Oct 30 / Rob

Know Your Enemy: Q&A With William & Mary Sports Blog

Our friends over at the William & Mary Sports Blog are cranking out great CAA football and CAA hoops coverage. We were able to do answer some questions for them earlier this week and they were kind enough to return the favor. Here is there view of the Tribe team and this weekend’s game.

William & Mary fans seem to regard Coach Laycock as being a bit of QB guru, but the Tribe has lacked consistency from its QBs the past few years. What has finally clicked with Cluley under center this year and what type of QB is he?

First off, Jimmye (please excuse the silent e) Laycock has become known as a quarterback guru for a couple reasons. One, he himself was a quarterback at William & Mary, his alma mater. But moreover, he was coached by two all-time greats while at W&M: head coaches Marv Levy and Lou Holtz. As most of you are aware, Levy would go on to lead the Buffalo Bills to 4 straight Super Bowls, and Lou Holtz would lead Notre Dame as head coach for 10 years before stepping down in ’96. So it’s no surprise to us that Coach Laycock has blossomed under the tutelage of these great coaches, becoming a great quarterbacks coach and offensive mind in the process. However, W&M quarterbacks have had a rough go of it through the past four years. Poor decision making, major injuries, and the lack of a consistent presence out from center has contributed to the Tribe’s current playoff drought. However, there’s hope on the horizon. Enter Steve Cluley.

Steve Cluley took over the reigns last year after a strong offseason that propelled him through the ranks. He was not handed the job by any means, and faced competition from those both younger and older quarterbacks on the roster. Starting for the first time, as only a redshirt sophomore, all we had to look at was his high school stats and game tape. The tape taught us that Cluley had a strong arm and the ability to run. However, last year, we also knew W&M did not need a do-it-all QB, à la Vad Lee. The Tribe had a very strong running game, as well as Tre McBride on the outside. At the time, the team simply needed a QB who could make solid decisions, manage the game, and protect the ball. And that’s exactly what Cluley did. He finished the 2014 campaign completing 57% of his passes for 2048 yards, 11 TD, and just 4 INT in his first full season as starter. He also added 253 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground.

However, he’s even better this year; last season proved to be an incredible learning experience. Whereas last year his knowledge of the offense was good, this year, his grasp on the playbook is excellent. With Cluley at the helm, this year’s offense ranks 3rd in the CAA in total offense, behind only Richmond and JMU. What a difference a season can make. As a result, Cluley has been given a much larger role in this year’s offense. In year’s past, W&M has always run a pro-style, run heavy offense. While the team still runs the ball early and often, the offense has moved to a spread attack, with more balance between the run and the pass–this change is directly attributable to Cluley’s maturation at the quarterback position. He can hit you with a short pass, run if the play breaks down, and connect on a perfectly executed deep pass when the defense is sleeping. And boy, is it pretty. He throws a great deep ball that the coaches have consistently raved about since the beginning. Through the first 7 games of the season, Cluley has completed 61% of his passes for 1504 yards, 10 TD, and just 1 interception. Yes, just one interception. 

The Tribe has a potent one-two punch at RB, with the CAA top rusher from last year in MIkal Abdul-Saboor, and Kendell Anderson. Who else should JMU fans be on the lookout for when W&M has the ball?

First off, we never would have predicted that junior Kendell Anderson would be leading the CAA in rushing, averaging 128 yards per game after senior Mikal Abdul-Saboor’s performance last season that saw him average 115 yards per game. But ever since Abdul-Saboor sustained a lower body injury in the season, Anderson has taken over and run like a man absolutely possessed. Whereas Abdul-Saboor is a big, bruising back that makes his money between the tackles, Anderson is a true home run hitter that has ripped off several 40 yard runs so far this season. Pair these two with the Tribe’s strong and deep offensive line, led by All-CAA center Andrew Jones, and you have an incredible powerful combination.
In the passing game, true sophomore DeVonte Dedmon is the #1 weapon. Dedmon racked up 163 all-purpose yards, including 80 receiving yards and two touchdown catches against UVA week one. The former high school running back has proven to be an absolute speed demon on the field who routinely torches opposing defensive backs. However, Dedmon left last week’s game with an apparent upper body injury and his ability to play this week has been called into serious question. Running opposite Dedmon is a senior transfer out of Virginia Tech, Christian Reeves. Reeves is a tall receiver, checking in at 6’4″ 215, and is definitely a top target for QB Steve Cluley. He’s a great intermediate route runner, who catches the occasional deep ball.

In addition to Reeves is true sophomore tight end Andrew Caskin. Caskin has been very good for the Tribe over the past two years, especially with his nose for the end zone. He’s been on a bit of a cold streak recently, but sleep on him at your own peril. Overall, Cluley has a wealth of above average wide receivers, and he doesn’t tend to favor one unless his last name is Dedmon. It’s simple: whoever is open gets the ball. One day it’s Kuzjak, the next it’s Hart, and the other it’s Armstrong. This system has kept defenses on their toes all season long, and won’t change this Saturday.

Luke Rhodes is one of the top defensive players in FCS, but he’s been injured. What’s his status for Saturdayand who’s going to pick up the slack if he’s out or limited?

His status is unknown, but he was seen wearing a knee brace last week. Luke Rhodes is a two-time First Team All-CAA winner, two-year captain, and is the only FCS player on the Butkus Award watch list–awarded annually to the best linebacker in the nation, including both FBS and FCS players. Rhodes has been an unstoppable force in the middle of the field for the Tribe, and a four year starter. However, if he can’t go for yet another week, W&M looks to be well suited to pick up the slack in his wake. Fellow senior linebacker Zach Fetters has filled in surprisingly well in Rhodes’ absence. Since being injured in the UVA game, Fetters returned three weeks ago against Villanova. He would go on to garner 8 tackles that game. In the next game against UNH, Rhodes went down. Fetters would move into the middle linebacker position and not look back. He has accumulated 13 tackles through three games returning from injury, and currently leads the defense in Rhodes’ stead. It’s safe to say that the defense has not missed a beat; this is a defensive unit that is currently ranked #1 in the CAA in scoring defense, as opponents average just 14.5 points per game. As JMU averages a staggering 46.2 points per game, it’s safe to say that this will be the toughest test that the defense has had this year. And yes, that includes the matchup against UVA earlier in the year.

What would you say are W&M’s biggest strengths and its biggest weaknesses this year?

One of the biggest strengths this year is without a doubt Steve Cluley. As stated above, his presence was something missing from the offense for several years, four to be exact, since the graduation of RJ Archer in 2011. With Cluley’s development, the offense has been able to lead a more balanced attack, still predicated on the run, which has given opposing defenses absolute fits this year. All of this has resulted in Kendell Anderson leading the CAA in rushing, and the solid year that DeVonte Dedmon is having at wide receiver. In addition to the passing game, W&M boasts an incredibly strong special teams unit, rare for the CAA. Kicker Nick Dorka and punter Hunter Windmuller have shined since last season. Dorka ranks 7th in the CAA in scoring, and has a pretty big leg for a kicker at this level; he connected on a 47-yarder last week against Hampton. Equally impressive is Virginia Tech transfer punter Hunter Windmuller. Windmuller currently averages 42.5 yards per punt, which is good enough for a top-3 ranking in this year’s CAA. Last season, Windmuller averaged 43.6 yards per punt, finishing second all-time at W&M. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better special teams tandem in the entire CAA than these two right here.

This team’s weakness, which actually hasn’t been all that bad this season, would have to be at the defensive end position. The Tribe lost two great players in defensive ends Mike Reilly (NFL) and Stephen Sinnott. These two were potent pass-rushers who knew how to get to the quarterback. Their presence has been sorely missed this season, as W&M hasn’t gotten to the QB as consistently as they did a season ago. A lot of young talent has come up through the ranks to replace these two, such as Matt Ahola, Spencer Kleinrichert, and others. They have filled in admirably, and have contributed to the Tribe’s impressive scoring defense, but the team isn’t as good at the position as it was a season ago.

The Tribe still controls its own destiny and is definitely in the hunt for a playoff spot, despite dropping one to a weaker Delaware team. What’s your outlook for the rest of the season?

The Tribe currently owns a 5-2 (3-1) CAA record. If not for a head-scratching loss on the road to Delaware, we would feel very good about this team’s playoff chances. However, this isn’t exactly the case. The team has four games left: JMU, Elon, Towson, Richmond. Although nothing is a given, W&M should absolutely win against Elon and Towson. That leaves JMU and Richmond. We think that the Tribe is good enough to go at least 1-1 against JMU and Richmond. If that’s the case, and if W&M beats both Elon and Towson, the team will finish with a respectable 8-3 record. 8-3 in this year’s CAA should definitely be good enough to qualify for the FCS playoffs and break the four-year drought. We believe the Tribe can get the job done this year.

Thanks to the JMU Sports Blog for doing this Q&A with us, and good luck Dukes!

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