RICHMOND — Richmond would complete passes and gain yards through the air. That was a given. William and Mary didn't foresee its demise from the legs of 230-pound freight train and a retooled Spiders' defense.
As a result, the Spiders laid a trifecta of disappointment on William and Mary: a 31-20 loss to its chief rival in the 123rd meeting; an end to the Tribe's playoff chances; and the unsettling reality that W&M underperformed when it mattered most.
"You hate when you play any type of game you go to when you don't play your best, and that's why we're disappointed," Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said. "I feel like we can play — we have played — a lot better than what we played today."
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Robins Stadium, University of Richmond, T.C. Williams School of Law, Richmond, VA 23229, USA
The Tribe (7-5, 4-4 CAA) had been golden for the past month and was in position to earn an at-large invitation to the FCS playoffs, whose field will be announced Sunday. Even in the previous week's loss to Towson, W&M slowed one of the nation's most productive offenses and gave itself a chance to win.
But Richmond on Saturday notched more touchdowns (4) than William and Mary's defense had allowed in the previous four games (3). The Spiders scored twice as many points by halftime (24) than the Tribe permits per game (12.5).
"We just didn't tackle," Tribe linebacker Airek Green said. "Our scheme was set up perfectly. We've just got to move our feet for tackles."
Richmond running back Seth Fisher was the Tribe's primary tormentor. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound redshirt sophomore bulled for a career-high 131 yards and two touchdowns, a valuable complement to quarterback Michael Strauss and the Spiders' spread-the-wealth pass game.
"Seth's ability to run the ball today, I thought, was the difference because it allowed us to kind of control the tempo of the game," UR coach Danny Rocco said.
Richmond (6-6, 4-4 CAA) was dead last in the CAA in rushing, averaging 110 yards per game. The Spiders went for 149 versus the Tribe, as Strauss even got into the act with some read-option keepers and critical runs to go along with his 237 yards passing.
"The two things that got me was, one, we were not able to get pressure on the quarterback, and two, (we) were not able to stop their running game," Laycock said. "That showed me that something was wrong, defensively. Whether it was the plan or the players or whatever, we just weren't playing the way we had been playing, defensively. … The throws, you figure that's going to happen. Those other things, you didn't figure that was going to happen."
Rocco said that in studying the Tribe, UR tried to duplicate some of what Maine had done in a 34-20 win Oct. 19. That game, he said, was the only one in which W&M's defense seemed off-kilter.
"I felt coming in, and I still feel, I think they've got an outstanding defense," Rocco said. "They're very multiple and they're very well coached. We were just able to beat them to some spots and beat them to the punch on a couple of plays."
Richmond scored on five of its first six possessions to open a 31-13 lead. The only possession on which it didn't score was a strip-and-score fumble return by the Tribe's Green against Fisher. That gave W&M a 10-7 lead.
UR responded with scores on its last three drives of the first half and the first drive of the third quarter.
Conversely, William and Mary managed just one offensive touchdown — in the final minute — against the Spiders' new defensive scheme. The staff installed a system just last week designed to keep the Tribe's playmakers in front of them.
"It really minimized their big plays and their ability to get big chunks," Rocco said. "We felt, if we can get them into a pass game, a third-and-long game, that it would be to our advantage, defensively. Late in the game, it was that. They had to throw and I thought our pass rush was really good there in the fourth quarter. Those four defensive linemen really got after the quarterback. That was kind of fun to watch."
William and Mary quarterback Brent Caprio threw for a season-best 250 yards (22-for-37), but the Tribe settled for field-goal attempts on three of four trips inside the red zone — John Carpenter made 2 of 3. W&M also committed two killing turnovers inside the Richmond 30, an interception by Mikal Abdul-Saboor out of a "wildcat" formation when he underthrew Tre McBride, and a strip-fumble by wide receiver Zach Fetters after a short completion.
"We just didn't make plays and it starts with me," Caprio said.
Perhaps. William and Mary essentially hit its scoring average. The Tribe's defense, so disruptive and efficient much of the season and particularly in the past month, couldn't get off the field.
"We just weren't getting in our groove," Laycock said. "We weren't playing. I just watch how we're playing. We weren't playing like we have been at all."
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637