A week ago, William and Mary's postseason football prospects were grim. The offense was stagnant, the quarterback was in street clothes, and the schedule was barbed-wire nasty.
Other than that, Jimmye Laycock, how's your day?
"It's playoff mentality now," free safety Jake O'Connor said Tuesday. "It's basically win or go home."
O'Connor and his fellow seniors were part of playoff teams in 2009 and '10 — the former squad advanced to the national semifinals — and expected a third consecutive postseason bid this year. But a 3-3 start that included two Colonial Athletic Association losses jeopardized those hopes.
Toss in the undisclosed illness that sidelined quarterback Michael Graham and a 21-0 defeat at Delaware, the Tribe's first CAA shutout in 14 years, and you had a team treading water with an anchor tied 'round its neck.
Then came Saturday's 24-10 conquest of sixth-ranked New Hampshire. And now comes news that Graham practiced Monday.
"He is feeling much, much better," said Laycock, William and Mary's coach since 1980.
Laycock usually disguises injuries like Amarillo Slim does hole cards, but he made it clear Tuesday that he expects Graham and All-CAA linebacker Jake Trantin (leg) to play in Saturday's homecoming game against 15th-ranked Towson (5-1, 3-0).
"He's probably kind of like a lot of guys in this league at this stage of the season," Laycock said of Trantin. "They're stiff and they're sore and they're banged up, but when it comes time to play, they play."
Two days after the Delaware loss, Trantin gathered his teammates on the field after practice for an impromptu meeting. His message: If William and Mary hoped to make the playoffs, there was no margin for error.
Trantin and the defense did their part against New Hampshire, limiting the CAA's most prolific offense to a single touchdown.
"To hold a team that was leading the league in just about every offensive category to 10 points says a lot about the way we played defense, the schemes that we used and the way the players responded to the schemes and executed (them)," Laycock said.
No real surprise there. William and Mary (4-3, 2-2) ranks ninth nationally in scoring defense, allowing 17.7 points per game.
But Towson is the antithesis of pass-happy New Hampshire. The Tigers, 1-10 last season, prefer a no-frills, ground-based offense.
Led by tailbacks Dominique Booker and Terrance West, Towson ranks 11th nationally in rushing (226.5 yards per game) and averages a CAA-best 5.2 yards per carry. That grinding attack will challenge an undersized defense that includes a 210-pound outside linebacker in Brian Thompson, who's transitioned well from strong safety in the absence of Dante Cook (knee).
"There's no fluke about them," Laycock said of Towson. "You turn on the tape, they're a very physical team. … This is much more of a power running attack."
A power running attack that beat Old Dominion last week 39-35 on a 63-yard, fourth-and-29 touchdown pass.
"They've gotten to the point where they believe in each other so much they believe the game is never over," Towson coach Rob Ambrose said Monday of his players.
The Tigers average a Tribe-like 31.3 points per game. Conversely, William and Mary (4-3, 2-2) is 117th among 120 teams in scoring with a 14.0 average.
But with Brent Caprio efficient in Graham's place, the Tribe hit New Hampshire for three long touchdowns: passes of 50 and 72 yards to tailback Jonathan Grimes, and a 50-yard run by Grimes' back-up, Keith McBride.
In six previous games, William and Mary had one score of longer than 25 yards, Graham's 38-yard pass to D.J. Mangas against James Madison.
"We knew they would come along eventually," O'Connor said of the offense.
The offense's progression needs to continue, for after Towson, the Tribe faces Rhode Island, No. 21 ODU and No. 18 Richmond.
"With three losses, especially two in the league, we kind of dug ourselves a hole," McBride said. "Each week is a playoff week (now). That's our new mentality."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
WHO: Towson (5-1, 3-0 CAA) at William and Mary (4-3, 2-2).
WHEN: 3:30 p.m.
With no margin for error, W&M football team in playoff mode
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