We continue our walk through UVa's 2015 schedule with a turn to the lone FCS representative, the William & Mary Tribe. Anyone who was in Charlottesville as the Al Groh era came to a close knows that these visitors from Williamsburg aren't to be taken lightly. Davey and Kyle Chadwick of the W&M Sports Blog were kind enough to take our questions. Check them out as the Tribe gets into the 2015 season.
STL: Jimmye Laycock is as much of a mainstay in Williamsburg as bow ties and bourbon are in Charlottesville. But the Tribe haven't made the FCS playoffs since 2010 and are 21-25 since their CAA championship that year. Is Laycock under pressure this year? Will W&M force out a coach with 35 years at the helm?
WMSB: We'll start this by saying that pigs will likely fly before coach Jimmye Laycock is forced out of the friendly confines of Zable Stadium. Although we do agree that the silent "e" at the end of his first name is somewhat ridiculous, we still love him as a coach. Coach Laycock is 231-170-2 all time at William & Mary; when you put that into perspective and realize that W&M strongly maintains its academic standards by not bowing to athletes (like most schools), you understand how incredible a feat that is. However, there are always the Laycock doubters. Some (read: not many) more ignorant students/fans think that he's too old of a coach, his schemes are archaic, and we need to throw the ball more. While it is true that Jimmye tends to employ a run-first pro style scheme, the Tribe offense has traditionally performed well for decades under the quarterback-focused Laycock, a former QB himself under Marv Levy and Lou Holtz at W&M.
And as for the program's recent struggles qualifying for the NCAA playoffs—the team was a mere one win away from an FCS playoff berth two years in a row, but lost both times to arch-rival Richmond in the last game of each regular season. Those loses shut us out of the playoffs, and has left the team hungrier than ever this year. In the end, we think it's safe to say that Coach Laycock will feel pressure to perform this year, but will bleed Green and Gold until he says it's time to hang up the whistle, and not when the administration tells him to.
STL: Who are the most important players to watch who return from last season?
WMSB: Look no further than this year's fourth year senior captains: LB Luke Rhodes, C Andrew Jones, RB Mikal Abdul-Saboor, and DB DeAndre Houston-Carson. Luke Rhodes is an insane tackling machine, and hulk of a player checking in at 6'2'' 242 pounds. Rhodes led the team with 93 total tackles a year ago, and this year, with newcomers along the defensive line, he may be asked to make even more tackles. Rhodes is the only FCS player in the entire nation that has been added to the Butkus Award watch list—which of course is awarded to the nation's top linebacker (FBS and FCS).
Andrew Jones is this year's center on an offensive line that is shaping up to possibly be the best in the CAA this year; Jones earned First Team All-CAA last season. RB Mikal Abdul-Saboor led the CAA in rushing yards per game last year (115.1) and finished with 12 touchdowns. A bruising downhill runner (think Jerome Bettis light), he will look to take advantage of W&M's strong offensive line. Lastly, defensive back DeAndre Houston-Carson, nicknamed "DHC," is a tackling and interception machine on the field. Phil Steele (football guru) ranks DHC as the #1 CB in all of FCS football. The Tribe has been playing DHC at safety a lot this offseason, so we'll have to wait and see if he makes the official move when the season begins. DHC, Rhodes, and Jones were all named preseason All Americans.
STL: Which newcomers are you most excited about?
WMSB: We wouldn't call him a newcomer per say, but we are incredibly excited about sophomore DeVonte Dedmon. The Tribe lost its top two wideouts in the offseason in Sean Ballard (to graduation) and Tre McBride (to the Tennessee Titans). Dedmon started last season as a true freshman. He is the first true freshman to start for the Tribe since 1991--an incredible feat. Even better, DeVonte is a local product from Williamsburg, VA, out of Warhill High School. On the field, he is a blazing fast speedster who has good hands. He can spread the field on the outside, blow the top off coverage, and take the occasional hand off or end around on the ground--he was a running back in high school. Dedmon is a smaller receiver at just 5'10'', but it is his speed that differentiates and sets him apart. He hauled in 24 passes for 300 yards and a touchdown last season, and we expect his numbers to go way up. We also expect him to tear it up on special teams, where he gets out in space and makes defenders look darn right slow in pursuit. While the Tribe will need to find a couple more receivers this offseason to step up and draw coverage away from Dedmon, we at the W&M Sports Blog are incredibly excited to watch him on the field this season.
STL: What are the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of the 2015 Tribe?
WMSB: The biggest strength this year may just be William & Mary's offensive line. Last season, every starter was injured. This reality resulted in a patchwork offensive line that seemed to have a different combination each week. However, even with all the turnover, running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor was still able to rush for the most yards per game in the CAA last season. On top of that, several players along the O-line gained valuable playing time--creating very strong depth going into this coming season. The line is, as mentioned, anchored by its All-CAA center Andrew Jones, but also boasts standouts such as a 6'8'' junior in Jerry Ugokwe, a senior lineman in Jared Templeton, as well as several others. This position unit is deep, and with star running back Abdul-Saboor entering his senior season, things are looking up for our offense. Another benefactor of our strong O-line will undoubtedly be quarterback Steve Cluley, who threw for 2048 yds, 11 TD, and just 2 interceptions in his first season at the helm last year. For the first time in a LONG time, W&M has a solidified quarterback situation entering the season. Will this be the year the offense takes us to the promised land?
However, the Tribe definitely does have a couple weak spots going into the season. If DHC does indeed move to safety, it leaves a revolving door at the cornerback position. As of now, W&M returns one starter at CB, Trey Reed, who is listed at just 5'8'' 160 lb. Reed is insanely fast, perhaps as fast as DeVonte Dedmon (we'd love to see that race), but is very short for a starting cornerback. The other starting spot would likely be filled by Denzel Dykes or Aaron Swinton, two sophomores with a little game time experience. While it's too early to say that the cornerback unit will be a "weakness" for the Tribe, it's pretty safe to say that it may very well turn into one once the season begins. We hope they can get the job done against the offensive powers of the CAA.
STL: What does this team need to do to count this season as a success?
WMSB: Win the CAA for the first time since 2011. That is the goal year in and year out for the Tribe: to win the CAA Championship, garner the auto-bid to the NCAA playoffs, and go from there. It's been much too long since Tribe fans have tasted playoff action, and enough is enough. Again, if not for two horrendous losses to Richmond two seasons in a row, we wouldn't be talking about this. But we are. It's time to stabilize the quarterback position, take advantage of our strong run game, hamper down on defense, and take the league by storm. It won't be an easy task, with JMU, New Hampshire, and Villanova vying for the league championship and looking to put up a tough fight, but we believe the Tribe can get the job done.