WILLIAMSBURG — Imagine a warrior band lugging around a battering ram, laying waste to structures throughout a town. Sometimes they look like pizza delivery guys or utility workers or the folks from Publisher’s Clearinghouse. Most of the time, they look exactly like what they are.
They batter the front door, the back door, the service entrance, maybe the chimney or the dryer vent. What doesn’t change is how they go about their business — relentlessly and mercilessly.
That’s Towson’s offense and running back Terrance West, the next challenge facing William and Mary (7-3, 4-2 Colonial Athletic Association) in the Tribe’s home finale 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Zable Stadium.
“Towson presents a whole different set of problems than anybody we’ve played so far this year,” Tribe defensive coordinator Scott Boone said.
The Tigers (8-2, 4-2 CAA) are ranked seventh nationally in the FCS coaches’ poll and 10th by The Sports Network. If not for one bad quarter against Villanova and five loose minutes against Delaware, they might be unbeaten. They committed three of their five turnovers against Villanova in the first quarter, which led to three touchdowns in an eventual 45-35 loss. The Blue Hens scored two touchdowns in the final minute, with a 2-point conversion, for an improbable 32-31 win two weeks ago.
Towson leads the CAA in rushing, averaging 246.3 yards per game. West, a 5-foot-11, 220-pound junior, leads the nation in rushing at 160.8 yards per game, with 26 touchdowns. In less than three full seasons, he has rushed for 3,948 yards, scored 69 touchdowns and averaged 6.2 yards per carry for his career.
“Ridiculous numbers,” Tribe safety Jerome Couplin said.
“You do not want to be in very many one-on-one situations with West,” Boone said. “That’s key. As good a group of tacklers as our secondary are, you do not want to be one-on-one with No. 28.”
William and Mary, ranked 16th by TSN, has been as good defensively as Towson has on offense. The Tribe leads the nation in scoring defense (12.2 points per game) and allows just 102 yards per game rushing. W&M gave up one offensive touchdown in its past three games, wins against nationally ranked teams James Madison, New Hampshire and Delaware. The Tribe held the Blue Hens to minus-35 yards rushing in a 24-10 win last week.
Boone doesn’t expect a repeat performance against Towson, because of West and the Tigers’ offensive philosophy.
“You can’t let Towson rush for 250 yards,” he said. “You can’t allow that to happen. What’s acceptable in terms of stopping the run may be different versus Towson than it was against Delaware. What I’m 100 percent sure of is that Towson will not abandon the run.
“Whether we stop them the first 15 times they run it, they’re going to run it No. 16, 17, 18, 19 times. They’re going to run (West). That’s a given. Delaware kind of abandoned the run after a while. Towson won’t abandon the run.”
Towson coach Rob Ambrose is mutually respectful of William and Mary’s defense, calling it one of the best he’s seen in his five years in the league. He marveled at how fast, physical and effective it is, regardless of what package Boone dials up.
“I think the best comment that was said in the staff room was, this defense is why people like to watch defense,” Ambrose said. “They don’t watch just for one player, they watch 11 guys playing as one. Everybody fits their role damn near perfect every time.”
To hear Boone, the Tribe must be darn near perfect to stop Towson.
“They’re really good at moving people around, creating either confusion, hesitation or doubt, and then running the ball right at you,” he said.
“They do a nice job of moving the formations around and giving you different looks and doing different things out of different sets,” Tribe head coach Jimmye Laycock said. “They take the shots when they want to. They do a pretty good job offensively of dictating the action. You can’t get in a set as to when they’re going to run or throw. They’ll throw on first down, they’ll run on third down. They do a nice job with their schemes and personnel.”
Regardless of scheme, everybody on both sides expects a heavy dose of West and the Tigers’ relentless ground game.
“He’s a challenge to the whole defense, not just the front,” Couplin said. “The front’s going to need us, the secondary and the linebackers, to do our job and them do their job. It’s not going to be just one unit of the defense stopping him. All of the people have to get to the ball, all of them have to gang-tackle and get him down.”
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun