By Sam Partridge
The CAA Today Columnist
College Sporting News
10 CAA teams had opportunities to make statements last week, some before Obama and some after, and the results were all over the map and left us, like Congress with more questions than we had going in.
STATEMENT DELIVERED, LOUD AND CLEAR
Towson at UConn - As I stated last week when I picked the Tigers to win the league, this was a huge game for the team to turn the page from the sour taste of last year. The 2012 season was derailed by two I-A losses that ultimately cost a very good Towson team a playoff spot. Coach Ambrose and his players were determined not to let that happen again and they came out guns blazing in a 33-18 win over UConn. Now, the Huskies are by no means world-beaters and are far removed from the Orange Bowl berth of a few years ago, but this was still a very good win for the visitors from Maryland.
Terrance West led the way as usual with 156 on 36 tough carries to go along with two touchdowns, but maybe the brightest spot was the efficiency of quarterback Peter Athens, who was a solid 13-20 for 192 with a TD and a pick. Athens is taking over for Grant Enders, who ran the Tiger offense very effectively the last two years and if Towson can get consistent play from Athens, they will be extremely tough to stop given the quality of the running game.
UConn jumped out early, but Sterlin Phifer caught a 23-yarder TD from Athens and then scored from five yards out for a 13-7 lead and Towson never trailed from there. A couple of second half scores pushed the lead to 26-10 and although UConn cut the deficit in half in the waning minutes, Towson was never seriously threatened.
All in all, Towson outgained their BCS foes 393-290 (including 201-94 on the ground), controlled the ball for 36+ minutes and were 7-16 on 3rd down conversions. In short, Coach Ambrose and his team made the statement they wanted and it went out loud and clear to the rest of the CAA and the FCS in general. This is a new year and the Tigers mean business.
STATEMENT MADE, NO SURPRISES - NEED MORE INFORMATION
Jacksonville at Delaware - In a game that played out largely as expected in terms of final score, new Blue Hen coach Dave Brock picked up his first win at the helm, 51-35, in the opener in Newark. Ultimately, Andrew Pierce and the Delaware running game were too much for the Dolphins defense, but there were some troubling signs for the home team. 4 turnovers and an unexpected 21-21 halftime score were bothersome, despite the final tally of a nearly 400 yard advantage in total offense. Many questions remain unanswered and we will see what happens against stouter defensive units, although probably not this week against Delaware State.
VMI at Richmond - The Spiders had their share of sloppy moments as well, but the Keydets were unable to take advantage of three turnovers and not able to do much else against a solid Richmond defense. Meanwhile, the Richmond offense picked up where it left off last year and cruised to an easy 34-0 victory in their home opener. QB Michael Strauss was a solid 23-36 for 265 yards and the Spiders raced to a 21-0 halftime lead before a lightning threat led to a 70 minute delay. Might as well have stopped things there, however, since the Spiders were lights-out to start the season anyway. We'll learn more about Richmond this week as they head to NC State.
Maine at Norfolk State - In a strange intersectional matchup, the Black Bears hit the road to Norfolk, VA and knocked off the Spartans, 23-6. Maine dominated the game and was never really challenged, effectively putting the contest away with an 85-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Wasilewski to Zedric Joseph that gave the boys from Orono a 20-6 lead. The Maine defense controlled the game, holding the Spartan passing attack to only 10-29 for 104 yards. Would have liked to see more from the Black Bear running attack, but we will get a better look at some of Jack Cosgrove's team's capabilities this Saturday against UMass.
Central Connecticut State at James Madison - The last of the non-conference mismatches saw the Dukes ease into the season with a pretty straightforward win in Harrisonburg, 38-14. A couple of things jumped out, however, first and foremost the fact that CCSU controlled the ball for well over 36 minutes, despite the fact that the JMU running game averaged more than 7 yards a carry. On the other side of the ball, the Dukes defense was stingy against the run, giving up just over three yards a carry, but as with the other three games, we will learn more in the weeks to come.
MESSAGE GARBLED - LOST IN TRANSLATION
William & Mary at West Virginia - For the most part, people seemed to be rushing to complement the effort put forth by Jimmye Laycock's Tribe in the 24-17 loss to the Mountaineers at Morgantown. However, for this viewer, it seemed like W&M had let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers.
It was clear that the home team was struggling to find a rhythm and an identity after losing Geno Smith to the NFL. After jumping out to a quick 7-0 lead, the Mountaineer offense floundered for the rest of the half and the Tribe was able to put together a 17-7 halftime lead behind the stellar play of quarterback Michael Graham and wideout Tre McBride.
Unfortunately, despite playing against one of last year's worst defensive teams, the Tribe was unable to put any points on the board after the break and went down to defeat. While there were a number of things to be pleased about, three moments in the second half stood out as trouble spots.
First, while driving in West Virginia territory with a chance to build on a 17-10 3rd quarter lead, the Tribe took a terrible personal foul penalty, the drive stalled and WVU tied it on a long pass on their next possession.
Second, with a chance to retake the lead in a 17-17 game in the 4th quarter, Tribe kicker John Carpenter badly missed a 42-yard field goal.
Lastly, after finally falling behind 24-17 and getting the ball back in the closing minutes, Graham threw a quick interception to end the game.
In short, shaky special teams and unspectacular quarterback play along with other little things that are just enough to lose, i.e. just the things that have plagued this team of late. So yes, the final score looks heartening, but sometimes the journey to get there is more instructive than what the scoreboard says. Let's see how the team responds against Hampton this week.
Villanova at Boston College - After making the playoffs last year arguably a year earlier than expected, Villanova is expected to be a team to be reckoned with this year and that showed in the first half against Boston College. However, much like William & Mary, the Wildcats flamed out in the second half of a 24-14 loss in Chestnut Hill, MA. Andy Talley's team will rue the four turnovers, especially the two that ended drives in Eagle territory, but maybe most of all the failed fourth down play from the BC one with the Wildcats up 14-7 in the second quarter.
Outside of those mistakes, Villanova went toe-to-toe with their ACC foes and John Robertson showed ample evidence of why he is going to give CAA defenses so much trouble this season. Going 16-25 for 158 through the air as well as 13 for 94 on the ground, Robertson moved the Wildcat offense well all game before two fourth quarter turnovers doomed any chance of a comeback.
Ultimately, this should go down as a disappointing loss for a Villanova team that had opportunities to win the game. But there will be many brighter Saturdays ahead for this team if they execute a little better.
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM
Albany at Duquesne - Let's go ahead and say it, this isn't the way the Danes wanted to start their first season in the CAA. While Duquesne has been a solid program for a number of years, these are games that CAA programs are supposed to win.
What could be worse than being tackled for a safety on the team's first offensive play of the season? Turning the ball over on downs inside the Dukes 30 down 16-3? Coming out of the halftime break down 16-10 and giving up a 9 play, 78 yard drive for a touchdown, fumbling three plays later and immediately giving up another score for a 29-10 deficit.
They're all tough moments and while the Dukes found a way to get within one score at 32-24, this was a disappointing effort in a number of ways. Hopefully, Albany can get some things figured out before heading to Colgate this weekend.
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