Passing game back on track for James Madison

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — One week after JMU’s passing game was dismal, the Dukes bounced back and put in a strong performance against UNC-Charlotte on Saturday night.

JMU quarterback Michael Birdsong went 20 for 28 for 201 yards and a touchdown in rainy conditions.

He was able to throw the ball to eight different receivers in the Dukes’ 34-7 win.

“I actually thought we threw the ball pretty well for the conditions,” Matthews said. “We had some nice third-down conversions that really helped us move the ball.”

Birdsong was coming off a game in which he completed less than half of his pass attempts, threw for only 145 yards and had three interceptions. Birdsong said he is finally completely healthy after suffering a shoulder injury earlier in the season.

He said he was happy with the passing game against Charlotte. In part because of the weather, and because of a three-man front by Charlotte the Dukes focused more on their running game in the win.

“I think we threw the ball 28 times tonight. We did what we wanted to do,” Birdsong said. “Right now we’re taking what the teams are giving us, and were going to keep on doing that. If that means we’re going to run, we’re going to run it. Well throw it when we have to. We’re going to do what the teams allow us to do.”

It helped Birdsong that one of his weapons was back on the field — senior Quintin Hunter returned after missing two games with an injury.

Hunter three receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown.

“Quintin is a great leader,” Matthews said. “He runs great routes. We need to get him the ball more. Quintin is just a good player, and he’s a great blocker. … He’s what I call an intangible guy, because he’s such an intelligent player, doesn’t make big mistakes and runs good routes. He’s just good to have around.”

ONE LESS REDSHIRT: JMU took the redshirt off tailback freshman Khalid Abdullah, and he played in his first game for the Dukes on Saturday.

Abdullah carried the ball 13 times for 61 yards and had one touchdown.

Matthews said he looked so good in drills early last week that he felt they needed to play him.

“He’s looked terrific in practice,” Matthews said. “He’s been running the scout team. He was running Charlotte’s plays [last] Tuesday, he wasn’t running our plays. He just looked so good in drills on Tuesday. So, after practice Tuesday, I told the offensive coaches that he was playing, to get him ready on Wednesday and make sure that he could play.”

Abdullah’s touchdown came on a 6-yard run in the fourth quarter, and Matthews said he looked better as the game went along.

“He looked a little tentative early,” Matthews said. “I thought it was obvious he was ready to play and was another threat we need at the running back position. I thought he played terrific for being his first time out.”

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: After giving up a couple big plays on defense against Saint Francis (Pa.) on Sept. 14, the Dukes were determined to get better. The defense used a solid week of practice to help turn things around in Saturday’s win over Charlotte.

“This has been good week of practice for us and for the most part I’d say we played our game today,” JMU linebacker Stephon Robertson said after Saturday’s win. “[Against] Saint Francis we gave up a lot of big plays. Today we didn’t give up any big plays, and we kept saying ‘lets stay focused and let’s finish, and hustle to the ball.’ This was probably the best week of practice so far, so we’ll just keep this thing going and get better.”

Robertson led the defense with 12 tackles and a forced fumble. Handley graduate and redshirt junior safety Jeremiah Wilson recovered a fumble and had four tackles, including a key stop on fourth-and-goal. Warren County graduate and redshirt freshman Gage Steele had six tackles and forced a fumble for the Dukes.

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