By Tommy Keeler Jr.
HARRISONBURG -- James Madison University may make some changes to the offense within the week.
After seeing the passing game struggle mightily against Saint Francis (Pa.) on Saturday night, head coach Mickey Matthews said they will take a look at things and consider tweaking the offense. The Dukes barely pulled out a 24-20 win over the Red Flash.
The biggest problem for the JMU offense was Saint Francis played a lot of man-to-man against JMU's wide receivers.
"They really surprised us with all their man- [to-man]," Matthews said. "They got up in our face, both their secondary and their defensive front. It's a good plan by them, and we couldn't do anything about it."
Matthews said he expects more teams will try to use the same tactics against the Dukes, starting with UNC-Charlotte this weekend.
"I think we're going to see how teams play us now," Matthews said. "They did a ton of man and got up in our face. It was an odd defense. They put somebody over the center and our offensive line was not handling that. It was just a totally different look. [Saint Francis] had played some of it, but not a lot of it. What's scary about that is [UNC-] Charlotte runs the same defense. They run that Wake Forest 30 defense."
JMU quarterback Michael Birdsong threw for 145 yards on 10 for 23 passing with three interceptions and one touchdown.
The Dukes ran for 253 yards, which Matthews said was a by-product of the man-to-man defense by the Red Flash.
"That's why we started to have so much success running the ball. It's hard to play good run defense when you play man-to-man pass defense," Matthews said. "I told Michael [Birdsong, in the third quarter] just don't throw any more passes, don't throw any more passes the rest of the game and we'll win. We just couldn't do it. We couldn't protect, we couldn't throw it. We would've won by a big score if we wouldn't have attempted a pass.
"The more we threw the ball, the worse we got."
BANGED UP: Part of the reason the Dukes struggled on offense is they had two of their top receivers out with injuries.
Both DeAndre Smith (ankle) and Quintin Hunter (bruised kidney) missed the game with an injury. Matthews said Smith will miss at least one more game.
"We need DeAndre in the game, and that's a big loss for us," Matthews said. "He's going to be out another week or two and he's our go-to guy. He's going to be missed."
The Dukes are also a little short at running back. Jauan Latney ran for 23 yards on three carries for the Dukes against the Red Flash, but had to come out of the game with a dislocated knee. Matthews said he may not miss more than one game.
Redshirt freshman Jainard Lambert has been dealing with a torn ligament in his thumb and was wearing a cast against the Red Flash. Lambert ran the ball three times for six yards and fumbled the ball.
Matthews said Lambert won't play again until he gets the cast off.
"[Lambert] plays with a cast and he can't carry the ball with two hands, and that's probably my fault for playing him because he really practices good," Matthews said. "He makes some good runs, but he just can't hang on to the ball with one hand. Until he gets the cast off he's not going to play anymore."
DEFENSIVE PRESSURE: While the offense struggled against the Red Flash, the defense was solid.
The Dukes gave up two big plays for touchdowns, but only allowed 131 yards the rest of the game. A big part of the success on defense came from the play of the defensive line and their ability to get to the Saint Francis quarterbacks.
The Dukes had eight sacks in the game, including three by defensive lineman Sage Harold.
"We just did what we were supposed to do, and that's get sacks with the guys up front on the d-line," Harold said.
Even though they were on the field quite a bit with JMU's offense struggling, Harold said they still had plenty of confidence in the offense.
"We just wanted to stop [Saint Francis] from getting in the end zone," Harold said. "If we stop them from doing that, we believed in our offense enough to get points on the board to win the game. And we stopped them."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd