After falling just short at Towson University in search of its first Colonial Athletic Association win, the Elon University football team will face the College of William & Mary Nov. 8 looking to snap its six-game losing streak.
The Phoenix (1-8, 0-5) trailed 21-6 at halftime against Towson Nov. 1, but used a pair of second-half touchdown passes by senior quarterback Mike Quinn to get back in the game. After a late score made it 21-19, Elon needed a two-point conversion to tie the game, but was stopped by the Towson defense, spoiling what could’ve been Elon’s first-ever CAA victory.
Slow starts have plagued Elon all season. Through nine games, the Phoenix has scored just one first half touchdown.
“The start remains to be concerning the last two weeks,” Elon head coach Rich Skrosky said. “We’ve addressed it. We’ve changed up practice a little bit to try to get into the rhythm of a game earlier. The second half [against Towson], we played well. We were able to shut them out. Like most games, we’ll learn from it – some good and some bad.”
William & Mary, losers of three of its last four games, comes into the game ranked No. 24 in the Football Championship Subdivision. The Tribe (5-4, 2-3) defeated the University of Delaware 31-17 Oct. 25 before dropping a Nov. 1 contest against James Madison University.
The game, which is the first football matchup between Elon and William & Mary, will be broadcast on Comcast SportsNet.
SCOUTING THE WILLIAM & MARY OFFENSEFor the second straight week, Elon will face a tough, physical running back. After going up against Towson’s Darius Victor, who ran for 153 yards and a touchdown, the Phoenix will face Mikal Abdul-Saboor of William & Mary. The junior ranks second in the CAA to Victor with 103.9 rushing yards per game.
“I think balance and they give you a lot of formations on offense that were going to have to recognize and contend,” Skrosky said. “And like always, we’ve got to tackle and pursue to the ball.”
Under center for the Tribe will be quarterback Steve Cluley. The sophomore ranks sixth in the CAA in passing efficiency and has completed 56 percent of his passes for 170.8 yards per game. Cluley doesn’t turn the ball over much, having been intercepted just three times all year.
Though Skrosky described William & Mary as a “balanced” offense, the Tribe has turned to the running game more of late, with 62 percent of plays this year coming on the ground. Look for the Tribe to put the ball in the hands of Abdul-Saboor early and often against a Phoenix defense that hasn’t held an opponent under 100 yards rushing yet this season.
SCOUTING THE WILLIAM & MARY DEFENSEWilliam & Mary boasts a solid defense, a unit that leads the CAA in sacks. The Tribe has also been forcing turnovers while protecting the ball on offense with the conference’s second-best turnover margin (+8).
A matchup to watch will be William & Mary’s defensive line against Elon’s offensive line. The Phoenix gave up seven sacks Oct. 25 against the University of Richmond, but looked better in giving up just two sacks to Towson Nov. 1.
“My concern is the matchup up front,” Skrosky said. “I think most of the good teams, when you watch them on film, it’s the O-line and D-line. They tend to have the heartbeat of the team and this is no different. It starts with [William & Mary’s] D-line.”
Leading the charge on the defensive line is Mike Reilly. The senior, who has racked up nine sacks through nine games, was a first team all-conference selection in 2013 and was named the CAA’s preseason defensive player of the year prior to this season.
Reilly is one of three seniors that start on the D-line for the Tribe, an experienced group that is surely is licking its chops in preparation for an Elon offensive line that has looked overmatched at times this season.
PREDICTIONWilliam & Mary 34, Elon 21
Elon showed some encouraging signs in the second half of the loss to Towson. Mike Quinn played at a high level and has played some of his better football on the road with five touchdowns in his last two road games played. But concerns remain for an Elon offensive line that will face a potent Tribe defense. On top of that, Elon will face a running back that averages over 100 yards per game after giving up an average of 191 yards per game over the past three contests. Look for William & Mary to pound Elon into submission on the ground.