William and Mary tight end Bo Revell talks about the Tribe's passing game

WILLIAMSBURG — Jimmye Laycock enjoys winning more than the cool pass plays in William and Mary's playbook, which explains why he doesn't have the shakes after four weeks of defense and the running game.

The Tribe hasn't delved deeply into the playbook on the way to a 3-1 start, largely because it wasn't necessary. The defense was stout in all four games, including a loss at West Virginia, and the backs and line did the heavy lifting on offense.

The formula may have to change as the competition ramps up, beginning with Saturday's game at CAA preseason favorite Villanova.

"We're going to need to get more out of the offensive game," Laycock said. "We've played offense solidly, and we've played it as the game was dictated, in order to be successful. Obviously, you want to win the ball game, so you've got to do what you've got to do to win and for the most part we have done that.

"We're playing a really good team. We're working to improve our passing game and getting a little bit more multiple on offense. We're working to step it up even more so, if we can. Hopefully, we can."

Stats are misleading at this time of the season, because of a limited sample size and broad range of competition. But for what it's worth, the Tribe is last in the CAA in pass offense (153.5) and next-to-last in total offense (349.8). Passing numbers are down, in part because W&M is sixth in rushing (197.2) and averages a healthy 4.9 yards per carry.

Defensively, W&M leads the league in scoring defense (9.2) and is second in rushing defense (91.2) and total defense (283.8). The Tribe is sixth nationally in third-down conversion defense, allowing just 26.2 percent.

However, William and Mary's last three FCS opponents are a combined 2-11. The Tribe has played with leads in each game, so it hasn't had to be but so creative or varied on offense.

"I don't know about this week, but obviously in the future, our passing game must improve," tight end Bo Revell said. "That's just inevitable. If you want to be a competitive team, you have to be sound in all phases of the offense. I think one reason we've been leaning on our run game is because it's been successful. We've worked on it a lot to improve and I think you're seeing that now. And the passing game will come. We're working hard at it."

It's unclear how effective the Tribe would be if forced to pass more often. Quarterback Michael Graham is completing 57 percent of his throws, but has averaged just 19 attempts in the past three games. Wide receiver Tre McBride is an all-conference talent, and fellow wideout Sean Ballard and Revell are reliable targets.

Figure on opposing defenses — six of the Tribe's last eight opponents are ranked — loading up to stop the run and forcing Graham to make throws and the receivers to make plays.

W&M also will face better offenses in the coming weeks, starting with the Wildcats on Saturday. Quarterback John Robertson, the Jerry Rice Award winner last season as the best freshman in the nation, is a dual threat who averages 275.2 yards per game rushing and passing.

"It gives you something else to look at," linebacker Quincy September said of a running quarterback, "but at the same time, it also gives the defense an opportunity to wreck the decision maker. If they want to put him at risk like that, you've got to step up and be physical with him."

'Nova (2-2) committed nine turnovers in its first two games — losses to Boston College and Fordham — and zero in back-to-back 35-6 wins against Stony Brook and Penn.

"I can see why they were the preseason pick as the top team in our league," Laycock said. "We don't see any weaknesses. I think Robertson, the quarterback, really sets the tone for their offense. They do a great job of misdirecting and moving around. He's an outstanding runner as well as a passer. They certainly have shown the ability to come up with some big plays.

"Defensively, they're very physical, very strong. In the last two weeks, I don't think anybody's picked up anything against them. They look to be a complete team."

The statistics Laycock puts the most stock in, particularly at this time of the year, are turnovers and penalties. Both indicate to what degree a team beats itself. The Tribe is plus-3 in turnover margin and typically disciplined in penalties, averaging just 41 yards per game.

From now on, touchdowns in red zone opportunities, third-down conversions and completion percentages will take on added significance.

"As we're playing people in our league and better people in our league," Laycock said, "we're going to have to be more productive. What that means, I don't know, but we're going to have to be more productive."

Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637