WILLIAMSBURG ——The numbers suggest that William and Mary is in the midst of modern era historic offensive struggles, but the man who has overseen that era says he's experienced and coped with their equal.
In 32 years as head coach at his alma mater, there's little that Jimmye Laycock hasn't seen — good, bad and all points in between. The Tribe's present offensive malaise is frustrating, particularly given his unimpeachable chops on that side of the ball. All that's left, though, is to adjust, adapt and work.
Progress is difficult to see at the moment. The Tribe (3-3, 1-2 CAA) enters Saturday's game against New Hampshire coming off of its first shutout in 14 years, a 21-0 loss at Delaware.
W&M is last in the CAA in scoring offense (12.3 ppg), total offense (269.7 ypg) and pass efficiency (95.7). The Tribe is ninth in passing offense (154.3 ypg), just ahead of only an equally ineffective Villanova and run-oriented James Madison. All of those stats are the program's lowest since joining a league, the old Yankee Conference, in 1993.
The frustration is compounded by expectations that had the Tribe ranked in the top five by most preseason polls. W&M was coming off a co-CAA title and possessed a handful of potential playmakers on both sides of the ball.
But W&M already is two games back in the loss column in the league and has just two countable wins in the eyes of the FCS playoff selection committee — New Haven is a Division II program.
The troubles in the passing game are a function of inconsistency and inability to make plays by the quarterbacks and receivers. Tribe quarterbacks are completing just 46.6 percent of their passes. Only seven FCS schools have a lower completion percentage.
"It's been a struggle," Laycock said. "It seems like we do one thing well and two things happen against us."
William and Mary appeared to have found some stability at the position when Michael Graham was inserted into the lineup against New Haven. But the redshirt sophomore was diagnosed with an undisclosed illness following the win against Villanova that kept him out of the Delaware game. A trio of quarterbacks were largely ineffective against the Blue Hens.
Graham has not been cleared by doctors to practice, making his return doubtful for New Hampshire.
Likewise, a depleted receiving corps got a boost with the return of all-conference Ryan Moody against James Madison. But Moody, returning from knee surgery last spring, tweaked a hamstring in practice the following week and missed the past two games. He has an outside chance, Laycock said, of returning Saturday.
"You can't say it's one thing or the other," Laycock said. "It's everything together. You can't just pigeonhole it to one area or the other. It's everybody, and if one area's down, the other area has to pick it up, and that's what we have to do."
Laycock and the staff are in the same position as a week ago, evaluating and attempting to prepare Mike Paulus or Brent Caprio to start.
"We're trying to keep it simple, trying not to make it too complicated," Laycock said. "We're trying to run the football, and we're going against good people. When you're going against good people, you can become one-dimensional, and it's hard; it's really hard."
The Tribe's ineffective passing game has affected the running game, as well. Senior Jonathan Grimes, just 146 yards shy of becoming the Tribe's career-leading rusher, has seen defenses geared toward stopping him as they dare the Tribe to complete passes. W&M is 10th in the CAA in rushing (115.3 ypg).
"I think we're close," said Grimes, who has 489 yards and averages 3.8 yards per carry. "I don't think it's far off. Scoring doesn't seem impossible or anything like that. I think we're definitely close. Once we finally put it together — which has to be soon because we've made it tough for ourselves now — I think we'll be rolling because the defense has played great, given the circumstances."
Indeed, the Tribe leads the CAA in total defense (307.5) and pass defense (155.7).
"We're not helping them out too much by having them stay on the field all the time," Grimes said. "When they're 100 percent, they play amazing. We just want to return the favor to the defense and start putting together drives and getting some points."
New Hampshire (4-1, 2-0 CAA) has one of the nation's most productive offenses, averaging 40.2 points and 452 yards per game behind quarterback Kevin Decker and a handful of skill players. Decker is second in the nation in pass efficiency and total offense (336.2).
However, the Wildcats have been winning shootouts, since they're allowing 38.2 points per game and are ranked 120th and dead last in FCS in pass defense. Might Laycock view that as an opportunity for the Tribe's beleaguered throwing game?
"Normally, I might," Laycock said. "I think right now, I just want to get out there and see if we can pick up a first down or two, to be honest with you. I'm not looking beyond that."