And while all the statements were essentially true, one gets the impression the coach was perhaps paying a bit too much homage to the opposition, despite the obvious differences in ability and depth. The Tribe, after all, beat Virginia 26-14 in Charlottesville in 2009, the season they reached the FCS semifinal game only to lose to Villanova. And William and Mary played Maryland to within 7-6 in the opener last year, the same Terrapin team that matched WVU solidly in a 31-21 loss.
“Going into this type of ballgame, going against big teams in the past, the thing you worry about is the difference in size and speed in what we can simulate in practice,” said Laycock, entering his 34th season at W&M. “We can’t put them in that position where they have to compete against somebody like that. You coach them up and tell them to get to the football and hope they play. We try to simulate what we can, but it comes down to football. Good quarterback, good running backs, good receivers, you have to play hard.”
The Tribe, 2-9 last season, is rebuilding around new offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers and wideout Tre McBride and back Keith McBride. Rogers, an alum of William and Mary, was the quarterbacks coach at Virginia Tech from 2002-05 and the quarterbacks and, for his last two seasons, the offensive coordinator at Syracuse from 1991-98. In between, Rogers had a stint in South Bend as the Notre Dame OC and QBs coach from 1999-2001. As such, Rogers faced West Virginia in 14 of 15 seasons, winning nine times. And though that doesn’t directly factor into this game – new staff, different player abilities – it does speak to the experience Rogers brings to a program that scrapped much of its offensive staff after two subpar seasons on that side of the ball.
Laycock and Rogers have decided upon senior Michael Graham as the starting quarterback. The 6-4, 220-pounder played in six games last season with three starts, and completed 58 of 127 passes for 776 yards with eight TDs and six picks. Graham beat out incumbent Brent Caprio, also an upperclassman, and junior Raphael Ortiz. Caprio was the headier of the trio of players, but Graham showcased the physical ability to get the ball downfield and spread defenses effectively to aid the run game. He’ll rely largely on Tre McBride (6-1, 200 lbs.), who caught 55 passes for 897 yards and 10 touchdowns to earn all-Colonial Athlertic Association second-team honors, and Keith McBride (6-0, 220 lbs.) rushed for 689 yards and three scores.
“He has done very well in preseason,” Laycock said of Graham. “That’s the number one factor. Ortiz is not ready to play, so he didn’t get into the competition – he’s still recovering from shoulder surgery – and Brent Caprio was a little behind from his offseason (foot) surgery. And Mike has improved and is ready to go.”
Ortiz will not see action this Saturday. If forced, Caprio could play. Graham will be operating behind a line with a pair of redshirt freshman tackles, which might make for a difficult day in the face of WVU’s pressure from starting ends Will Clarke and Eric Kinsey.
“We are always in a situation where we are going to plays some young guys,” Laycock said. “I wish we had all seniors, but that’s not usually the case. … I think we are making progress. We have a big test Saturday. That will be a major challenge going against West Virginia. It’s difficult to see going against each other who is doing well and who is not. But I think we made progress and I hope that continues. Tre McBride has done a great job at wide receiver and I think our offensive line has been solid in the preseason.”
Laycock said he didn’t think it mattered that West Virginia has not settled on its own quarterback, listing juniors Paul Millard and Clint Trickett at the top of the depth chart. Millard, head coach Dana Holgorsen said, has the best understanding of the offense, while Trickett, a transfer from Florida State with the most in-game collegiate experience, seemed to be a bit more crisp and willing to take more deep shots during the brief time media were permitted to view practice.
“So far as our preparation, it doesn’t make any difference,” said Laycock, who played for Lou Holtz and Marv Levy at William and Mary. “I’m sure both are very, very good. We haven’t seen either. If they are at West Virginia, they are very good. They have ability at running back and wide receiver. We are trying to take care of ourselves. That’s what we have been working on. They run their scheme and it has been very productive. They know it inside and out and they plug in different players. I would assume it would be the same type scheme they have been doing the same couple years. And if we need to make adjustments in the game, hopefully we will be in position to make those adjustments.”