It could all crumble against James Madison's nasty-quick defense, but William and Mary has developed some offensive rhythm in the past couple of weeks, despite a revolving door at quarterback and now at running back.
"I think we've done a pretty good job, considering all the stuff, to be honest with you," Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said Tuesday. "We've been able to keep working at it. You just don't know who's going to be there, with the health status we've had. Keeping somebody there for an extended period of time would be good, but ... it's been tough."
Injuries and inconsistency at quarterback led Laycock and the coaching staff to use three different players at the position. Likewise, the Tribe was down to its Nos. 3 and 4 running backs in the second half at Penn last Saturday because of injuries to Meltoya Jones and Keith McBride.
Despite the shuffle, W&M (2-4, 1-2 CAA) totaled 69 points in its past two games — both wins — after scoring 58 in its opening four losses. The Tribe averaged nearly 400 yards in the two wins, 261 yards in the four losses.
Granted, some of that is due to the level of competition: FBS Maryland and nationally-ranked Towson and Delaware early; Georgia State and Penn the past two weeks. In some ways, however, the Tribe simply is improving, through practice and repetition.
"We're scoring some points, finally," offensive coordinator Zbig Kepa said. "Our execution is good, but we're not close to where we want to be. We're making some plays, we're keeping the ball off the ground — that's one of the big things."
Indeed, the Tribe has committed just one turnover the past two games and is plus-seven in turnover margin in its two wins.
The Tribe has been stable and solid along the offensive line, arguably the team's strongest unit coming into the season. The line has helped to offset issues that arise from using multiple quarterbacks and running backs.
"I don't think that's negatively affected us as much as some people think," right guard Trevor Springman said. "The offensive line's job doesn't change. We know that whoever's behind us is capable of doing the job. We have four talented running backs and three good quarterbacks. It doesn't really matter to us who's in the game."
The Tribe's quarterback carousel has been well documented. Brent Caprio, Michael Graham and Raphael Ortiz have all played and started games. Caprio started the opener at Maryland and last week at Penn. Ortiz got most of the work in between.
"Our offense, we have a structure to it, and we have a base to the run and the throwing game that's pretty consistent," Kepa said. "It's base stuff that all those guys should be able to handle and then it's just a matter of how good they handle the menu when you add something or pare it down to their ability. It's not easy, but you keep working and build off whatever that guy can do well and go from there."
Caprio and Graham know the offense a bit better. Ortiz is the most mobile of the three. But Ortiz had concussion-like symptoms following the Georgia State win and was ruled out for Penn. Laycock said Tuesday he won't know until later this week about Ortiz's availability for JMU.
Nor will Laycock know about McBride or Jones until later in the week. Jones, a Tabb High grad, has missed the past three games with a leg injury. McBride, who had a big first half at Penn with 97 yards, suffered a concussion late in the second quarter that sidelined him for the remainder of the game.
Darnell Laws, a redshirt sophomore, helped to take up the slack in the running game, with 54 yards and a touchdown.
The Tribe's offensive improvement also has intangible elements, due largely to winning.
"We've developed more confidence in the past couple weeks," Springman said. "Confidence is a huge factor, not only for games but for practice and preparation. When you're confident as an offense, the running backs are hitting the holes, the quarterbacks are finding receivers, the receivers are getting open."
The Tribe will need all the confidence it can muster Saturday in Harrisonburg. JMU is ranked fourth in the nation after last week's win against defending CAA champ and preseason fave Towson. The Dukes lead the CAA in scoring defense (13.8 ppg) and rushing defense (102.2 ypg), and are second in total defense (294.8 ypg).
"Just like always, they're very athletic and very quick," Kepa said. "They don't stay blocked long. It might look good on the board, what you're doing, but you've got to block these guys. They make things happen by just running to the ball."
JMU has won eight of the past 10 games in the series and hasn't lost to the Tribe in Harrisonburg since 2004. It will be the Tribe's first visit to the Dukes' expanded playpen, which seats nearly 25,000.
"We can look at it a couple of different ways," Springman said. "We can say, it's going to be a tough week, or we can say we're looking forward to the challenge that comes with playing a great team and having the opportunity to take it to these guys in their house. We can look at it as an opportunity to build confidence and prove that we can play with anybody in the country."
WHO: William and Mary (2-4, 1-2 CAA) at James Madison (4-1, 2-0).
WHEN: 3:30 p.m.