MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - It might not have resounded with the same loud thud as, say, Appalachian State over Michigan or James Madison beating Virginia Tech, but William & Mary has had its share of success against the big boys in recent years.The Tribe, which serves as West Virginia's season-opening opponent Saturday at Mountaineer Field (noon kickoff, Fox Sports 1), in three of the last four years has either beaten an FBS opponent or scared the life out of them.In 2009, William & Mary went into Charlottesville and beat Virginia 26-14.In 2010, North Carolina needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns against the Tribe to erase a 10-point deficit and win 21-17.
And last year, W&M had Maryland on the ropes. A fourth-quarter touchdown was all the Terps could manage, but that - and the extra point - was enough for a 7-6 win.
So, heading into another test, might 34th-year head coach Jimmye Laycock wish everyone would just forget those games so his team might be able to sneak up on someone else?Actually, no."Well, I wish we'd caught one more pass and had one less penalty against Maryland,'' Laycock said. "That's what I wish.''
Suffice it to say that even without finishing last year's upset bid in College Park, William & Mary has done quite enough to get West Virginia's attention. Yes, the Tribe was just 2-9 last season, but there is that history of wins and near-misses to consider, along with the company W&M keeps in the Colonial Athletic Association."It's them and everybody else in that conference,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "James Madison's in that conference, Villanova's won a national championship, Delaware's won a national championship. They've all beaten I-A opponents. Last year they almost beat Maryland. A couple years ago they beat Virginia. James Madison beat Virginia Tech, Villanova beat Temple. It goes on and on."Do we want to be next on that list? I don't think so. So I think we're going to be able to take these guys pretty seriously.''William & Mary isn't exactly coming to Morgantown with one of its best teams, not after last year went straight downhill after the Maryland game. But the Tribe has done a lot to improve, not the least of which was shaking up its coaching staff and bringing in veteran offensive coordinator and W&M alum Kevin Rogers.
And, of course, there's Laycock, who is so entrenched at William & Mary - in addition to being the head coach for more than three decades, he also played at the school - that he goes to work every day in a building named after him."How do you maintain your job for 34 years if you don't know what you're doing?'' Holgorsen asked.So what is it that concerns Laycock about playing West Virginia? Well, actually nothing out of the ordinary.
"We've gone against some big teams in the past and the thing you worry about is the difference in size and speed from what we can simulate in practice,'' Laycock said. "We can't put them in a position very often where they have to practice against somebody like that. So you try to coach them up to do things right and get people to the football and play hard. That's about all you can do."It still comes down to football. You have good backs, good receivers, good quarterbacks you're going against, big linemen you're going against. You just have to use good technique and play hard.''For West Virginia, perhaps one of the most important things in preparing for William & Mary is to prepare for William & Mary. That's not as simple as it sounds because the Mountaineers' second game a week from Saturday is at Oklahoma."We should be excited to play and it doesn't matter who we play,'' Holgorsen said. "We're tired of practicing against each other. It's time to focus on somebody else, and regardless of who that opponent is, we should be ready to play.''With that Oklahoma game up next, Holgorsen was asked if he might save a few things for the Sooners. He can't afford, of course, to overlook William & Mary, but if it's a case of not having to use everything in the arsenal, might he hold anything back if given the chance?"I'm for doing whatever we have to do to move the ball,'' Holgorsen said. "Or doing whatever we have to do to keep the opposing team from moving the ball forward. If that means putting your best foot forward, then I highly recommend putting your best foot forward.
"We will game plan William & Mary just like we game plan Oklahoma the next week. Whatever we feel like we're good at, we're going to go do it.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.