William and Mary offense a concern, not a crisis

It's too early to assess if William and Mary has the same offensive issues that plagued last year's team. Two games in, though, the Tribe again is unsettled at quarterback due to injuries and productivity.

The Tribe had different starters in each game and already has played three quarterbacks, with more uncertainty heading into the Colonial Athletic Association opener noon Saturday at defending champ Towson.

"It'd be very good if we had one guy that was for sure the quarterback and could stay in there and do it," coach Jimmye Laycock said Tuesday. "I'd obviously love to do that. But hey, you've got to do what you've got to do."

The Tribe (0-2) comes off of a dismal offensive performance in last Saturday's 17-14 loss to Lafayette. W&M managed just 197 yards, fewest since last year's opening loss at Virginia (169) and fewer than one week earlier at Maryland (229).

"We're a little disappointed after Saturday," redshirt sophomore quarterback Raphael Ortiz said. "We didn't move the ball the way we wanted to. We didn't hit a lot of the goals we set for us each game. We've really got to focus and try to execute better, catching the ball and making the blocks, making the right reads."

William and Mary's quarterback rotation reads like this: Brent Caprio earned the start against Maryland, but was sidelined by an injury to his non-throwing shoulder in the first half. Ortiz played the remainder of the game because Michael Graham missed too much practice time with a foot injury and was unprepared.

Graham recovered sufficiently to start against Lafayette, as Caprio sat with the shoulder injury. But the Tribe offense sputtered under Graham, so Laycock inserted Ortiz, trying to find a spark. Ortiz engineered a late touchdown drive that narrowed the final score. The Tribe totaled just 117 yards until its last drive.

Now, as the Tribe prepares for Towson, Graham is in a walking boot after re-aggravating the foot injury versus Lafayette. Caprio has just begun to throw again, though Laycock is uncertain about his availability for Saturday, as well. Ortiz is healthy and ready to go.

"We're a little behind where we wanted to be, in that I think we really improved in fall camp," Ortiz said. "The first game I thought we did pretty well, and then I think we took a step back with this Lafayette game. But it comes down to not executing."

Statistics are of dubious value this early in the season, because of the small sample size and disparity in competition. But collectively, Tribe quarterbacks have completed just 41.2 percent of their passes (21-for-51) for 238 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Laycock said that he wasn't disappointed by the offensive performance against Maryland. The game plan was to play conservatively, particularly after Ortiz entered, rely on the defense and judiciously take shots downfield. The Tribe missed on a couple of deep balls with receivers open, and committed a holding penalty that stalled a fourth-quarter drive.

He was far more irritated last Saturday night, in a peculiar game that was delayed more than an hour by lightning and played in a deluge. Eleven of the Tribe's 13 meaningful possessions lasted five plays or fewer.

"We're not good enough to overcome long yardage or mistakes right now," Laycock said. "We're just not an explosive offense. Personnel wise, we're not explosive. We don't want to put ourselves in a hole and then we've got to be able to take things that are there, so far as complete passes or if a cut that needs to be made to get a first down, we've got to make that cut."

Last season, the Tribe was 10th in the CAA in scoring offense (18.4 ppg), ninth in passing (168.5) and total offense (334.8), and 10th in pass efficiency. W&M also had All-American and career rushing leader Jon Grimes.

This year, it's running back-by-committee behind a veteran, quality offensive line, though the Tribe is averaging just 94 yards rushing per game and 2.7 per carry. It's not a stretch to expect that opposing defenses will cheat toward the line of scrimmage and focus on stopping the run until the Tribe demonstrates that it can throw consistently.

The Tribe's offensive line, Laycock said, "has to raise it up, maybe a notch or two."

Conference games provide the chance for a fresh start, and much of the season remains — messages Laycock conveyed when the team reconvened Monday.

"I said I feel like they still could be a good football team," he said, "that we still have a lot of things to work on and that we're going to go back to work and I wasn't losing confidence in them. But I wanted them to continue to work at it and continue to improve. Everybody accepts responsibility. Everybody's accountable and we just move on and get better."

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