After opening up last season against a talented I-A Western Michigan team that featured a first round NFL draft pick and two one-thousand-yard wide receivers, Tribe football heads to ACC territory to battle the North Carolina Tar Heels to open the season on Saturday.
The Tar Heels are not the typical ACC football team and are coming off a two-win season where their defense was rated 116th in yards per game out of 117 teams in I-A. Not to mention, the two best defensive backs from last year, S Dexter Reid and CB Michael Waddell, are on NFL rosters now.
However, their offense is headlined by one of the better quarterbacks in the nation, senior Darian Durant, who is a threat to run or pass. In the backfield, there are also two starting quality backs, sophomore Ronnie McGill and senior Jacques Lewis. McGill broke out as a true freshman last year and has power and quickness. The wide receiver corps has been solid for a couple years now, and features senior Jawarski Pollock, a smaller, speedy guy who set the school record for receptions in a season last year, junior Derrele Mitchell, a 6’3” receiver with athleticism, and sophomore Adarius Bowman, who also has the complete package physically.
Most notably, the Tribe lost record-breaking wide receiver Rich Musinski, who is fighting for a spot on the Tennessee Titans currently. In addition, the team graduated its leading tackler LB Paul Carpenter and its two standout defensive backs, S Marques Bobo and CB Billy Parker.
The strengths of the squad this year will again be found in the stable of running backs that will be a combination of senior Jon Smith and sophomores Elijah Brooks and Trevor McLaurin. Brooks is a transfer from Kent State who already showed flashes of brilliance in the spring game, running for a touchdown and throwing a 98-yard scoring pass on a trick play.
Senior Lang Campbell will lead the offense again and is expected to be one of the stars of the Atlantic 10, as he was named Preseason First-Team Atlantic 10. Star junior LB Travis McLaurin, the team’s leading tackler among returning players, as well as junior TE Adam Bratton were also named to the first team, while K Greg Kuehn and P Michael Mesi were placed on the second team.
For the Tribe to overcome some of UNC’s size and speed advantage, they must establish their combination of backs against the Tar Heels’s front seven, which is not spectacular but has a couple up-and-coming players. Field position is always key, so if William & Mary can avoid turnovers in their own territory and put some first downs together, UNC will be harder-pressed to come up with quick touchdowns.
Campbell must take advantage of his veteran presence and provide leadership as the team’s wide receivers come into their own. While the Tar Heels’s secondary has three seniors and one junior, the group is at the lower end of the ACC and the defensive backs managed only two interceptions all of last season.
Defensively, it will be one of the most significant challenges of the year for Tribe front seven to contain Durant and the rest of the backfield. UNC senior C Jason Brown leads a decent offensive line, but the Tribe had a hard time stopping the run last season, allowing over 200 yards per game. If Durant and McGill, who ran for 244 yards in his breakout game against Wake Forest last season, gets rolling, then it will be a long day for William & Mary.
The Tribe will learn a lot about this year’s team opening the season against an ACC team, and hopefully will bring some momentum out of the game leading into the Atlantic 10 schedule. William & Mary was predicted to finish third in the South division of the Atlantic 10 by the coaches and media before the season. The conference was broken up into two divisions for this season after Towson joined, with the Tribe’s division including Villanova, Delaware, Richmond, James Madison, and Towson.