By Tommy Keeler Jr.
It's been a while since football rivals James Madison University and Delaware University have met -- three years, to be exact -- but that will change tonight when the Dukes travel to Delaware.
Due to teams coming and going in the Colonial Athletic Association and various other reasons, the two last played in 2010 in Harrisonburg. JMU football coach Mickey Matthews said very few of his players were even on the team in 2009 -- the last time JMU played at Delaware.
"It's like we're playing a non-conference opponent -- we haven't played them in so long," Matthews said. "We're going to explain to them how loud it's going to be there."
Matthews said his team will need to be prepared for the great atmosphere the game, which will be televised on Comcast Sportsnet, will have.
"The players don't know how loud the crowd's going to be," Matthews said. "When you go to Delaware, it's always the same. They don't very good football facilities, but they have great gameday atmosphere. They have huge crowds that are very vocal behind the Blue Hens.
"You don't dress in a very nice place and it's very small, but when you get out on the game field it's really a great atmosphere for both groups."
Matthews said most of the time the players from both schools know each other, because JMU and Delaware recruit a lot of the same players.
The game will also be a homecoming for redshirt freshman cornerback Taylor Reynolds, who is from Newark and played his high school football at a stadium across the street from the Blue Hens' Tubby Raymond Field at Delaware Stadium.
The Dukes (3-1) are coming off a 34-7 win over Charlotte. The Dukes moved the ball on offense, but five turnovers on the rainy evening dampened the team's spirit.
"We got to stop it," Matthews said of the turnovers. "You can't turn the ball over. We've never been real good on offense around here, but one thing we've never done since I've been the coach, we've never turned the ball over like we have right now. So it's a concern."
JMU starting running back Dae'Quan Scott has rushed for 593 yards on 109 carries and has five touchdowns. Last week, the Dukes took the redshirt off of freshman Khalid Abdullah, and he ran for 62 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown.
Matthews said Abdullah will be the Dukes' No. 2 running back this weekend.
"Khalid is an interesting kid, because he's very mature," Matthews said. "He's also a very intelligent youngster. He's going to get a lot more turns against Delaware. He brings another element to the game."
Matthews said he expects wide receiver DeAndre Smith to return this week from an injury. However, the Dukes will be without wide receiver Arlandis Harvey, who has a foot injury.
The Dukes played well on defense against Charlotte, and should be mostly healthy against Delaware as well. Defensive lineman Sage Harrold will miss a few games with an ankle/knee injury.
JMU redshirt senior linebacker Stephon Robertson had 12 tackles in the win against Charlotte and was named the CAA Defensive Player of the Week.
Delaware first-year coach Dave Brock said JMU plays just how he would expect them to.
"They look like a Mickey Matthews-coached football team," Brock said. "I've coached against Mickey over the years on different occasions, even going back to when he was at Marshall. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he does and how he does it. You look at their team, and they run the ball and they stop the run. Those, to me, are the statistics that equate to winning football."
Brock was the offensive coordinator at Rutgers University last season.
The Blue Hens are coming off a 5-6 season, but have started off well this year. Their only loss came to Navy, 51-7.
Offensively, they are led by junior running back Andrew Pierce, who has 302 yards on 59 carries and two touchdowns. Quarterback Trent Hurley has thrown for 944 yards on 70 for 97 passing and 10 touchdowns. Michael Johnson is the Blue Hens' top threat at wide receiver. Johnson has 19 receptions for 401 yards and four touchdowns.
"When we're in a situation where we can isolate him and get him in one-on-one matchups, we think it's favorable for us," Brock said. "And now you just have to go out and execute."
The Blue Hens have struggled on defense, allowing 29.0 points per game.
Brock said he's been happy with how his team has responded to him as coach.
"I feel like the players have done everything we've asked them to do," Brock said. "The players have really bought in and have done what we've asked them to do, and how we've asked them to do it, which I think is very important."
Brock said he will find out a lot more about his team when they play JMU in both teams' first CAA game of the season.
Matthews said the biggest key for his team is that they must continue to improve as a team.
"We have to play better than we're playing if we want to go where we want to go," Matthews said. "The positive is we're improving immensely each week. When you watch the tape, we're getting better all the time."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd