As Elon hits the stretch run with a playoff berth within its grasp, the Phoenix hosts upset-minded William & Mary in a pivotal CAA matchup.
Who: William & Mary (2-6, 0-4 CAA) at Elon (4-4, 3-2 CAA)
When: Saturday, Nov. 2, 2 p.m. ET
Where: Rhodes Stadium; Elon, North Carolina
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball
Elon football reached an unprecedented milestone a season ago when it earned its second consecutive bid to the FCS Playoffs. After hitting a rough patch earlier in this campaign, the Phoenix are on the rise an in pursuit of a third straight postseason appearance.
The Phoenix return home with a winning streak in Colonial Athletic Association play, facing a William & Mary team seeking its first conference win under coach Mike London.
Although the Tribe have yet to notch a victory in the CAA, they are a consistently tough out. William & Mary took Villanova to the wire, and did the same last week against Maine.
“Proud of the effort. Again, we’re in a game where at the end, we’re in a position to control our fortunes,” London said.
A pair of Hollis Mathis touchdown runs in the fourth quarter cut a 19-point deficit to six, before a failed fourth-down conversion ended the Tribe’s rally efforts.
One of these nail-biters will likely go William & Mary’s way before the season ends; Elon’s trying to avoid it being at the Phoenix’s expense. Winning out may be the team’s only path to the postseason, a position that defensive back Greg Liggs Jr. said they embrace.
“Our constant relentlessness – coming back from three consecutive losses, bouncing back with two big wins – shows we can continue to play with anybody,” he said. “On our side, we know that’s what we’re capable of doing.”
Staring Down An Interception Master
A fluid quarterback situation at William & Mary has worked to the Tribe’s benefit at times. They’re undeniably more explosive than a season ago, scoring 10 points more per game with both Kilton Anderson and Mathis seeing snaps. Anderson’s absence against Maine turned the reins back to the dual-threat freshman Mathis, and his three rushing touchdowns kept William & Mary in it.
However, a 4-of-22 passing performance for the freshman underscored the struggles the Tribe have had in the passing game; at 157 yards per, they rank last in the CAA. William & Mary also has the worst touchdown-to-interception in the conference at 6:8 on the campaign. That’s a potential game-changer when faced with a defense generating turnovers at the rate Elon has.
In particular, Liggs’ seven interceptions over the past three games are instrumental to the Phoenix’s plus-seven in the turnover department. That ranks No. 14 nationally.
Stuffing The Run
A noteworthy difference in Elon wins vs. losses is the production of its rushing offense. In the Phoenix’s last loss, Oct. 5 at New Hampshire, they gained just 80 yards on the ground. Against James Madison, they totaled 33 yards rushing. In the season-opener at North Carolina A&T, the official total was just 19.
In the recent winning streak, however, Elon gained 168 yards vs. Delaware and 205 at Rhode Island. The addition of Joey Baughman into the ball-carrying rotation has added a spark to complement Jaylan Thomas and De’Sean McNair.
William & Mary counters with a stout defensive line between Carl Fowler, Bill Murray and Will Kiely, though opponents have gotten to the Tribe for 167.9 rushing yards per game.
The run game opening the field for Davis Cheek to strike with long passes – an Achilles’ heel for the Tribe last week vs. Maine – should play a pivotal role.
Bringing Down Bronson
Freshman playmaker Bronson Yoder can swing a game in a single play. He has two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season for the Tribe, and has found a role in the offense, operating out of a Wildcat formation.
Yoder’s speed and ability to find seams in coverage make him especially dangerous, and he will get some yardage. Mitigating the damage is a defense or kickoff return unit’s best bet, rather than shutting him out.
Against James Madison, he went 73 yards on one carry but was tackled short of the end zone. The Dukes bowed up in the red zone and mitigated damage from six points to a field-goal attempt. Maine last week limited his Wildcat runs to 4.6 per attempt, and while he had one 40-yard kickoff return, didn’t spring the scoring run-back.