By Tommy Keeler Jr. - email@example.com
James Madison University football coach Mickey Matthews knows his team is facing some pretty big odds when it faces West Virginia University today at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
The Dukes are a Football Championship Subdivision team, while WVU is a Football Bowl Subdivision school. The Mountaineers are not only an FBS team, but one of the best in the nation with one of the most lethal offenses in the country.
Everything for WVU starts with quarterback Geno Smith, who Matthews said reminds him of former U.Va. quarterback Aaron Brooks. Matthews said he was a defensive coordinator at Georgia when they played against Virginia in a bowl game.
"He's an Aaron Brooks clone," Matthews said of Smith. "He has a great arm. The biggest thing he does is he just plays with a lot of confidence, as all their offensive players do. Whether they're playing Clemson or Marshall, whoever they're playing, they just play with a lot of confidence on offense. In addition to being talented, they're a very confident group."
They have good reason to be confident. The Mountaineers ended last season with an impressive 70-33 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl. WVU opened this season with a 69-34 victory over Marshall.
Smith threw for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns last season for WVU. Against Marshall, he threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns. Smith has plenty of help in the passing game, with Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey both returning this season. Austin had 10 receptions for 53 yards and a score, and Bailey had nine catches for 104 yards and tow touchdowns in the victory over Marshall.
"You're going up against probably the Heisman Trophy winner," Matthews said. "I don't know if he'll win it, but I think he'll certainly be invited to New York. Then you've got those two guys that will be carrying his suitcases, you know, who catch passes from him. So you've got three great players on offense."
In the win against Marshall, the Mountaineers ran the ball 35 times for 347 yards. Matthews said he doesn't expect West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen to go to the running game much.
"I don't know how much he's going to run it," Matthews said. "I think he's going to throw it. I think when [Smith] gets bored making so many yards passing, Dana maybe calls some runs so the running backs won't quit. He's going to throw it."
Another reason the Mountaineers might look to throw the ball more against the Dukes is that injuries have hurt the JMU secondary so far this season. Matthews said starting safety Jakarie Jackson will be back this week, after missing last week's win over Alcorn State with a turf toe.
"It's obviously going to help us," Matthews said. "Jakarie's a good player. You need your decision makers against WVU. He's an older player. He's been in a lot of big games, so certainly we would miss him if he didn't play, so it helps us."
JMU is no stranger to playing against top teams and two years ago the Dukes upset Virginia Tech, then ranked No. 13 in the country. Many of the players on that team are still on the Dukes' squad, but Matthews said this an entirely different situation. The Hokies were coming off a loss to Boise State just five days before their game with JMU.
"We wish [WVU] played Boise State on Monday night," Matthews said. "The Virginia Tech game, Virginia Tech was a tired football team when we played them that day. During the game, their kids got really tired. You know they did not prepare for us until Wednesday. I said after the game we beat them, but I'm sure we were better than Virginia Tech wanted us to be."
The Mountaineers had last week off after the season opener.
The Dukes have had two lopsided wins over Saint Francis and Alcorn State. JMU averaged 48.5 points per game in those two victories, while allowing only 5.0 points per game.
This game will be an obvious step up in competition, and to make matters worse the Dukes will likely be without starting tailback Dae'Quan Scott. The redshirt junior injured his left ankle in last week's win over Alcorn State, and Matthews said he isn't sure if Scott will play against the Mountaineers.
Scott is the team's leading rusher with 180 yards on 20 carries and three touchdowns. He is also the top receiver with eight catches for 90 yards and two more touchdowns.
"The biggest thing with Dae'Quan is, he's such a versatile guy," Matthews said. "He can catch the ball and he's a good blocker. You're going to miss a guy like that."
Matthews said the Dukes will have to rely more heavily on Jordan Anderson and Dejor Simmons to run the ball. Senior quarterback Justin Thorpe will also play a huge role in the Dukes' success. Thorpe has ran for 177 yards on 20 carries with three touchdowns, and also has 317 yards passing with three touchdowns.
Matthews said he didn't think the Mountaineers were too worried about facing his squad.
"The truth is I would be surprised if they're worried about anything we do," Matthews said. "They're very good. They beat Marshall. They could've scored 100 on Marshall if they wanted to. I would be very surprised if anything we do concerns them. We're going to show up, do the best we can. We'll see."