Accommodating gent that he is, Jimmye Laycock thought for a couple of seconds before responding to a question that might not have an answer.
Worse to lose close games in creatively agonizing fashion, or to be non-competitive and get blown out routinely?
"It makes it very frustrating," William and Mary's longtime football coach said. "Whether it's more or less is hard to say, but it makes it very frustrating. It is what it is. You've just got to deal with it."
The Tribe (2-9) had its worst record since 1980, Laycock's first year at his alma mater. W&M lost six games by a touchdown or less, four by a field goal or less.
"I'm very disappointed in the record, but I really don't think it's an indicator of the type of team we had," Laycock said. "I think we played hard all year, I think we competed all year, I think we played close all year. For one reason or another, we could not get over the hump in some tough, tough games.
"We played some people tough. We played them very well. We had some really, really bad breaks go against us. It's very disappointing, but it's not like we got embarrassed, it's not like we got blown out. We competed very, very hard and gave ourselves a chance."
Many teams with poor records fall back on the often dubious claim that they were just a few plays away from success and winning records. In the Tribe's case, it's accurate.
A dropped pass by Ryan Moody in the opener against Maryland would have gone for a touchdown late and given the Tribe a 13-7 lead in an eventual 7-6 loss.
Kicker Drake Kuhn missed a 31-yard field goal at the end of regulation at James Madison that would have won a game the Tribe lost 27-26 in overtime. Quarterback Raphael Ortiz was a half-yard past the line of scrimmage on what would have been the game-winning touchdown pass in a 20-17 loss at Towson.
W&M led playoff-bound New Hampshire late in Durham before falling 28-25. The Tribe led playoff-bound Old Dominion after three quarters in Norfolk, but lost 41-31.
There was a desultory home loss to Lafayette of the Patriot League, one of two home games with lightning delays that emptied Zable Stadium. There hadn't been a lightning delay in the program's 119-year history before this season.
Most vexing was the Tribe's quarterback situation. Three different players started. In only four instances did a quarterback start consecutive games. Ortiz and game one starter Brent Caprio had season-ending shoulder injuries that left Michael Graham as the starter in the final two games.
Lack of continuity contributed to the Tribe's ninth-ranked scoring offense (21.2 ppg) and eighth-ranked pass offense (188.7 ypg). W&M quarterbacks completed just 50.9 percent of their passes, better only than Georgia State.
W&M had a good stable of running backs, but Meltoya Jones' lengthy absence due to injury took away a short-yardage and power running threat. Tribe kickers made just 10 of 20 field goals all season.
W&M fielded one of the CAA's better defenses, but couldn't make stops at critical times. The Tribe finished plus-one in turnover margin, a number skewed a bit by getting seven turnovers in a rout of Georgia State.
"Defensively, we were OK, we just didn't get big plays like we needed," Laycock said. "We played good and solid, but we were not spectacular, in terms of getting turnovers. We weren't getting short fields, we weren't getting scores on defense, we weren't getting anything that you usually count on. In a one-touchdown game, stuff like that makes all the difference in the world."
Of the Tribe's 35 scoring drives in regulation, only seven were shorter than 50 yards. In the last five games, only one covered less than 50 yards. The Tribe recorded zero defensive touchdowns all season. Delaware had two against the Tribe.
Looking ahead, the Tribe returns all three quarterbacks, though Laycock said that Ortiz is unlikely to practice next spring after shoulder surgery. Three of the top four running backs return, led by Keith McBride.
Wide receiver Tre McBride emerged as an all-conference talent, and Sean Ballard provided a steady complement as the season progressed. The offensive line has a couple of holes to fill at tackle.
The defensive line returns mostly intact, led by tackle George Beerhalter, who played most of the season with a broken hand. The linebacker corps takes a hit with the departures of Jabrel Mines and Dante Cook, though Luke Rhodes and Airek Green are promising, productive players.
There's no replacing four-time all-conference cornerback B.W. Webb, though safety Jerome Couplin III is capable of being an elite defensive back.
The focus is avoiding a third consecutive losing season, which hasn't occurred since Laycock's first three years, when the schedule was dotted with Division I-A opponents and the building process had just begun.
"I think everybody thought they worked pretty hard last offseason," Graham said. "But it just goes to show you've got to push yourself that much more and we've got to work that much harder this offseason. Push each other that much harder. Do extra reps, throw extra, run extra. What we did last offseason wasn't enough, it didn't get the job done. Watch film. You've just got to do that much more to have the kind of season you want."
Laycock is still in the evaluation process of players and coaches, but said that drastic changes are unlikely. Talent and coaching are sufficient, he said, in order to contend for conference titles again. He is unlikely to do extensive soul-searching or re-think his methods.
"If we had been blown out and not been competitive and not competed in some ball games, I might have," Laycock said. "But not the way that we played."
Tribe 2012 season
Overall: 2-9. CAA: 1-7
Sept. 1: 7-6 loss at Maryland
Sept. 8: 17-14 loss to Lafayette
Sept. 15: 20-17 loss at Towson
Sept. 22: 51-21 loss to Delaware
Sept. 29: 35-3 win vs. Ga. State
Oct. 6: 34-28 win at Penn
Oct. 13: 27-26 loss in OT at JMU
Oct. 27: 24-10 loss to Maine
Nov. 3: 28-25 loss at UNH
Nov. 10: 41-31 loss at ODU
Nov. 17: 21-14 loss to RichmondCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times