By Tommy Keeler Jr.
HARRISONBURG -- After Saturday's win over Georgia State, JMU coach Mickey Matthews said that he felt like true freshman quarterback Michael Birdsong did "OK" for his first career collegiate start.
Birdsong was 11 for 23 for 119 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also ran the ball six times for 43 yards.
"It was obvious it was his first start," Matthews said. "I thought we could have helped him a little bit more. He made some plays that helped us. But he certainly can play better than that.
"He looked like a freshman."
Birdsong agreed and said he wasn't happy with his play. Birdsong said he felt he was too focused during the game, and wasn't playing free enough.
"The biggest part of football is having fun," Birdsong said. "I got too caught up in trying not to make mistakes instead of playing football and that's the biggest thing -- play football and have fun."
Birdsong also had several passes tipped at the line of scrimmage during the game, and he said that's something he will have to correct.
"It was real frustrating," Birdsong said. "I need to stand taller in the pocket and be able to throw it over them. I gotta make an adjustment. I got to start pumping or something -- move the ball around or over them."
Birdsong replaced redshirt junior Justin Thorpe as quarterback during a 35-29 loss to Richmond on Oct. 20.
Matthews said they might consider using Thorpe on offense in a different capacity, but no decision has been made about that yet.
"We'll talk about it. We hadn't ruled it out," Matthews said. "When you're [the] backup quarterback [you're] only one play away from playing quarterback. So [last week] we prepared [Thorpe] in case he had to play quarterback tonight. Now that we're through this thing, we'll see where we are with that."
OFFENSIVE OFFENSE: Despite the change at quarterback, JMU's offensive problems continued against Georgia State.
The Panthers outgained the Dukes 348-340. JMU scored one of its touchdowns on a blocked punt, and another came after a turnover.
"It's real frustrating," Matthews said. "We're really struggling on offense. We were really upset with the kids at the half. We had a total of 122 yards of offense [at the half].
"We've got to get better on offense. We've got to block better and we've got to catch better."
One of JMU's big problems was on third downs. The Dukes converted on only 3 of 13 third-down opportunities.
Matthews said it was the lack of production on first down that really put them in a hole.
"Obviously, we're not doing very good on first down," Matthews said. "We just need to do better on first down."
One player who had a solid game for the Dukes was redshirt junior tailback Dae'Quan Scott. He finished the game with 130 yards rushing on 25 carries and one rushing touchdown.
Scott missed two games earlier this season with a sprained ankle. He had his most productive game since the injury on Saturday against the Panthers, but Scott wasn't satisfied.
"I still don't think I have played my best game yet," Scott said.
DEFENSE HOLDING STEADY: JMU's defense entered Saturday's game with Georgia State ranked first in the conference in scoring defense (18.6 ppg.) and second in total defense (328.0 ypg.).
The Dukes gave up more than what they average in both those categories Saturday, but still played solid, especially when it counted the most.
"We did some good things on defense," Matthews said. "The worst we played on defense was the drive after [we went up] 28-7. That was a poor series of downs by our guys. But other than that we were OK. I thought we rushed the passer better."
JMU's defensive line, which has been hampered by injuries, has had trouble rushing the passer all season. The Dukes had only six sacks all season entering Saturday's game, but had three against the Panthers.
Two of the three sacks came on the Panthers' final drive as they were trying to tie the game in the final seconds.
"I think towards the end of the game as we were seeing what they were doing, they executed well on the d-line and got some more sacks," JMU redshirt junior linebacker Stephon Robertson said. "There's a couple things we could've done a lot better, and we'll watch film and get it corrected."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org