NEWARK, Del. – William & Mary's playoff hopes are on life support after a lackluster performance in Saturday's loss to Delaware.
But the Tribe, who likely must win their final five games to earn their third straight postseason berth, have more immediate problems on their hands after a 21-0 defeat to the Blue Hens in a matchup of the defending Colonial Athletic Association co-champions at Delaware Stadium.
Namely, ninth-ranked W&M (3-3, 1-2 CAA) needs to find a quarterback – and fast. Senior Michael Paulus continued his season-long struggles and was pulled early in the second half. Paulus, who started the first three games before being replaced by sophomore walk-on Michael Graham, finished 10-for-24 for 84 yards with a pair of interceptions.
"He had some trouble reading in the secondary, made some poor decisions with the throws and things like that," Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said.
Paulus was only in the starting lineup because Graham couldn't go with an undisclosed illness. Laycock said Graham, if healthy, would return to the lineup for Saturday's game against New Hampshire.
If not, well, it's anyone's guess who will be under center for W&M.
Paulus, the heralded high school signal-caller who transferred in from North Carolina, couldn't get into any kind of rhythm. His throws were off target for most of the evening and he's now 28-for-72 (39 percent) for 267 yards with three picks and one TD for the season.
He was replaced by Brent Caprio, who was 5-for-8 for 50 yards but didn't fare much better. In fact, the entire Tribe attack was bottled up, as the No. 13-ranked Hens (4-2, 2-1) crowded the box and held Jonathan Grimes, the CAA's preseason co-offensive player of the year, to 47 yards on 15 carries. W&M was 1-for-13 on third-down conversions.
Neither Paulus nor Grimes were made available for comment.
"Offensively we couldn't get anything going," Laycock said. "As soon as we'd get anything going, we'd make a mistake and of course we had a couple of interceptions that really hurt us, some penalties, a dropped pass here."
W&M did very little offensively in the first half but trailed just 14-0 at the break. The Tribe opened the second half with possession but the drive ended when Paulus threw behind D.J. Mangus for his second interception, giving the Hens good field position on the Tribe's 45 and ending the night for Paulus.
"We shuffled around quarterbacks to try to shake things up a little bit and see if we could get things going," Laycock said.
Caprio, who entered 10-for-24 for 84 yards with two INTs in limited action in all five games, wasn't able to provide the spark and the Tribe's hopes were all but dashed when Hens QB Tim Donnelly connected with Nihja White for an 11-yard score that put Delaware up 21-0 with 13:19 left.
The defeat puts W&M in a must-win situation from here out, as no at-large team ever has made the FCS playoffs with fewer than seven wins over Division I opponents. The Tribe, whose victory over Division II New Haven doesn't factor into playoff eligibility, would need to win out to reach the postseason for the 10th time under the veteran Laycock.
But the coach, in his 32nd season, isn't focused on the postseason.
"I don't think we look ahead," he said. "We'll put our emphasis on getting ready for next week. We'll be consistent about the way we're going to approach it. We have good people. They don't try to make mistakes or mess up. We'll keep working at it."
Asked who will start at QB against UNH, Laycock said, "We'll look and see whether Mike Graham is healthy or not. If he's not, we'll look at these other guys."
W&M fell behind by a pair of scores early, but was in good position to get on the scoreboard midway through the second quarter when it had the ball on the Hens' 18. But Paulus was intercepted on first down when Travis Hawkins stepped in front of an in route for an easy pick.
The Tribe found themselves in a 14-point hole when Andrew Pierce ran up the middle on third down for a 4-yard TD 1:17 into the second quarter. The Hens started the drive from the Tribe's 24-yard line after Drake Kuhn's shanked punt went just five yards.
The Hens opened the scoring when Donnelly capped a 9-play, 98-yard drive with a 29-yard pass to Bobby Russo.
The defense was mostly stout from that point, but didn't get the necessary help from the other side of the ball.
"I'm disappointed we didn't get more going on offense and play a little better," Laycock said. "We just couldn't quite get the rhythm there."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun