Job one for the Tribe is containing ODU's platoon of skill players on offense. For the Monarchs, as for most W&M opponents, the first order of business is all-conference tailback Jonathan Grimes.
Whoever is most successful in their respective areas of concentration figures to have the upper hand in Saturday's meeting between the local and CAA rivals at noon at Zable Stadium.
"They're making you defend the entire field," Laycock said of the Monarchs. "They're able to attack the entire field. If you're a little late or a little bit out of position, they've got an opportunity to make a five-yard gain into a 50-yard gain on you. There's very, very little margin for error."
William and Mary (4-5, 2-4 CAA) aims to finish well in a frustrating season marked by uncharacteristically inconsistent offense and untimely defensive lapses. Meanwhile, ODU (8-2, 5-2) looks to close its remarkable regular season on the uptick and to cement a postseason berth.
It's an entirely different feel than the teams' first meeting 14 months ago in Norfolk. Last September, the Tribe was the established program on its way to a share of the CAA title and an FCS playoff berth. The Monarchs were eager to test themselves against a future conference opponent in their biggest game to date, in front of an amped, sellout crowd at Foreman Field.
William and Mary squeezed out a 21-17 win in a game that signaled ODU's rapid ascent to contender status.
"It was a great feeling to play great competition," ODU center Jeremy Hensley recalled, "where people said, 'This is a real team. We'll see what they're about.' I felt like we showed we were a pretty good team. Even though we didn't come out with a 'W,' we proved a point by playing last year at a good level."
Tribe linebacker Dante Cook said, "Of all the games I've played in, I-A or I-AA, it's probably the loudest place I've ever played. They had a lot of fan support. The intensity was high and you could tell it was a heightened game."
Indeed, Cook said that despite the novelty of the matchup between the century-old program and the reconstituted program in just its third season, the game already feels like a rivalry.
"This is more than a regular win or a loss," he said earlier this week sitting in a Williamsburg restaurant. "You lose against Rhode Island and it fades away. But this, it's here all year. Because people that work down in Norfolk live here, and people that work here live in Norfolk. You hear it every day, especially being part of the community and being here."
While last year's game was as much about beginnings and validation as football, Saturday's meeting is about Xs and Os and matchups.
The Tribe looks to slow down the CAA's top scoring offense (35.9 ppg) and a spread attack that averages 426.5 yards per game. Seven different players have scored rushing touchdowns; eight players have at least nine receptions.
Freshman quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who replaced injured Thomas DeMarco at midseason, completes almost 70 percent of his passes and has thrown 15 touchdowns to just one interception.
"He's doing well," Cook said of Heinicke. "He's composed and he's not afraid to try to make a play. I think they've done a real good job with him, and I think Coach Wilder does a real good job with quarterbacks, putting them in positions where they won't make a lot of mistakes. They have a good offense."
A blueprint for the Tribe would be an earlier 24-10 win against New Hampshire. The Wildcats have a similarly productive offense and totaled 517 yards that day, but managed only 10 points as W&M's defense stiffened in the red zone and came up with four turnovers.
"That makes all the difference in the world for us," Laycock said, "because we're not explosive enough where we're going out there and putting up 40 points. We've got to play field position, we've got to get turnovers. Those are the things we've got to do."
On the ODU sideline, the concerns are a Tribe defense that's ranked No. 2 in the CAA in scoring and in total defense, along with the offensive alpha dog, Grimes. The senior leads the CAA in rushing (111.0 ypg) and in all-purpose yards (210.2) and has totaled 927 all-purpose yards in the past three games.
"In all the time that I've spent in this league," Wilder said, "he's one of my favorite players that I've ever watched play. I just enjoy watching him on video, his approach to the game. He plays the game the right way."
Which is both teams' aim Saturday.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun