Only Mickey Matthews knows if he was blowing smoke, but his assessment of William and Mary's football team Saturday certainly was generous.
After the Tribe bludgeoned his James Madison Dukes 24-3, Matthews said this was the best William and Mary team he's seen during his 11-year tenure.
"And I don't think it's close," Matthews added.
Those six words cried for elaboration. After all, it was only five years ago that the Tribe advanced to the Division I-AA playoff semifinals, where it lost to … eventual national champion JMU.
"They've never had a defense to compare to this one," Matthews explained after his formal news conference. "We've always kind of had our way with them."
Matthews didn't stop there.
"I think R.J. Archer's the best quarterback they've had, and I didn't think that until today," he said.
First the defense: Matthews is spot-on. The fifth-ranked Tribe is rugged and fast, capable of stuffing the run and containing the pass.
Come the playoffs, the defense alone will make William and Mary (6-1, 3-1 Colonial Athletic Association) a tough out.
Now the quarterback. Archer was efficient Saturday, side-stepping pressure and throwing for 127 yards and two scores. But he's no Lang Campbell, the national player of the year in 2004.
Naturally, Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock wants no part of comparing teams and players.
"He's much smarter than I am," he said of Matthews' evaluations.
But don't be fooled. Laycock knows that with the reliable rushing attack and surly defense his program often has lacked, this team is built for the long haul.
So I asked Laycock if he allows himself to ponder potential. Does he think about a postseason run that could match, or exceed, 2004?
"No, because I've been here too many times," he said, rattling off the unknowns of injury, sickness, penalty flags and playoff matchups.
But, Laycock said of the convincing conquests of traditional CAA powers JMU and Delaware (30-20), "Now that gets my attention."
This marks Laycock's 30th year as his alma mater's big whistle, and Saturday clinched his 20th winning season, a remarkable accomplishment given the school's limited resources and unyielding academic rigors.
But in 2009, a winning record isn't enough. William and Mary's next two games are against CAA bottom-feeders Rhode Island and Towson, which should translate to an 8-1 mark entering a brutal close versus No. 9 New Hampshire and No. 1 Richmond, the reigning national champion.
Those two contests will reveal much more about the Tribe, and given JMU's precipitous decline from 2008 national semifinalist to 2009 flyweight (2-5, 0-4 CAA), it's wise not to read too much into Saturday's rout.
Still, the Dukes had whipped William and Mary five consecutive times. And they had poleaxed the Tribe on the ground in the last four by an average of 283 yards to 114.
On Saturday, the Tribe outrushed JMU 258-150 as Jonathan Grimes ran for 158 yards on 20 carries. Moreover, William and Mary converted six of seven third downs in a dominant second half.
One play told all, a third-quarter third-and-3 from JMU's 46. In previous years against the Dukes, that dictated pass.
Not Saturday. Lined up in the shotgun, Archer handed to Grimes, who burst off right tackle for 12 yards. Six snaps later, Archer faked a handoff to Grimes, rolled right, pivoted and threw back to his left for an 18-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Alex Gottlieb.
The score extended William and Mary's margin to 17-3 and erased all doubts.
"That's the way we've been playing," Laycock said of an offense that featured 45 rushes and 22 passes. "That's a little different approach (for us). … It's a good team, and right now we're playing well."
The Tribe has won two straight since a 28-17 loss at Villanova, a game in which it outgained the Wildcats by 189 yards.
"We dropped one, but we had great focus and a short memory," senior defensive end Adrian Tracy said.
An All-American candidate and team co-captain, Tracy said during preseason that he truly believed the Tribe was capable of winning every game. Six victories and one stumble later, Tracy doesn't think otherwise.
"That's still the plan," he said.
A viable one it is.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.
Next gameNext game WHO: No. 5 William and Mary (6-1, 3-1 CAA) at Rhode Island (1-6, 0-4).
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday.
On Page 4 • The Tribe delivers satisfying pay backCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times