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Dukes aim to keep momentum at home

By Tommy Keeler Jr. -- tkeeler@nvdaily.com

Last week's 55-7 win over Saint Francis (Pa.) was a record-setting performance for James Madison. The Dukes would like to keep all that momentum going today when they host Alcorn State at 6 p.m., but it won't be easy.

Alcorn State is coming off a come-from-behind 22-21 win over Grambling State last week.

"We need to be better this week than we were last week," JMU coach Mickey Matthews said in his weekly news conference. "Alcorn is better than Saint Francis. I've said all along this is a great schedule we had. They're much more athletic than Saint Francis. They have much more team speed. So, they'll be a challenge in many areas."

They were led by quarterback Darius Smith, who threw for 102 yards on 12 of 22 passing. They also ran for 224 yards as a team. Arnold Walker and Joe Price each had more than 50 yards rushing.

The Braves outscored Grambling 13-0 in the fourth quarter to pull out the win. Matthews said defeating Grambling last week was a big win for the Braves.

"It was a great road victory for them," Matthews said. "When you do that, you're going to leave the stadium with some confidence."

It was the Braves' first game with Jay Hopson as head coach. Before this season, Hopson served as an assistant coach at several Division I schools, including Memphis, Michigan, Southern Mississippi and Marshall.

The game will also serve as a bit of a homecoming for one of Hopson's assistants -- James Wood graduate Mark McHale. The Braves' offensive line coach is in his first season at Alcorn State. The former Warren County head football coach has been an assistant with many college programs over the years, including Florida State, West Virginia, Marshall, Southern Mississippi and Louisville.

The Dukes will be coming into the game on a high note. Last week the Dukes had 602 yards of offense, which was the third most in JMU history against an FBS or FCS opponent. They also set a Colonial Athletic Association record with 38 first downs.

JMU had a balanced offensive attack in the win over Saint Francis. They ran for 377 yards on the ground, and had four players with 50 yards or more on the ground. They also threw for 225 yards.

JMU running backs Dae'Quan Scott, Jordan Anderson and Dejor Simmons give the Dukes a lot of options in the backfield this season.

Matthews said a few years ago injuries hurt the Dukes running game, so they made sure to fix the problem by recruiting to get more depth at the position.

"The way you solve problems in college football is recruiting," Matthews said. "That's the way we solved our problem at running back. We have an excellent stable of running backs to go to in case we have some injuries."

Sherando graduate and JMU senior redshirt tight end Brian Barlow had a solid game for the Dukes with three receptions for 50 yards against Saint Francis. Matthews said Barlow did have a dropped pass that "left a bad taste in [Barlow's] mouth," but that's just a product of how much they throw him the ball.

"Brian blocked well and he caught the ball," Matthews said. "We're trying to get the ball to Brian so much. It's true on offense, a lot of times your best defensive players, your leading tacklers will have more missed tackles than everyone else because they put themselves in position to make a play. And Brian's going to drop a couple passes every now and then. We don't want him to, because we're trying to get him the ball so much. He's going to have more of an opportunity to catch the ball."

The Dukes were very dominant on defense as well, holding Saint Francis to only 155 yards of total offense.

Matthews said he left his first-team defense in a little longer against the Red Flash because they only played 20 snaps in the first half.

One of the players that saw extended time for the Dukes was Handley graduate and redshirt sophomore Jeremiah Wilson. The cornerback transfer from Maryland battled a hamstring injury throughout the preseason.

"Jeremiah's been hurt so much," Matthews said. "It's been difficult to evaluate him. He played corner and we left him out there in the second half a lot just so he could get some playing time, because he had missed so much of spring training and fall camp. We think he'll come along and play well."

Due to injuries in the secondary, Wilson is expected to get his first start with the Dukes today against Alcorn State.

JMU was very sluggish in its first two games of the season last year, and Matthews said he was pleased with how his team came out against Saint Francis.

"We've really been harping to the players that we really wanted to play well these first two games," Matthews said. "We feel like we got one game down, we really played well, and we got one game to go."

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