By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
LANDOVER, Md. -- A slow start and an inability to finish off drives doomed James Madison University in a 42-12 loss to West Virginia on Saturday at FedEx Field.
The Dukes gave up 21 points in the first quarter, before settling down and putting up a fight against the No. 8 ranked Football Bowl Subdivision squad.
"My hat goes off to them," Matthews said of WVU. "It wasn't like it was surprising how well they played. They have a very good offensive football team. They're terrific on offense."
The Dukes were able to pick up a first down on the first play from scrimmage, on a 12-yard run by Dejor Simmons. However, things went bad quickly after that for JMU.
The Mountaineers (2-0) forced the Dukes (2-1) to punt, and the powerful West Virginia offense took over.
West Virginia needed 10 plays to go 71 yards to take the early lead. The Mountaineers used both the running game and passing game effectively on the drive. Shawne Alston capped it off with a 2-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead with 10:16 left in the opening quarter.
The Mountaineers wasted little time on their second drive of the game. They needed only 1:27 to go 64 yards in just five plays. The big play of the drive was a 36-yard pass from Geno Smith to Stedman Bailey, which gave the Mountaineers first-and-goal at the 9-yard line. On the next play Smith connected with Bailey again for the touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 6:29 left in the first quarter.
West Virginia added to its lead late in the first quarter with a nine-play 77-yard drive. Smith connected with Tavon Austin for 35 yards to move the ball into JMU territory.
Five plays later, Smith threw another touchdown pass to Bailey for a 21-0 lead with 1:38 remaining in the first quarter.
The Dukes hurt themselves a lot on offense, as they had five penalties in the first quarter.
"We just had a lot of execution errors," Matthews said. "We were behind the sticks in the first half, that was the biggest thing.
"We just couldn't get anything going in the first quarter. Exactly what we didn't want to do."
The Mountaineers extended the lead early in the second quarter. West Virginia went 86 yards on eight plays using only 3:09 of the clock. Smith connected with Bailey and Austin for 72 yards on the drive. Smith capped off the drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Dante Campbell for a 28-0 lead with 10:15 left in the first half.
The Dukes held the Mountaineers to only 121 yards rushing as a team, but simply couldn't stop the passing game. Smith finished the game 34 of 39 for 411 yards and five touchdowns.
"I think they came in and emphasized stopping the run," Alston said. "I think we were able to capitalize on the outside with our receivers because they were stacking the box."
Matthews said JMU switched their defense in the second quarter, and tried to blitz more and went with man-to-man coverage. The Dukes finally got a little momentum going in the final six minutes of the first half. The JMU defense held West Virginia to a three-and-out.
Then a 24-yard West Virginia punt gave the Dukes the ball at the WVU 43. JMU took advantage moving the ball to the WVU 18, before the drive stalled out. The Dukes settled for a 33-yard field goal by Cameron Starke to cut the lead to 28-3 with 1:02 left in the half.
"They played us hard," Smith said of JMU. "When they made plays they got excited. It's really good to see from a team like that, who gave maximum effort. They made it hard on us."
The Dukes had their chances in the third quarter. JMU's defense forced the Mountaineers to turn the ball over on downs on the first drive of the second half.
Facing a fourth-and-2 at the JMU 49, Alston lost a yard, and the JMU defense celebrated, only the second time all game they had stopped the Mountaineers offense.
JMU moved the ball down to the WVU 3, with some impressive runs by Jordan Anderson. The junior had runs of 24 and 20 yards on the drive.
WVU's defense stiffened near the goal line. On fourth-and-goal from the WVU 1, Anderson couldn't get into the end zone, giving the ball back to West Virginia.
JMU's defense stepped up, and on the next play JMU's Dean Marlowe and Tyler Snow tackled Alston in the end zone for a safety with 9:33 left in the third quarter.
The Mountaineers' offense got back on track on their next series. WVU needed just eight plays to go 70 yards in 2:47. Six of the eight plays were pass plays, including a 30-yard touchdown from Smith to Stedman with 4:37 left in the third quarter.
The Dukes put together another solid drive on their next possession. They moved the ball 57 yards on seven plays. The bulk of the yardage came on a Thorpe to Brian Barlow 33-yard completion, on a third-down play.
JMU had first-and-goal from the WVU 4, but the Dukes once again could not score. On third-and-goal from the WVU 6, Thorpe's pass was intercepted by Tyler Anderson in the end zone.
"You gotta give West Virginia credit," Matthews said. "We just couldn't block them down there. We just couldn't block them. You don't deserve to win if you can't score form the 1.
"I think our kids played very well in the third quarter. I don't think there's any question about it. Everything [West Virginia] did they earned in that quarter."
JMU scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter on a Jauan Latney 20-yard run with 4:51 left in the game.
Smith broke the school record for career passing yards. The senior now has 8,191 yards, breaking Marc Bulger's mark of 8,153.
Bailey finished with 13 catches for 173 yards, and Austin had 11 receptions for 113 yards.
"They're good athletes," JMU safety Jakarie Jackson said of WVU's receivers. "They played better than our secondary did today.
"They're good in open space with the ball. And that's their game plan -- to get their receivers in open space with the ball and make plays."
The Dukes played without starting tailback Dae'Quan Scott because of a left ankle injury. They also had three others starters go down with injury during the game.
JMU starting wide receiver Daniel brown tore his anterior cruciate ligament on the first play from scrimmage. Linebacker Titus Till suffered an ankle injury, and Matthews said he thinks he could be out for a while. Defensive tackle Jordan Stanton suffered a concussion.
The Dukes begin Colonial Athletic Conference play next Saturday at Rhode Island, but felt the loss to the Mountaineers could help them down the road.
"We learned a lot about ourselves and the future for us as a defense," JMU linebacker Stephon Robertson said. "We played a great team today, first and foremost. But overall, we just made some execution errors that we need to work on in the future."