Dukes focus on positives

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

Even though James Madison University fell short last week to Akron, the Dukes had plenty of positives to take away from the loss and build on for this week.

The Dukes will be looking to continue their early season progress when they host Saint Francis (Pa.) at 6 p.m., tonight.

“We need to get better,” JMU football coach Mickey Matthews said. “We had some good practices [last week] and that continued into [last week’s game], so we need to continue down that path.”

Matthews said he’s been very pleased with the way the offense has played. The new up-tempo offense really clicked in the 35-33 loss to Akron. The Dukes ran 94 offensive plays in the game.

“We played really well on offense,” Matthews said. “We played really hard.”

For the season, the Dukes are averaging 430 yards per game, including 212.5 through the air.

Sophomore quarterback Michael Birdsong has thrown for 425 yards on 39 for 60 passing with four touchdowns.

Matthews said he’s been very happy with Birdsong’s play so far this season.

“Michael, he still made some young mistakes, but he’s very competitive,” Matthews said. “He’s playing super. He’s really becoming a great leader. We could not be more pleased with him and the way he’s playing right now.”

It helps Birdsong that he has a strong group of wide receivers to throw the ball to. Arlandis Harvey leads the team with seven receptions this season for 73 yards. De’Andre Smith has five receptions for 64 yards, and tight end Deane Cheatham has five catches for 39 yards and a touchdown.

Daniel Brown missed the first game of the season with an injury, but came back in style in the second game. Brown had three catches for 74 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Akron.

Matthews said JMU’s defense was not as sharp as he wanted it to be in the loss to Akron. The youthful secondary was shredded for a couple big plays in the second half, which helped the Zips pull out the win. Akron threw for 287 yards in the win.

Two redshirt freshmen — Taylor Reynolds and Kwe’Shon Williams — are the starting corners, and redshirt sophomore Abdul Bangura also sees time there as a back-up.
However, Matthews said he was very happy with the play of his defensive front.

“[Defensive linemen] Jordan Staton and Brandon Lee played their best game, and Sage Harold played his second good game [of the season],” Matthews said. “We’re playing pretty well up front right now.”

Staton and Lee have combined for 3.5 sacks this season.

The Red Flash have only played once this season, falling 59-17 last week to Georgia Southern.

Saint Francis ran for 245 yards in the loss, but gave up 551 yards of offense to Georgia Southern.

Saint Francis mainly used two quarterbacks in the loss. Max Ward threw for 49 yards on 3 for 7 passing, while Capri Thompson went 4 for 11 for 45 yards. Running back Kyle Harbridge had 25 carries for 137 yards. Khairi Dickson had 16 carries for 86 yards, and Ward ran with the ball nine times for 22 yards.

Matthews said the Red Flash offense cannot be taken lightly.

“They got after Georgia Southern, the score was not indicative of how they played,” Matthews said. “Certainly they moved the ball pretty well against Georgia Southern. [Ward] extended some plays and ran around.”

JMU beat Saint Francis at home last year 55-7. Matthews said it’s always good to play at home, where the Dukes have seven games this season.

“We’re pretty good in Harrisonburg,” Matthews said. “Like most teams we play well at home. Except for the second half of the ODU game we played well at home every game last year. We’re pretty comfortable there. Our home crowd is good. We like playing in Harrisonburg, and we play with a lot of confidence there.”

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd