By Tommy Keeler Jr.
Even though James Madison University is coming off a bye week and William and Mary is coming off a tough defeat, don't expect the Dukes to take the Tribe lightly.
The two in-state rivals will play today in Williamsburg at 3:30 p.m., and JMU coach Mickey Matthews said he expects another tough Colonial Athletic Association contest.
"There are very few blowouts in this league," Matthews said. "I think everybody's good."
Matthews said he expects the Tribe to try to establish the run. William and Mary is averaging 180.0 yards per game on the ground. Through the air, William and Mary is averaging 153.9 yards per game.
"Their offensive line is very good," Matthews said. "They're all about running the ball. It's three yards and a cloud of dust."
Mikal Abdul-Saboor has led the Tribe in rushing with 500 yards, but is out with a knee injury. Kendell Anderson has rushed for 262 yards for the Tribe and four touchdowns.
Tribe quarterback Michael Graham has thrown for 897 yards on 70 for 132 passing with five touchdowns.
"He's a touch guy," Matthews said of Graham. "He doesn't have a big arm. He does some good things. He's play action. They're all about play action, very few drop back passes."
Defense is the strong suit for the Tribe, as they have allowed just 15.0 points per game. They have allowed just 125.9 yards rushing per game.
William and Mary coach Jimmye Laycock said the offensive and defensive lines have been a strength for his team all season, but they allowed 228 yards rushing to Maine in a 34-20 loss last week.
"We've got to get better and regroup there before we play JMU," Laycock said of his defensive line.
The defensive front of William and Mary (3-4, 1-2 CAA) will be tested by a strong offensive line and rushing attack from JMU.
The Dukes (5-2, 2-1 CAA) are averaging 203.7 yards rushing per game, but they also have thrown for 224.9 yards per game.
JMU sophomore quarterback Michael Birdsong has thrown for 1,574 yards on 122 for 197 passing and 13 touchdowns.
"They're obviously throwing it very well," Laycock said. "They got a number of skilled players they can plug in. They're all a threat to run with it after they catch it. They mix up the running game also, spreading the ball out and throwing it."
Matthews said JMU will look to put both senior Dae-Quan Scott and freshman Khalid Abdullah in the backfield together, and look to throw the ball to Scott even more. Scott is third on the team with 16 receptions.
Laycock said that one thing his defense needs to improve on is getting turnovers.
"Offensively we're not as explosive as we would like to be," Laycock said. "We've got to get some more short fields and get more opportunities with turnovers."
JMU's defense has been strong against the run all season, but the Dukes have struggled in the secondary. JMU redshirt junior and Handley graduate Jeremiah Wilson suffered a torn pectoral muscle in JMU's 38-31 win over Richmond on Oct. 12. He had season-ending surgery last week, forcing Matthews to find a new starting safety. Redshirt freshman Taylor Reynolds, who started all but one game at cornerback this season, has been moved to safety and will take Wilson's place.
The Dukes are coming off a bye week, and Matthews said his team is healthy and rested. He said a key to the game will be not allowing William and Mary to get its passing game going.
"If they can complete some passes down the field, they're as good as anyone," Matthews said.
Laycock said it will take a great effort to beat the Dukes.
"JMU is always a good team," Laycock said. "They're well coached. They've got good players. They play hard. We know that we have to give our best effort to stay in this game, and that's what we gotta do Saturday."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd