By Tommy Keeler Jr.
HARRISONBURG -- James Madison University unveiled a new weapon in the secondary in Saturday's win over Richmond -- junior DeAndre Smith.
Smith has played at wide receiver for the Dukes his entire college career, but was recruited as a defensive back. Smith made his first start at cornerback on Saturday and was given good reviews by teammates and coaches.
"He did a pretty good job for his first time playing cornerback at the college level," JMU junior safety Dean Marlowe said. "It was stress on him to have to learn everything so quickly. Good credit to him. He did very well."
"I thought he played pretty well," JMU coach Mickey Matthews said. "It was his first time playing [at corner] in college, and it was a heck of a game to break him in. He practiced four days, and we were really mixing up our coverages. I thought he played pretty well."
The Dukes have struggled at cornerback all season, and Matthews said he just felt they needed to make a change.
"We really felt like at the conclusion of last week's game that we were just not very good at corner," Matthews said. "[Smith] looked so good in Monday's practice [at cornerback]. [Offensive coordinator Mike] O'Cain wasn't speaking to me, because I told him [Smith] wasn't going to play on offense this week, because I felt like the key to winning this week was to slow down their throwing game."
Smith has 106 yards on 10 catches for the Dukes at wide receiver this season.
In the 38-31 win over Richmond, Smith had six tackles.
Matthews said Smith may play both ways, much like another standout player he coached at the University of Georgia.
"When we were at Georgia, God let me coach [NFL pro] Champ Bailey," Matthews said. "I was a heckuva corner coach. I just made sure he was on the plane every week. He'd play [two ways] 110 plays on Saturday. I think [Smith] can do it. He just needed so much work [to prepare for Richmond]. We're doing so many things in our secondary this week, he couldn't cross over. He's probably going to play some more on offense. We'll see how it goes."
SEARCHING FOR KILLER INSTINCT: One consistent problem for JMU this season has been the inability to put opponents away.
Both of JMU's losses came after the Dukes had a sizeable lead. The Dukes have had trouble closing out games in their five victories as well.
It was more of the same in JMU's win over Richmond. The Dukes had a 38-16 lead in the fourth quarter, but Richmond scored 15 straight points to pull within seven. JMU's Brandon Ravenel recovered an onside kick with 1:32 left to finally seal the game.
"I really thought we lost our focus there in the fourth quarter," Matthews said. "We told our players that someone forgot to tell the Richmond players the game was over. We certainly didn't handle it very well.
"I still think we didn't show a lot of killer instinct there in the fourth quarter. I think it's still a problem with this group."
Matthews said he told his team after the game that they have to have more of a killer instinct.
When he was asked how you develop a killer instinct Matthews replied: "I don't know. If I did, I would package it and sell it."
PERFECT TIMING: The JMU players and Matthews said they are happy to have a bye week this week to rest up after a tough schedule so far.
The Dukes enter the bye week with a 5-2 record, and have a tough CAA schedule ahead of them.
Marlowe said the win over Richmond was big.
"It's always good to go into the bye week with a win, especially [being] 2-1 in the CAA," Marlowe said.
The Dukes will play at New Hampshire on Oct. 26, then they return home to face Villanova. They close out the season at William and Mary, home with Stony Brook and then at Towson.
"We're really thankful for the open date," Matthews said. "If you watch us practice last week we were really beat up. I knew this game would be really physical."
Handley graduate Jeremiah Wilson suffered a shoulder injury in the first half and did not return.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd