Perhaps now we can finally dispel the notion of William and Mary's football team meriting its top-10 status.
The Tribe does not.
Please don't misinterpret. The season is young, and William and Mary, ranked fifth and sixth in the national polls, might correct course.
But Saturday night's 20-14 home loss to James Madison (ranked 10th and 12th) again exposed the Tribe offense as far too skittish for such acclaim.
That said, the second half was promising. After producing 64 yards, three first downs and no points in the first half, William and Mary (2-2, 0-1 Colonial Athletic Association) showed a pulse with former walk-on Michael Graham at quarterback.
The third quarterback coach Jimmye Laycock has turned to this season, Graham was 2-for-8 for 11 yards at intermission, no more effective than Mike Paulus and Brent Caprio had been in previous games.
After the break, he went 12-of-18 for 204 yards and two touchdowns as W&M generated 11 first downs and 188 yards.
If nothing else, we know that Graham will start the Tribe's next game at Villanova and that receiver Ryan Moody heals faster than a salamander.
Moody tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during spring practice in April, an injury that shelves many for a year. Saturday he returned and caught three passes for 82 yards.
JMU led 10-0 at intermission, a manageable deficit to be sure. But given William and Mary's offense, it felt like 20-0, or more.
The Tribe didn't sniff the end zone, and its deepest first-half penetration was the Dukes' 37. There, on fourth-and-3, safety Pat Williams broke up Graham's pass intended for tailback Jonathan Grimes.
Late in the second quarter, William and Mary faced fourth-and-1 from JMU's 41. After a timeout, Laycock went no-frills, running Grimes inside. Defensive tackle Jordan Stanton stuffed him for no gain.
Excepting the blown coverage that led to Justin Thorpe's 52-yard touchdown pass to Kerby Long, the Tribe's defense was equally stingy in the opening half. Linebacker Jabrel Mines seemed to make every tackle, and safety Jerome Couplin III broke up a Thorpe pass with a molars-rattling hit of Renard Robinson.
As Comrade Fairbank chronicled early in the week, the Tribe entered Saturday 107th among 121 Football Championship Subdivision teams in passing offense at 133.7 yards per game. The Tribe was 115th in pass efficiency, and only Morgan State had a lower completion percentage (38.6) than W&M (42.1).
Something changed in the second half, and if not for a panicked Graham lateral that lost 18 yards, a botched field-goal snap and a Keith McBride fumble that set up JMU's final touchdown, William and Mary might have authored a memorable comeback.
But those are too many "ifs" against a quality opponent such as JMU (3-1, 1-0). The Dukes' lines often rag-dolled the Tribe's lines, winning the rushing battle 271-37.That's how a national contender rolls.
There's no denying the difficulty (absurdity?) of ranking FCS teams. Every game isn't available on television or online, and Lou Holtz doesn't analyze highlights on ESPN.But really, pollsters? William and Mary top 10?
The Tribe wasn't competitive at Virginia, cruised at winless VMI and needed a last-minute defensive stand to survive Division II New Haven. Those are not top-10 credentials.
The beauty of the FCS is that such tomfoolery is irrelevant.
The beauty of the CAA is that the conference's top-to-bottom strength gives teams every chance to prove their national chops, or lack thereof.
Conversely, JMU arrived in Williamsburg one week removed from a very notable victory: 27-24 at 20th-ranked Liberty, snapping the Flames' nine-game home winning streak.
The question for the Dukes was: Could they build upon that success?
Last season JMU won at Virginia Tech, an upset Matthews called the biggest moment in program history. As an alum, I respectfully disagree, preferring the 2004 national championship victory over Montana.
Had the Dukes used the Tech win as a springboard to a remarkable season, I might side with Matthews. Instead, they stumbled to a 6-5 finish.
Bank on JMU improving that mark in 2011. Can William and Mary approach last season's 8-4 record and CAA championship?
Only with the Graham we saw in the second half Saturday.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun