1) Playoff Push- Who could've thought that, coming off a 3-8 season with a new head coach coming in, Richmond football would have a chance to earn a FCS playoff bid going into its last game of the season? Ranked 20th heading into Saturday, Richmond has a chance to do just that, including a chance to make a six-win improvement in the tough CAA after going 0-8 last season. At 2-8, William & Mary shouldn't be able to handle Richmond, but this is the "Oldest Rivalry in the South," and you know the Tribe would love to spoil the Spiders' turnaround season.
2) Chance for Revenge- The Tribe are the team that really put the cherry on top of Richmond's disappointing season last year, finishing off UR's winless CAA schedule with a 25-23 win in which W&M pulled ahead with a touchdown on fourth and goal with two seconds remaining in the game. Most of the players on this Richmond team were here for that loss, and I'm sure the coaches have had that score playing on repeat in the locker room all week to get the team pumped up.
3) Strauss show hits the road- Sophomore quarterback Michael Strauss has impressed since taking over for the injured John Laub, leading the Spiders to three straight wins, including a win over then-No. 2 James Madison, and throwing for nearly 740 yards and six touchdowns against one interception in those wins. But those have all come within the comfort of Robins Stadium. Saturday will serve as Strauss's first road start, so Richmond fans will get their first chance to see how the sophomore handles an unkind atmosphere.
What to Look for:
1) Building off his big game- Junior ODU quarterback Michael Graham had his best game of the season last week, throwing for 353 yards and 4 touchdowns in helping the Tribe nearly upset Old Dominion. This performance can be put in some perspective in that Laub threw for a career-high 339 yards against that same ODU pass defense, but much of those yards came during a fourth-quarter comeback attempt. Either way, Graham is going to come into Saturday feeling confident and if he gets off to a hot start, look for UR to have trouble slowing him down.
2) Ponder-ing the possibilities- Richmond's sophomore receiver Rashad Ponder had his breakout game last week against Delaware with career highs in receptions (5) and receiving yards (84). Most of those yards came in one-on-one situations in which Ponder beat his defender. UR coach Danny Rocco said after the game that he hadn't been surprised by because he had seen what the sophomore had been capable of in practice all year. Ponder should continue to see one-on-one situations with fellow receivers Ben Edwards and Stephen Barnette demanding most of the defense's attention, so with newfound confidence, look for Ponder to build on last week's performance.
3) Pick party, part 3?- In its last two games, Richmond's defense has come away with nine total interceptions. Even with his great statistical performance last week, Graham still threw three interceptions against ODU. The Spiders have some ballhawks on defense in Doug Howell (5 INT's), Darryl Hamilton (5 INT's) and Cooper Taylor (4 INT's) that are always in the right spots at the right times, so look for another multi-interception game from this unit.
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1) Webb shuts down Edwards- Senior cornerback B.W. Webb is probably the most talented player on the Tribe, and one of the best defensive backs in the CAA. He's a two-time All-CAA First Team selection and well on his way to a third. He may also be the only cornerback who can cover Richmond's talented junior receiver Ben Edwards one-on-one. I see Webb following Edwards all game and Strauss forced to look for other options.
2) Gaskins breaks the century mark- It's only happened once in senior fullback Kendall Gaskins's career (106 yds against JMU this season), but I see him doing it again on Saturday. William & Mary has allowed an opposing rusher to top 100 yards in three of its past four games, and Gaskins is playing at his peak ability right now. He'll do anything within his power to make sure he finishes his Spider career on a high note.
3) Spiders take the early lead and extend it every quarter- The Tribe, despite their 2-8 record, have had some close games with top level competition, including a 7-6 loss to Maryland, a 20-17 loss to Towson, a 27-26 loss in double overtime to JMU and a 28-25 loss to New Hampshire. But those games didn't have immediate playoff implications like this one does for Richmond. The Spiders have done well this season in putting away opponents they should beat easily (i.e. Gardner-Webb, VMI, Georgia State and Rhode Island); Saturday should be no different.
Final Score Prediction: UR- 41, W&M- 17
Contact staff writer David Weissman at firstname.lastname@example.org
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