How many times would William and Mary and James Madison have to play this season for the Tribe to win one? The hunch: Go high. More than 10, less than 57.
The number might be even greater if this edition of JMU's team bottles Saturday's performance.
William and Mary had no answers for quarterback Rodney Landers and JMU's offense, which meant that it was only a matter of time before the Dukes' nasty-quick defense squeezed the Tribe on the opposite end.
James Madison could have named the score, and the score the Dukes named — 48-24 — accurately reflected the day, and might have been a shade closer than the respective performances.
"They're a very good team, and they didn't make many mistakes," Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said. "You come into a game like that and you've got to hope the other team, JMU in this case, makes some mistakes and has some problems, and they didn't. They executed very well."
For William and Mary, Saturday provided an unpleasant flashback to last season, when the Tribe surrendered points and yards as if it were a scholarship requirement.
Included on the 2007 Log Flume of Misery was a 55-34 loss to the Dukes in which Landers and Griff Yancey each rushed for more than 100 yards, and JMU gashed the Tribe for 460 total yards.
This season, the Tribe entered Saturday's showdown in the top half of the CAA in scoring defense, rushing defense and total defense. So what happens?
Landers rushes for 145 yards and one touchdown. Eugene Holloman and his rebuilt knee go for a buck-thirty and two touchdowns. And Landers passes for a season-high 212 yards and three scores as JMU hangs 540 yards on the Tribe and holds onto the ball for almost 36 minutes.
"I can't speak for everybody else," Tribe cornerback Derek Cox said, "but personally, yeah, it felt like last year. It's a bad feeling. You're not gaining any momentum. We're not making any plays. Those long drives they had took a toll on us. We could never gain any momentum."
James Madison scored on eight of nine possessions that mattered. The Dukes scored quickly. They scored slowly. They scored when given a short field, which is practically unfair. They scored from long distance, on two drives of more than 90 yards.
"I don't miss much," JMU coach Mickey Matthews said. "I knew Tuesday we were going to win the game. We just practiced that well. Tuesday, we had our best practice of the year."
Matthews caught himself and amended his thoughts, sort of.
"You can't predict winning and losing," he said, "but I just really thought we were going to … We practiced well Tuesday, and we were really focused."
Both Tribe lines had a devil of a time with their James Madison counterparts.
W&M freshman running back Jon Grimes was held to 48 yards after averaging 114 per game in his previous five outings.
On the other side, JMU's 317 yards rushing were 2 shy of its season high. Much of that can be attributed to Landers, who is on the short list of the best players in the Football Championship Subdivision.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior is capable of the spectacular, such as several long runs and an option pitch fake that practically de-cleated a Tribe defensive back. But he is equally adept at turning nothing into 5 yards and moving the chains.
"He's a good athlete at quarterback," Cox said. "He's quick enough to make you miss, and he's heavy enough that if he lowers his shoulder, he can run you over."
Which is what happened to William and Mary on this particular day.
Laycock pointed out that the Tribe was an afterthought in preseason discussions of the best teams and players, yet put itself in position to play a November game with postseason implications.
"We've made a lot of strides, we've gotten a lot better," Laycock said.
"Our guys have worked extremely hard to get better. I don't think we played our best today, but I give a lot of credit to JMU on that."
The Tribe has done well, provided it doesn't have to make a living playing James Madison.
Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at email@example.com