WILLIAMSBURG — Jared Velasquez's 18 tackles Saturday at Maine were the most by a William and Mary defender in 10 years and triple his previous best. The occasion was nothing to celebrate.
"Usually, it's three or four a game, not a lot of action back there," Velasquez said Tuesday. "So I knew something was wrong. I love playing the game and being in there, but getting 18 tackles from your last line of defense isn't what you want."
What went wrong was the Black Bears owned the line of scrimmage, controlling the Tribe's down linemen and linebackers, leaving Velasquez, a sophomore strong safety, on an island.
Not coincidentally, Maine also handed William and Mary its most emphatic defeat of the season, 34-20, leaving the Tribe 4-3, 1-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association, entering Saturday's homecoming against James Madison (5-2, 2-1).
Laycock applauded Velasquez — the last Tribe player with more tackles was Paul Carpenter with 19 against Massachusetts in 2003 — but said, "That's not the way we draw it up, no. … We're not interested in that."
William and Mary went to Maine as the Championship Subdivision's stingiest defense, allowing 11.8 points per game. The Tribe had been physical and disciplined, even in the season-opener at West Virginia of the Bowl Subdivision.
But once the Black Bears established their interior strength, William and Mary's discipline vanished as players, in Laycock's word, began "freelancing" rather than sticking to plan.
"We'd better regroup defensively," he said.
Better regroup if the Tribe is to attain a winning season and contend for the playoffs. Better regroup to have any chance against JMU and a retooled offense coordinated by Mike O'Cain, a co-worker of Laycock's more than 30 years ago at Clemson and still a close friend.
O'Cain joined Mickey Matthews' staff during the offseason after seven years as Virginia Tech's quarterbacks coach. He inherited a quality quarterback and tailback in Michael Birdsong and Dae'Quan Scott, and the product is a balanced attack that averages more than 200 yards rushing and passing, and 32.7 points.
"I'm impressed with what they're doing offensively," Laycock said. "It's a completely different type of offense than … we have seen from JMU in a number of years. … Scott, obviously, we know he's a game-breaker, he's big-time."
Scott scored two touchdowns against William and Mary last season as JMU prevailed 27-26 in double-overtime. The result galls Laycock and his players still — the Tribe missed a last-second, 31-yard field goal in regulation and saw an OT touchdown pass to Tre McBride erased by offensive interference.
"I about threw up the other night watching that tape again, I promise you," Laycock said.
"That's one of those games where it's a hard bus ride home," McBride said. "You felt like you fought so hard. You really, really get a bitter taste. … It's payback now. It's time to get what we deserve."
McBride's late, 4-yard touchdown catch from backup quarterback Brent Caprio was among William and Mary's few offensive highlights at Maine. Starter Michael Graham was a grim 5-of-17 before Laycock went to the bullpen.
"He was inaccurate, on a few throws," Laycock said of Graham, "(but) several receivers … did not help him. Maine's playing a lot of man coverage, so you're basically throwing one-on-one hoping your receiver makes a play, and we didn't make many plays.
"I don't think he played great, but he played pretty solid. … The reason I put Cap in late, the game was pretty close (to over), and I wanted to get Cap game experience. He's gotten better and better each week with his (injured) ankle."
Conversely, the Tribe's top rusher, Mikal Abdul-Saboor, remains unavailable with a sprained knee, putting additional pressure on the quarterbacks. Graham will start for the eighth time in as many games Saturday, but after the opening series, nothing is guaranteed.
"I think everybody on offense is on a shorter leash after (Maine)," Laycock said. "We've got to get better offensively, (we're) just kind of stuck in neutral right now."
Neutral won't suffice against a remaining schedule that includes nationally ranked JMU, New Hampshire and Towson, plus Delaware and Richmond.
"It's opportunity after opportunity," McBride said. "Great opportunities don't come often, but we're in a position where they're going to come every week. We have a chance to make a name for ourselves."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun