Dukes looks to pull upset of Zips

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

James Madison University is hoping last week’s Football Championship Subdivision magic will continue tonight.

There were seven FCS teams that upset Football Bowl Subdivision teams last weekend. The Dukes will try to add to that number when they play at Akron tonight at 6 p.m.

JMU coach Mickey Matthews said it’s not a surprise to him when FCS teams pull off upsets.

“When we beat [Virginia] Tech [in 2010] and Appalachian [State] beat Michigan [in 2007] the only people who thought it was nuts was the media,” Matthews said. “You didn’t hear coaches say a lot. It wasn’t a big deal that we beat Tech. The teams are very capable. You’re not going to do it week after week. The top teams on our level are very capable of doing that against anyone.

“It’s always the talking heads who think that we have the plague. They give you a new first name when you win. Your first name is FCS. They say FCS North Dakota State. They were North Dakota State before the game started, and after they win the game they’re called FCS — you get a new first name.”

Of course, Matthews was JMU’s coach when the Dukes shocked Virginia Tech in 2010, and Akron coach Terry Bowden said Matthews knows how to win against FBS teams and he will have to have his team ready.

“He’s got a lot of success, a lot of confidence. This is not his first rodeo,” Bowden said. “It’s not his first 1-A [opponent]. He’s very comfortable in these situations and having success in these games.”

Bowden said his team will have no problem with motivation coming off a season in which they won only one game.

The Dukes are coming off a 38-14 win over Central Connecticut last weekend. JMU took control of the game in the third quarter, despite only running eight plays on offense. A Dae’Quan Scott punt return for a touchdown and two interceptions helped the Dukes score 17 points in the quarter.

Matthews said he would have liked to have been able to run more offensive plays in the second half with his starters.

Sophomore quarterback Michael Birdsong had a solid game for the Dukes. He threw for 115 yards on 10 for 18 passing with one touchdown. Birdsong also ran for 55 yards and two scores.

On defense, one of the standouts for JMU was Warren County graduate Gage Steele. The redshirt freshman linebacker had 12 tackles, which was tied for the most on the team.

“I don’t think there’s any question that Gage Steele is a star in the making,” Matthews said. “Sometimes he’s going the wrong way, but he’s going the wrong way at 100 miles an hour. He made a lot of plays Saturday, and he’s going to get nothing but better.”

Akron lost its season opener 38-7 to Central Florida. The Zips gave up 476 total yards in the loss.

Sophomore quarterback Kyle Pohl went 16 for 21 for 98 yards against Central Florida. Starting running back Jawon Chisholm had only 10 yards on 11 carries in the defeat. Sophomore running back Conor Hundley had 10 carries for 50 yards.

The Zips’ leading receiver from last season is junior L.T. Smith, but he was held to only two receptions for 25 yards in the loss to Central Florida.

Bowden has coached at many different schools, most notably he was the head coach at Auburn from 1993-98. While he was there, Matthews was an assistant coach at the University of Georgia.

Of course, Bowden’s father, Bobby, was the longtime head coach at Florida State University.

Terry Bowden was also an announcer on ABC for college football for several years.

“I think Terry is very good,” Matthews said. “The obvious thing about Akron is they are so much better than they were last year. They are a much improved football team. He has a great staff. He inherited a mess up there. I think they’re doing a great job of getting better players in the program. It’s obvious they’re better.”

Another interesting tidbit about the game is that each team has a former N.C. State head coach on its staff. JMU offensive coordinator Mike O’Cain was at the helm at N.C. State from 1993-99. He was replaced by Chuck Amato, who is now Akron’s defensive coordinator.

Matthews said he expects Akron to be the best team the Dukes face all season due to the fact that they have 22 more scholarship players than JMU.

“They have better players than us — they should have better players than us,” Matthews said. “Now that doesn’t mean we’re going down there planning to lose the game. They’re going to have a lot more football players. We’re not going to show up to the game in a turnip truck. We’re going to have a good week of preparation, and we’re going to play very hard in the game.”

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