 for 623 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, while Michael Graham is 8 for 26 for 60 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
"They can all run our offense," Laycock said. "They all know our offense and they execute well. They need to get experience, and we need to keep them all healthy. We stress to them that all of them need to think like starting quarterbacks and be prepared to play."
In last week's 34-28 win over Penn, Tribe sophomore running back Keith McBride suffered an injury, and Laycock said he was unsure if he would be able to go today or not. McBride had 97 yards on 17 carries before getting injured. Sophomore Darnell Laws replaced him and finished with 54 yards on 14 carries.
The Tribe has been without senior running back Meltoya Jones for the last three games with an injury.
"Not sure on status of Keith or Meltoya," Laycock said. "We'll see how that progresses."
The Dukes may be the healthiest they have been all season. Sherando graduate and JMU tight end Brian Barlow is expected to play despite suffering a concussion last week. Handley graduate and JMU cornerback Jeremiah Wilson is also expected to play after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury. JMU linebacker Titus Till is expected to be back after missing two games with an injury, and fellow linebacker Stephen Robertson, who played through an injury last week, is expected to play this week as well.
If the Tribe are going to have success on offense, it will be well earned. The Dukes have been very stingy on defense this season, especially against the run. JMU is allowing only 102.2 yards rushing per game.
Laycock said his team will have its hands full on offense this week.
"They run to the football," Laycock said of JMU's defense. "They play hard. They have a good scheme. They're very sound about what they're doing. They've got good players running a good scheme and playing hard. That's a tough combination."
Laycock said he's just as worried about JMU's offense. The Dukes (4-1, 2-0) have been a little up and down on offense this season. However, they've made some big plays when they've needed to.
In last week's 13-10 win over Towson, the Dukes struggled on offense for much of the game. They had only 181 total yards until their final drive of the game. JMU quarterback Justin Thorpe then led the Dukes on a 79-yard drive for the game-winning touchdown.
"[JMU] can mix in the run and the pass on offense," Laycock said. "Just when you think they're not going to throw the ball a whole lot, they throw it really well. Just like that last drive against Towson. They've got it all up there. They make you defend everything on offense."
Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or email@example.com