If Michael Paulus plays well Saturday in his first start as William and Mary's quarterback against No. 1 Villanova, it'll go a long way toward lifting the No. 7 Tribe to a huge win and its goal of a Colonial Athletic Association championship.
It also will silence his smack-talking grandma.
Paulus' star turn in relief of injured Mike Callahan in the Tribe's come-from-behind win last weekend at Maine gained the confidence of teammates still getting to know the junior transfer from North Carolina and generated congratulatory text messages from his former Tar Heel running mates.
It also inspired the following response from Paulus' grandmother: "She said I played so well last week because nobody (from the family) was there," Paulus said.
That won't be the case in a 3:30 p.m. Zable Stadium showdown against the Wildcats, a rematch of last season's national semifinal game won 14-13 by Villanova. Four of Paulus' five brothers – a fraternity that includes former Duke point guard and Syracuse quarterback Greg – are expected, as are his parents, making the trip from Syracuse, and his girlfriend. (Grandma will be able to see the game on Comcast Sports).
"I'm excited to see them," Paulus said. "I'm just excited to play in front of a home crowd, because I've never done it before."
Paulus appeared in four games at UNC in 2008, going 4-of-13 for 33 yards and two interceptions. His most significant action came at Virginia Tech on Sept. 20, when he went 3-of-8 for 23 yards with two interceptions after starter T.J. Yates injured his ankle, and at Miami the next week, when he started and went 1-for-4 for 10 yards in two series.
Brief though his field time was with the Tar Heels, Paulus said it will help against Villanova (3-1, 1-0 CAA), scoring a league-best 31 points per game while allowing just 12.
"If I hadn't been in big games or I hadn't had other big starts before, I think I'd be a little nervous, but I've been in there and I've gotten my face smashed into the ground by Virginia Tech and Miami," Paulus said. "I'm not worried. I'm not nervous. I'm not scared."
Paulus, whose only previous William and Mary action was an 0-for-5 performance in mop-up duty against VMI on Sept. 11, was none of the above as the Tribe (3-1, 1-1 CAA) overcame a 14-3 deficit at Maine. After Callahan injured his shoulder early in the fourth quarter, Paulus came on to lead a 10-play, 76-yard touchdown drive.
Then, after the teams traded scores, Paulus faced a 21-17 deficit with 2:46 to play. He directed an 11-play, 70-yard drive, going 4-of-8 and hitting Chase Hill for a 21-yard, game-winning TD with 20 seconds left.
"Mike's got the talent, the size, the big arm, but that was the first time everything looked really slow, really calm for him in the pocket," Tribe sophomore linebacker Dante Cook said. "He saw everything really well. You could tell."
Paulus, 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, was widely expected to be the Tribe's starter from the get-go, but he agreed with coach Jimmye Laycock's assertion that Callahan, a fifth-year senior expected to miss at least two weeks, was the more consistent QB in camp.
"(Callahan) understands this system 100 times better than I do, (but) I've made huge strides and learned so much," Paulus said. " … With more game time, I'll get more comfortable, but I feel really good about it now, especially from where I was in the spring. I couldn't even say the plays in the huddle."
Laycock said Paulus now has a better understanding of all facets of the offense.
"Being able to take the call, take the formation, take the play, take the read – putting all that stuff together, and then reacting to what the defense does … so far as the physical part of it, he can handle it, but being able to be mentally confident in order to use your physical abilities is what's tough," Laycock said.
Callahan has been giving Paulus pointers as the two have studied Villanova game film, including the FCS semifinal the Tribe led 10-0 at halftime.
"These guys are good," Paulus said. "They're going to come at us. They're going to come at me, and they're going to hit me and put pressure on us. I've just got to make sure to get rid of the ball and keep getting up after the hits.
"I want to put together four good quarters, and I want to start fast. That's my goal."
Grandma will be watching.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun