s Adrian Tracy walked out of
assistant coach Bob Shoop's office late Saturday afternoon, the defensive coordinator engaged the standout end in a brief Q&A.
"How many wins do we have?" Shoop asked.
"Five," Tracy correctly answered.
"How many did we win last year?" Shoop said.
"Four," Tracy said.
"How many did you win your freshman year?" Shoop asked.
"Three," Tracy said.
"Pretty good," Shoop said, referring more to William and Mary's current standing than Tracy's historical recall.
Following Saturday's 34-24 win against Rhode Island, the Tribe hit the five-eighths pole of its season five up and two down, a far cry from the past two seasons — dismal and unsatisfactory by William and Mary standards.
The turnaround is due largely to an improved defense, as well as an overall resilience that doesn't permit games such as Saturday's to spin out of control.
And make no mistake. Saturday was one of those days that might have bitten the Tribe in the previous two seasons.
William and Mary was coming off a pair of signature road wins, at New Hampshire and at Delaware.
Rhode Island, meanwhile, was 2-6 and winless in the league. The Rams' new coaching staff instituted an extreme makeover, from run-happy option to no-huddle, pass-first mentality.
So what did the Rams do Saturday? They milked the play clock out of their no-huddle formation. They employed a maddening short passing game and at times ran the option out of three- and four-wide-receiver sets, which kept the Tribe defense off balance and on the field.
"In their no-huddle, I analogized it to kind of a (basketball) Four Corners offense," Shoop said. "It seemed like they were trying to keep the ball away from us, snapping the ball at the last second. And we didn't look like we played as hard as we did against Delaware and New Hampshire the last couple of weeks. We need to perform better than that. Our expectations are higher than that."
Rhode Island led 10-7 at halftime, and at one point late in the first half had run 37 plays to the Tribe's 13. The Rams ran 17 more offensive plays than W&M. They ended with an 11-minute advantage in time of possession and converted eight of 15 chances on third down.
"We just didn't come out playing fast and dangerous like Coach Shoop and the other defensive coaches told us to," Tracy said. "That's something that we have to work on."
William and Mary responded, on both sides of the ball, coming out of halftime. Quarterback Jake Phillips led a four-play touchdown drive that gave the Tribe the lead for good.
The defense came up with a three-and-out, and Phillips led another touchdown drive — aided by a fourth-down conversion that could have been an interception return for a score.
The Tribe scored on its first four possessions of the second half, but didn't get remotely comfortable until safety David Caldwell's pick-six early in the fourth quarter pushed the margin to 31-17.
"We continue to be a work in progress," Shoop said. "Every week presents different challenges. Delaware was a pretty good matchup for us — we thought we had a pretty good feel for them. This week, I don't think we didn't have a good feel for them. I think we just didn't get ourselves off the field on third down, and it became a dull toothache.
) is looking at me like I've got two heads, and he's right. We just didn't get off the field on third down. They nickel and dime you, nickel and dime you, and you end up having 73 (defensive) snaps and the offense only has 56, and you're going, 'Gosh, I wish we could have gotten Jake and Jonathan Grimes 20 more snaps. It wouldn't have been close.' "
Style points are overrated, particularly for a program that has as many conference wins this year (three) as the past two seasons combined. Finding different paths to victory when the familiar roads are closed is an encouraging step.
"One of the things I always say to the defensive guys," Shoop said, "is that winning minimizes the problems and losing magnifies the problems. The problems still exist. Let's feel good about the win, but we've got to make the corrections, certainly, as we head into future games."