Old hand that he is, William and Mary offensive lineman Mike Salazar believes that the remedy to the Tribe's frustrating start begins with small steps and a narrow focus.
The Tribe sits 0-3 heading into Saturday's 7 p.m. game against Colonial Athletic Association rival and nationally-ranked Delaware at Zable Stadium.
"A lot of inexperienced players look at it like: We have to win this game, and then we have to go undefeated the rest of the season just to make playoffs," said Salazar, a fifth-year senior left tackle. "That's where I come in and tell them, 'Whoa, we're not focusing on playoffs right now. We're focusing on Delaware this weekend.' If we win the Delaware game, that's a victory for the season.
"The balance has to be focusing on just that day. Because it's Tuesday, our focus has to be on controlled aggression today."
William and Mary's three losses were by a combined seven points, including a one-point loss to Maryland in the season opener and a 20-17 loss at defending league champ and preseason favorite Towson last Saturday.
"It's frustrating because we're 0-3," Salazar said. "As competitors, we hate losing. But we're seven points away from being a 3-0 team, so you could say that's encouraging. But the bottom line is we're 0-3 and that's just not acceptable."
All three losses resulted from missed opportunities on both sides of the ball. The Tribe misfired on a couple of offensive plays at Maryland that could have provided a two-score advantage. Against Towson, the defense couldn't consistently limit the Tigers' offense.
The Lafayette loss was peculiar, a comprehensive face-plant in a game delayed by lightning that concluded in a nearly empty stadium.
"We understand that a couple plays could have changed us from 0-3 to 3-0," defensive end Bryan Stinnie said. "We're not discouraged. I feel like the morale of the team is not down at all. Things are going to start clicking. We know that we're capable of being a great team. There's no reason we can't turn this around."
The Tribe's greatest area of improvement has come on offense. Injury and inconsistency led to playing three quarterbacks in the first two games before W&M went with Raphael Ortiz last Saturday versus Towson.
The redshirt sophomore led two first-half scoring drives — oddly, W&M's only two possessions in the half. The offense stagnated for a quarter-and-a-half. He then led a touchdown drive that cut the lead to three points and a last-second drive that nearly got the Tribe within striking distance until he was flagged for an illegal forward pass.
"There's a lot of positives in the way we're playing," head coach Jimmye Laycock said. "Our guys are playing very hard, they're giving great effort and they're executing pretty well. We've just got to make a play here and there, I guess."
Laycock said that the quarterback situation is far from settled, but that barring the unusual, Ortiz will get most of the practice time with the first-team offense this week. There's plenty of room for improvement on both sides of the ball, he said.
"Defensively, if we can just keep some people healthy and get their eyes where they need to be," Laycock said. "Sometimes, you get guys that want to be successful almost too badly. … Sometimes you get guys trying to do more than their job. If they focus in on their job and do their job, take care of that, they'll be all right. But sometimes they want to be so successful so badly, they kind of improvise and take on some other things they shouldn't."
All of that starts Saturday against Delaware, if not sooner.
"We can't focus on Saturday just yet," Salazar said Tuesday. "We have to focus on getting better today."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun