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Controversy brews over quarterbacks

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

After Saturday's game, JMU may have a quarterback controversy on its hands.

True freshman Michael Birdsong replaced starting quarterback Justin Thorpe during the second half and almost led the Dukes back to win the game. JMU announced on Monday that Birdsong will start this week against Georgia State.

JMU coach Mickey Matthews said in the post-game press conference that he felt they needed to make a change -- the Dukes trailed 28-10 when Birdsong entered the game in the third quarter. They fell to the Spiders 35-29

"We just thought we needed to make a change," Matthews said. "Nothing more or less than that."

Birdsong looked sharp throughout the game. He finished 11 for 22 for 159 yards with one passing touchdown. He also had seven carries for 73 yards and a rushing touchdown. He led the Dukes on three touchdown drives, and JMU was driving in the final minute of the game. Birdsong had a couple passes into the end zone at the end of the game that fell incomplete.

"I felt like I did all right," Birdsong said. "I definitely felt like I missed a couple plays, especially there at the end. I missed a couple open receivers."

Matthews said he was very pleased with how Birdsong played.

"I thought he played good," Matthews said. "He's been practicing well. I thought he really gave us a shot in the arm."

Birdsong is the only true freshman to play for the Dukes this year.

Thorpe went 8 for 13 for 142 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. The redshirt junior also had 15 carries for 36 yards, but Matthews said it was his failure to pick up a first down on a fourth-and-1 play in the third quarter that was the last straw.

At his weekly press conference, Matthews said Thorpe also has an injured finger, which could hamper him this week.

After the loss to Richmond, Birdsong said he expected Thorpe to remain the starter.

"I think some opportunities were missed by both me and him," Birdsong said. "It just wasn't going his way tonight. I know he'll bounce back. It was only one bad game. Justin's carried this team the whole season."

DEFENSIVE STRUGGLES: JMU's defense was at its worst in the loss to Richmond on Saturday.

Matthews said he had no reason as to why they played so poorly after playing well most of the season.

"We never did play a lick of defense the whole game," Matthews said. "We just never did play. We had some kids play the worst defensive game of their careers. Our safeties played bad, our linebackers played bad. We just didn't do anything. I'm very disappointed with our kids."

Matthews was quick to also give credit to Richmond. The Spiders had 441 yards of total offense, including 303 passing yards.

Richmond quarterback and U.Va. transfer Michael Strauss went 28 for 44 for 303 yards and had four touchdowns with no interceptions. Running back Kendall Gaskins had 106 yards on 21 carries and one touchdown for the Spiders.

"The Strauss kid played well," Matthews said. "I thought Gaskins played well for them. They made some great throws, some great catches. I thought we played poorly, but I thought they played well."

JMU cornerback and Handley graduate Jeremiah Wilson had a season-high three tackles in the loss.

INTENSITY WOES: For the second consecutive game the Dukes have been sluggish and lacking intensity, especially at the start of the game.

On Oct. 13, the Dukes started off slow and rallied for a 27-26 win over William and Mary. In the loss to Richmond, a lack of intensity proved costly for the Dukes.

"They were much more into the game than our kids were," Matthews said. "We were just sort of hanging out, waiting for someone to give us something."

JMU linebacker Stephon Robertson said for whatever reason the team just didn't play the way it could at the start of the game.

"We just didn't play hard the first half," Robertson said. "We had to play catch up the whole game and we can't do that -- or afford to."

Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com

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