By Tommy Keeler Jr.
One of the biggest bright spots for James Madison University in its 35-33 loss to Akron on Saturday was the play of the wide receivers.
Injuries helped limit receivers last season, as JMU struggled with its passing game. In the first two games of the season it has been the passing game that has been one of the team's biggest strengths.
In the loss to Akron, eight different players had a reception. Running back Dae'Quan Scott led the way with six receptions for 18 yards and a touchdown. The wide receiver trio of Arlandis Harvey, DeAndre Smith and Daniel Brown had a big impact on the Dukes' offense.
Harvey had five catches for 41 yards, while Smith had four receptions for 57 yards. Brown, who missed the first game of the season due to injury, had three receptions for 74 yards and one touchdown.
"Our receivers played the best they've played in five or six years," JMU coach Mickey Matthews said. "We really made some good catches, blocked very well down the field. I thought no question it was the best they played in years."
True freshman Brandon Ravenel also had a stellar game. He caught three passes for 49 yards, including one for 31 yards.
TAKING CHARGE: One of the reasons the Dukes' receiving corps has been solid this season has been the play of sophomore quarterback Michael Birdsong.
Matthews said Birdsong has shown great leadership, and the other players are following his lead.
"The kids are all feeding off Birdsong," Matthews said. "Michael is a young guy, but he's very competitive and he has a lot of ability. The entire offense is really feeding off him in terms of the throws he makes and the runs he makes."
Birdsong was 29 for 42 for 310 yards passing. He threw three touchdown passes, despite facing a lot of defensive pressure throughout the game. Birdsong was sacked three times in the defeat.
He led the team on a drive in the final minutes, which came up short as the clock expired with the Dukes in field goal range.
Matthews said Birdsong still made some mistakes, but he's getting better all the time.
The Dukes had 498 yards of offense, and Matthews said it's been a while since his team has been that sharp on the offensive side of the ball.
"We're really happy with the direction we're going in," Matthews said. "Truth of the matter is, it's probably the best offensive game we've played since we had [quarterback] Rodney Landers in 2008. Against a quality opponent it's probably the best offensive game we've had in a while."
FRESHMAN WOES: One of the negatives for the Dukes was the play of the secondary, where JMU starts two redshirt freshmen.
Taylor Reynolds and Kwe'Shon Williams are the starting corners, and redshirt sophomore Abdul Bangura sees time there as a back-up.
Reynolds looked solid in the Dukes' opening game against Central Connecticut State and had an interception return for a touchdown.
Against Akron, the youth of the secondary showed as the Zips threw for 287 yards and four touchdowns. The Zips used two different quarterbacks -- Kyle Pohl and Nick Hirschman -- and they each had two touchdown passes.
In the third quarter, Hirschman threw a 68-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Pratt. Later in the quarter, running back Jawon Chisholm ran for 55 yards to set up a touchdown pass by Pohl.
"Certainly we had the upper-hand in the game, we gave up two easy plays in the third quarter, which is uncharacteristic for us," Matthews said. "We're young in the secondary. They had some veteran receivers that kind of abused us a bit. That's to their credit."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org