By Tommy Keeler Jr.
James Madison University head football coach Mickey Matthews will see a lot of familiar faces when the Dukes host UNC-Charlotte at 6 p.m., tonight.
Charlotte head coach Brad Lambert was an assistant with Matthews at both Marshall University and the University of Georgia. The two coached together from 1990-99.
On top of that, Charlotte offensive line coach Phil Ratliff was an assistant at JMU for two years, including the Dukes' national championship team in 2004. On top of that, Jim Durning left JMU in the offseason after 13 years as the Dukes' strength and conditioning coach to take the same position at Charlotte.
"We know those guys so well," Matthews said. "It's the most different feeling I've ever had, getting ready to play these guys, because I think so much of them. It will be a little different seeing them down there wearing green."
Charlotte is in its first year as a football program. The 49ers are in a transition period, and are slated to join Conference USA in 2015, and will become bowl eligible in 2016.
The game between the two teams almost didn't happen. After a scheduled game with Old Dominion University for 2014 fell through over the summer, Charlotte dropped this year's scheduled game with ODU and picked up JMU, giving the Dukes seven home games this season.
The 49ers are 2-1 with wins over Campbell and Chowan, and a loss to North Carolina Central.
Matthews said Charlotte likes to play an up-tempo style on offense, much like ODU does.
"About 90 percent of their throws were less than five yards," Matthews said of Charlotte. "Every fourth or fifth play is a screen. They run every screen there is. ... it will be a challenge for us."
The Dukes (2-1) are coming off a lackluster 24-20 win over Saint Francis (Pa.) last week.
JMU played well most of the game on defense, giving up two big plays for touchdowns.
One player that's really emerged for the Dukes this season is Warren County graduate and redshirt freshman linebacker Gage Steele.
"We think Gage is playing great," Matthews said. "He makes a lot of tackles. He doesn't do everything perfect -- pass defense. We substitute for him some on pass, but he's getting better at it."
The offense struggled throughout the game, especially in the passing game. JMU quarterback Michael Birdsong didn't practice as much during the week, due to an injury, and Matthews said it showed.
Matthews said he was also unhappy with the play of his receivers throughout the game. Starting receivers DeAndre Smith and Quintin Hunter were both out with injuries, and the Dukes played redshirt freshmen Rashard Davis and Brandon Ravenel more throughout the game.
"Rashard [Davis] and Brandon Ravenel -- they played like freshmen, but they weren't the only ones," Matthews said. "We had some receivers not play well."
Matthews said he expects Hunter to return this week, but he was unsure if Smith would be available.
The running back position is another concern for the Dukes. Back-up tailback Jauan Latney suffered a dislocated knee in the win over Saint Francis and will be out for at least a week. Matthews said Dejur Simmons will continue to see some time behind starter Dae-Quan Scott, and tight end/fullback Deane Cheatham will also get some carries. Redshirt freshman tailback Jainard Lambert is expected to miss a few weeks with a torn ligament in his thumb.
Despite the bad offensive performance last week, Matthews said they will not be making any changes to the offense.
Matthews said he hopes his team has learned from last week's performance.
"If they didn't learn from [last week] it's going to be a long season," Matthews said. "There's no question that we need to practice hard and come out ready to play."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or email@example.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd