Virginia returns home this Saturday as they take on an in-state opponent in William and Mary at noon. The Cavaliers (0-5, 0-2 ACC) have had one of the toughest starts to the season they could have imagined. They have yet to pick up a win, but three of the five games have been incredibly close. The Tribe (4-1, 2-1 CAA) are ranked No. 9 in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), and had won 11 straight regular season games, but are coming off a close loss to Elon. William and Mary is headed by Coach Mike London, who as many Virginia fans may remember, coached the Cavaliers from 2010 to 2015. Virginia will aim to hand their former coach a loss on Saturday afternoon.
One of the biggest stories from last weekend was the return of senior quarterback Tony Muskett. He started in his first game since suffering a shoulder injury in the team’s opening matchup. Muskett completed 22 of 34 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns.
“Just really proud of him,” Coach Tony Elliott said. “You’re talking about a guy that had a shoulder injury that was pretty serious, but he battled through… He’s a competitor … He made it through healthy and looked good in practice [Monday], so I’m excited about going forward with him.”
The Cavaliers will need Muskett to repeat his performance this weekend and will need some major help from the guys around him.
Player to Watch – William and Mary senior defensive lineman Nate Lynn
A player who could cause problems for the offensive line is Lynn. The pass rusher is coming off a terrific 2022 season in which he earned Third-team All-America selection honors and was selected to the All-CAA First Team. Last season he amassed eight sacks, 13 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles, which ranked fourth nationally. This year, he’s picked up where he left off as he’s already picked up seven sacks and two forced fumbles through William and Mary’s first five games.
The Cavaliers' offensive line has struggled this season in stopping talented defensive linemen from getting to the quarterback or disrupting the run. Last week against Boston College, Virginia gave up five sacks and seven tackles for loss. Against NC State, the offensive line allowed seven tackles for loss.
For the Cavaliers to find offensive success Saturday, the offensive line must step up to stop Lynn and the rest of the Tribe’s defensive front.
Player to Watch – Virginia junior safety Jonas Sanker
Throughout this season, Sanker has consistently been a bright spot for the Virginia defense, leading the team in tackles by a margin of 12. He showcased his talent last Saturday, recording 12 tackles and forcing a fumble. His ability to shut down opposing receivers is also particularly impressive, as through five games, he has six pass deflections. To put this into perspective, even ESPN’s top-rated college safety, Georgia sophomore defensive back Malakai Starks, has only managed four pass deflections.
Look for Sanker to continue this success on Saturday afternoon, as he faces a weaker William and Mary passing attack.
Keys to the Game
Stop the William & Mary rushing attack
William & Mary’s offensive strength is undoubtedly their running game, which is headlined by two key contributors, junior running back Malachi Imoh and senior running back Bronson Yoder. Both have at least 70 rushing attempts on the season — Virginia’s leader in rushing attempts is senior running back Kobe Pace with 39.
The Tribe have been efficient on their attempts, with Imoh sitting at 475 yards and Yoder at 408 yards rushing on the season. With William & Mary averaging 258.6 rushing yards per game, it comes as no surprise why they have won four of their first five games.
Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, stopping the rush has been rather inconsistent this season. Last week against the Eagles, they let up 203 yards on the ground and in the first week of the season, they gave up 287 rushing yards.
However, Virginia has a talented front seven who are very capable of putting a stop to the Tribe’s rushing success. Graduate student linebacker Josh Ahern and graduate student defensive tackle Aaron Faumui are both coming off big games in which they each recorded 1.5 tackles for loss.
If the Cavaliers hope to pick up their first win Saturday, they will need to disrupt William and Mary’s rushing attack in a big way.
“There’s no fear of failure,” Ahern said. “We’re already 0-5, so go out there and play your butt off, execute what you need to execute and hopefully we’ll get the result we want.”
Virginia is 0-5 for the first time since 1982, and in that year they won their sixth game. The Cavaliers will attempt to do the same Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium. The game will also be broadcast on the ACC Network.