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Permalink 09/25/09 , CSN Columns, Dowd's Den

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CSN Dowd's Den: Week Three - Status Quo!

floated rightBy Bruce Dowd, CSN Dowd’s Den Columnist

I was traveling last week as I made my way down Route 13 and into MEAC country to watch Norfolk State host William and Mary. As with most of the games this past weekend I got pretty much what I expected, at least as far as the game goes. While the CAA may be arguably the strongest football conference in the FCS, the MEAC may have the best bands in the country as I was treated to quite a show.


Game Day

William and Mary 27, Norfolk State 15:

It all started for me on Saturday afternoon with some very friendly and hospitable treatment by all the tailgaters from both teams.

I eventually found Sandy, a friend from tailgates past in Williamsburg. He had joined a tailgate with a large group of Spartan supporters. Interesting story here; they had meet up last year in Williamsburg when Norfolk State played there. Apparently they shared some great tailgating there and the Spartan folks invited them to join them this year at Norfolk. The one condition was that Sandy had to bring his famous baked spaghetti with him, which he did.

Here is the entire group. A great bunch of folks and I really enjoyed my time with them.

A Personal Rant: I am about to embark on a subject against what most other journalist would recommend. If I had any sense I would stay away from this topic like the plague, but it is my column so I will do it anyway and I have no sense left anyhow. This is going to be a racial discussion.

After I got home, a neighbor of mine whose name I care not mention, knew what game I went to and asked me how different it was. I asked him what he meant and he said because Norfolk State is mostly an all black school. I can’t print my comment back to him here, but let’s just say we probably won’t be talking much anymore.

Now after that comment I started to think about it a little and honestly until he mentioned it, I never noticed or thought about it. All I saw were people. Good people all having a great time, Norfolk State, William and Mary, old folks, young kids, male, female, black, white, it didn’t matter. It was just all great people sharing a beautiful tradition on a gorgeous Saturday, tailgating and watching a football game.

The picture above of Sandy’s group indicates what I am saying. Here is what I want to point out. The media, which I am a part of, always wants to point out the negative. Anytime there is a racial incident then the media is there and making it news. I am not naive enough to think there are no racial issues remaining in our society, my neighbor being a perfect example, but that does not represent the true America I get to see during my travels. Sandy, his group, and the group of Spartans above represent more of what America is really all about. The Spartan group was befriended by Sandy last year in Williamsburg and reciprocated this year. I want to know, where is the media on days like this? Why isn’t this story a front page story instead of isolated racial incidents? If there was a racial incident at this game then the media would have been there in droves.

The more stories like the one above that go untold and the more the isolated racial incidents get publicized the longer the racial tensions will exist. I guess this is just another reason why I love this level of football and all the pageantry and experience on game day, because it truly transcends all racial barriers and to me, on days like last Saturday at Norfolk State, America seems to be in perfect harmony and that is the America I choose to remember. Thank you for allowing me this rant and I hope I didn’t offend anyone.

The Game:

For more of my tailgating and fan/band experiences and their pictures please see the “Extended Tailgating and Fan” section at the end of the column. Now onto some actual game comments . . .

If all you did was look at the final score you might think that the game was close and the Tribe struggled with the Spartans, and if you did, you would be wrong.

It was obvious about midway through the first quarter that Norfolk State was no match for the talented William and Mary team as it just seemed to be all downhill for them during this first quarter.

At the end of the first quarter it was 14-0 in favor of the Tribe. William and Mary led in the statistics as follows; Time of Possession 10:29 to 4:31, First Downs 8 to 1, Total Yards 137 yards to 7. That should tell you all you need to know about how dominate William and Mary was in the first quarter.

Even though the Tribe extended their lead to 21-0 at half, Norfolk State was much more competitive in the second quarter. The third quarter was dominated again by William and Mary as they held Norfolk State to just nine total yards in the quarter.

It was 24-0 at the end of the third quarter and 27-0 early in the fourth quarter when Coach Laycock went to his bench. The coach was upset at the end of the game on how his second team played in that fourth quarter, but to be fair to the Spartans they kept battling and never gave up scoring three times in the last seven minutes of the game. Those three scores represented last 15 points in the game and made the final score much more respectable.

To sum it up I saw what I expected to see; a very good if not great William and Mary team against an overmatched opponent. The MEAC is just not quite up to the quality of the CAA, even though during certain years they have produced a true playoff caliber team or two. This year Florida A&M may be a good example of that.

This year’s column is more about the top teams in the country as they head into the playoffs so my analysis of William and Mary after watching them play in person is that they are that good. The defense especially impressed me and that seems to be a recurring theme in the CAA South.

If you read the previous week’s columns you will remember we talked about emotions and what can fire up a team to get them ready and how important emotions are in the outcome of a game and even a season. I contend that this year’s William and Mary team has a different focus after just missing the playoffs last year and I believe that drives them harder this year and keeps them more focused; a little bit of a chip on their shoulder if you will. In previous conversations with Coach Laycock he denies this and says his team was ready to play last year every game, yet when I talk to the players, they have a completely different story.

I interviewed three different William and Mary players last week after the game, quarterback R.J. Archer, safety David Caldwell, and linebacker Jake Trantin, and I asked each of them that question and to a player they insisted that what happened to them last year has had a big influence on how they prepare for each game this year. They all said it was a huge motivating factor. Most coaches will give you that “coach speak” straight out of some kind of secret handbook or something, but the players haven’t read the book yet so you tend to get what they are feeling. Anyway, while this game wasn’t your down to the wire nail biter like I have been getting accustomed to the last couple of years, I still really enjoyed myself and it all started early at the tailgate and some outstanding hospitality from the Norfolk State fans..

Dowd’s Den Top Ten

As mentioned earlier there was no serious movement in the Den Top Ten, just some reshuffling if you will, as there were no real surprises among the top teams last week. So, here they are:

(1) Richmond (3-0): As I expected, Richmond rebounded from that very disappointing win and near upset loss to Delaware with a resounding victory over 2-0 Hofstra by a score of 47-0. That was definitely a statement game. So they still belong at the top of the heap.

(2) Villanova (3-0): Nova struggled a little more than I thought they would against Penn winning by a 14-3 score, but it is hard to know how good Penn really is as that was their opener. Many people suspect that Penn has a top team this year so it will be interesting to see how the Quakers progress the rest of the way. That ends the local rivalry series for Villanova and it is a clean sweep over Lehigh, Temple and then Penn which in itself is quite impressive. Now the fun starts as they head into the CAA schedule the rest of the way.

(3) Northern Iowa (2-1): Still looking strong with a very convincing 30-0 win over a pretty good St Francis team, who on opening day threw a scare into New Hampshire. It will be very interesting to see if the Panthers can continue to impress on the road this week against Missouri State.

(4) William and Mary (3-0): Saw enough in person this week against Norfolk State to make me a believer; still undefeated with a 12 point win over Virginia, good enough for me to have them in this slot. We will find out how ready they are this week when a dangerous and hungry Delaware team comes in to Williamsburg as the Tribe starts their eight game trek through their tough CAA schedule.

(5) Montana (3-0): Montana started out slow again going down 14-7 after the first quarter, but after that it was all Montana as they pitched a second half shutout and outscored a very disappointed Portland State team 42-3 the rest of the way. They do need to correct those slow starts though as when the competition gets tougher that kind of start could cost them like this week for example against a tough N. Arizona team on the road.

(6) McNeese State (3-0): They wiped out any reservations I still had lingering concerning that opening day three point win over Henderson State with a 56-0 thrashing of Savannah State. They were up 28-0 at the end of the first quarter and 42-0 at half. That big win plus their great road win at Boone two weeks ago have them now moving up in the Den Top Ten rankings.

(7) James Madison (1-1): I have the Dukes moving up a little as well with an impressive 44-16 victory over VMI. Again I want to emphasize how much talent this team has and the placement here in this slot has a lot to do with that talent as their first real FCS test comes this week on the road against a good Liberty team that is just laying in wait for the Dukes.

(8) Weber State (1-2): I was able to tape this game and then watch it in its entirety. I now see what all the fuss is about and can see why they came so close to knocking off two FBS opponents. So many championship teams of the past have a great one-two punch with a top quarterback and a stud running back. This Wildcat team is no exception. I am not sure who impressed me more, Higgins or Smith. If you haven’t seen these guys play yet then trust me, they are the real deal and can play for anybody. If they both stay healthy then the Wildcats are capable of beating anyone on any given day.

(9) Massachusetts (2-1): Without question, this is the most underrated team in the country. After digging an early hole, they came within four points of a Kansas State team on the road. Then they pounded Albany 44-7. And oh by the way, Albany lost to Georgia Southern on a last minute field goal and also just beat Maine this past week. UMass started their CAA campaign with a convincing 30-10 win over Rhode Island last weekend.

Another side comment on the Minutemen; if you followed my column the past few years then you know I had some issues with all the penalties that UMass had. They constantly lead the conference in penalties and many were of the discipline type. The previous coaching staff didn’t want to curtail their aggressiveness by making too much of a big deal about it. It was bad enough though to hurt them in the outcome of some games.

I had a conversion with new Head Coach Kevin Morris this week and he seems to have an entirely different approach. He said he was very concerned about that trend and they worked on it in preseason and the results of the first three games show that. UMass always had plenty of talent but also always seemed a little too undisciplined for me. Coach Morris seems to have harness that talent and keeping it under control. Before the season is over I have a feeling this team will surprise many people.

(10) (Tie) New Hampshire (2-0): (Idle) You are probably wondering why I dropped this team down a few slots when they were idle. Well, some other teams have started to impress and I wasn’t that sure about the Wildcats to begin with. Again though I want to mention how much I admire the coaching staff for UNH, they may arguably be one of the best in the nation. But the Wildcats are so new and so young on that offensive line. While they had a great win over FBS Ball State that is still a very bad FBS team and New Hampshire’s opening win against St. Francis was weak. I may be wrong on this team and they may deserve to be ranked higher but I need to see more first before I am convinced.

(10) (Tie) Appalachian State (0-2): The Mountaineers were idle last week and I bet that just killed them after their 0-2 start. I think Samford may be in for a rough day on Saturday.

(Just Missed) Elon (2-1): I dropped Elon out of my Den Top Ten after a poor performance against Wake Forest. I know that is a pretty good FBS team, but I was expecting a little better showing than a 35-7 loss, which was 35-0 at the end of the third quarter. Elon’s first two wins were against such weak opponents that the jury is still out on the Phoenix. This week they have Georgia Southern at home and that will tell us a lot more.

(Just Missed) Southern Illinois (0-1): Another team that was idle this past week and while they had a close game against Marshall to open their season there hasn’t been anything else to measure them by so this is another team I have to take a wait and see on.

Other Den Tidbits

I was a little disappointed with the showing of the SoCon against the FBS last week. I know we are not supposed to win those games but I was hoping for some better results than what happened. As mentioned, Wake Forest had Elon 35-0 at the end of the third quarter. Wisconsin had Wofford 31-0 at half and Missouri had Furman 42-0 at half. I am wondering if this might be an off year for the SoCon as every conference goes through that once in awhile. Only time will tell on that topic but it is something to keep an eye on.

Again in keeping with the theme this year on emotions and how they can affect performances I continued my relentless questioning as I hit the Big Sky Coaches Conference Call this week and talked with a couple of the coaches. Again I find each coach to be different on how they answer this question. Many times they seem to take offense when asked because they feel it questions their coaching skills when we suspect the team wasn’t ready emotionally, but that is certainly not the intent. However, every once in awhile you get an honest and interesting response and this week was no exception.

One nice interaction came from Head Coach John Zamberlin of the Idaho State Bengals who first of all thought it was a very good question, which is not a normal response I get when discussing this topic with the coaches. The Bengals opened up against Arizona State and then Oklahoma and followed that up with another road trip to Weber State. It would be hard to find a tougher opening three game schedule in the entire FCS this year. Now this week they have a highly ranked Div II school Central Washington coming into their place and the coach was definitely concerned about a let down due to the change in level of competition. He said he made an immediate and serious effort this week to address it and to try to prevent it. As we discussed before, Central Washington is playing up in competition and will be sky high for this game. If the Bengals take them too lightly, Central Washington is good enough to pull the upset. So here is a coach who agreed that it is critical and was very aware of this week’s potential problem and took steps to try and eliminate that concern.

One of the best quotes I have ever got from a coach when I ask about this topic came this week from Montana Head Coach Bobby Hauck. I am not too sure he was happy about the question but his response was; “If I have to worry about that [getting the guys emotionally ready] then I recruited the wrong players.” BEAUTIFUL and dead on correct! He went on to say that all the players he recruits here at Montana are very vested in the program and getting up for a game each week is not a problem. That approach may not work at every school but it certainly does at Montana. I witnessed it last year in person at the Championship Game.

Now, changing topics slightly, here are a few teams flying slightly under the radar that you might want to keep an eye on and who may very well surprise everyone before the season is over; Citadel, Eastern Washington, Florida A&M, Central Arkansas.

Games I am Keeping a Close Eye On This Week

Finally this week we are starting to get into some key conference games, but there are also still a few out of conference games that are very interesting.

Georgia Southern at Elon: Both teams now 2-1 and the winner will have an edge up on making a run at App State for the title. I suspect that Elon is the clear favorite here and this is the game that could really tell us how good Elon is.

Northern Iowa at Missouri State: A good Missouri Valley conference match-up again between two 2-1 teams. Northern Iowa is the clear favorite here and if they are as good as I think they are should be able to take care of business on the road.

Samford at Appalachian State: This might be the worst time in the past few years to go into Boone and try and beat the Mountaineers. I wouldn’t want to be Samford in this game. Boone will be rocking and Armanti and company will be chomping at the bit to get things going in the right direction. This game could get ugly fast.

Weber State at Portland: This Big Sky conference match-up is another very interesting game. Weber is clearly the favorite but they better be careful. Portland is upset by their performance last week against Montana and they are at home so this will be a good test for Weber State.

Delaware at William and Mary: It doesn’t look like I am going to be able to travel this week, but if I did this would be the one I would try to get to as it is just three hours drive time from me. This contest will be a classic CAA battle. Delaware took Richmond to the wire in week two and almost got them. The match-ups between these two teams over the years have almost always traditionally been very close no matter what the rankings. This year the roles are a little reversed as the Tribe is the highly ranked powerhouse and Delaware is the underdog making the Blue Hens a very dangerous team for William and Mary on Saturday.

Montana at Northern Arizona: Here is another classic conference battle, this time in the Big Sky as Montana goes on the road to take on Northern Arizona. Like the Delaware and William and Mary games, the battles between these schools are traditionally good ones. I will be interested to see if Montana can get out of the gate a little better this week.

McNeese State at Tulane: So from Henderson State to App State then to Savannah State and now FBS Tulane, the level of competition for the Cowboys has been all over the map. While McNeese may not be expected to win this week by most people, I am expecting them to give Tulane all they can handle and I think the Cowboys will beat the Green Wave giving us another FCS win over an FBS opponent.

James Madison at Liberty: This game is over six hour drive time for me, and it is on TV, otherwise I would be there this weekend as this game peaks my interest more than any other game. I am not sure what to expect here. James Madison has the talent and should be motivated enough this early in the season to take care of business. HOWEVER, here goes that emotion thing again. Trust me when I tell you that Liberty is really up for this game. If Liberty beats JMU they may be able to run the table from here giving them a 10-1 record with the only blemish being a 13 point loss at West Virginia. That would give them a virtual lock on a playoff spot. They may be good enough to pull off an upset too. This is one of those games that will test the emotional levels of both teams and the Flames will need to be really sharp and at the top of their game and also maybe catch the Dukes not as sharp in order to overcome the talent difference. An upset here wouldn’t surprise me and neither would a convincing win by James Madison. What I think we will get is something in between, a 10 point or less JMU win.

This Weekend for the Den

As mentioned above, it doesn’t look like I can travel this weekend so I will be glued to the TV and the internet trying to catch as many FCS games as I can.

A couple of long distance games for me that I really want to try and catch in person this year are Weber at Montana on Halloween and the App State at Elon contest on November 14th. There will also be plenty of great CAA match-ups to go see right in my backyard when Nova, William and Mary, James Madison, and Richmond all start to tee off against each other, not to mention a possible game or two involving UMass and New Hampshire.

Perhaps you folks can assist me with some of my travel plans, especially the Elon game and the Montana trip. I can drive to Elon, but I will need to fly to Montana and I may need some help on the best way to get there. I will also need someone to show me around the night before or at least point me in the right direction to all the hot spots so we can talk some serious football and then also the best tailgating spots on game day, where to stay, etc. I would love to hear your ideas.


Please note that a couple of the game shots were courtesy of Bob Keroack from William and Mary. Thanks Bob!

That’s it for this week hope you enjoyed the column and hope to see some of you soon in the upcoming weeks. Please don’t forget to email me your thoughts and comments as I really value your opinions.

Extended Tailgating and Fan Section:

Nothing like a uniform to attract the girls.

Now this is looking more like the Army I would enlist in.

Three Spartan supporters sporting the NSU T-Shirts.

Looks like those shirts come in green and yellow.

One of my favorite photos of the day of a father and son enjoying their tailgate experience at the combined Tribe and Spartan tailgate.

Here I am with a bunch of Norfolk State folks as we discussed the Spartans chances on Saturday. They seemed to be very knowledgeable and realistic on what might happen.

Well there were all types of attire and all ages of fans in attendance.

See what I mean?

And now they start to get younger . . .

Here is Grandpa and Grandson on their way into the game.

Like I said, all ages. This is another one of my favorite shots of the day.

Here I am with Father and son, who is currently an injured William and Mary offensive lineman eagerly awaiting his return in a few weeks, but meanwhile enjoying a little tailgating with his family and friends.

This is one of those pics where I really don’t know what to say, so you make up your own caption here.

And now it is time to present the Band!

And another shot of the Band. I’m sorry, isn’t this the Band?

Oh there they are!

One final shot of the Band for you. Hey, there are some real band people in here so give me a break.

I got the spirit so bad that I headed off to find the recruiting area. But much to my disappointment, I didn’t qualify. They felt that they needed someone a little younger and also someone with a few less tailgates under his belt who could run 10 yards without needing oxygen.

No matter where I go they seek me out for a picture. Again that is my reality and after my bubble was burst on the previous picture let me have this one, okay?

The lonely tailgater! He tried to convince us that the others were at the bathroom, so I’ll let him have his own reality too.

By the end of the day, I was really starting to like the color yellow.

Thanks Norfolk State for all the hospitality and a great day and the best of luck to all of you for the rest of the year.