Dukes’ offense sluggish in loss

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

James Madison University football coach Mickey Matthews had high hopes for his offense heading into its game with William and Mary last Saturday, but he left the field in Williamsburg very disappointed with the result.

The Dukes fell to the Tribe, 17-7, and the offense was a big reason for the defeat.

“We struggled offensively,” Matthews said of the loss to the Tribe. “The difficult part is I thought we had really been improving offensively the last three or four weeks. We were excited to play against William and Mary. It’s disappointing when we had practiced well all week offensively.”

The Dukes (5-3, 2-2 CAA) had only 298 yards of offense, which is a season-low.

JMU managed only 90 yards on the ground on 38 carries. Freshman Khalid Abdullah led the Dukes with 44 yards rushing on 12 carries, while senior Dae’Quan Scott had 29 yards on 14 carries. Scott did play at receiver as well as running back, and had eight receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown. Matthews said Scott re-injured his ankle during the game and may not play this week against Villanova.

JMU sophomore quarterback Michael Birdsong was 18 for 34 passing for 208 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Matthews said the play of Birdsong had a lot to do with the Dukes’ struggles.

“We played poor at the quarterback position,” Matthews said. “The other kids played OK. In modern days offenses, when your quarterback double bogeys some holes, shoots 80, you’re going to play poor. Michael had been playing well, but he just did not play well Saturday, and it really hurt us. He held onto the ball too much and didn’t have his eyes where they needed to be.”

SHINING BRIGHT SPOT: While the offense may have struggled, the defense continued to shine in the loss to the Tribe.

The Dukes allowed only 251 yards of total offense and created three turnovers, all fumbles.

“We had some defensive kids play as well as they have all year,” Matthews said. “It was no secret [The Tribe] were struggling on offense this year, but we made some good plays.”

Leading the way for the Dukes was senior linebacker Stephon Robertson, who had 15 tackles, including nine solo and five for a loss. Robertson, who was named the CAA Co-Defensive Player of the Week, also forced a fumble and had one sack.

Matthews said he believes Robertson should be a top candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award, given to the best defensive player in the FCS.

“Stephon Robertson continues to be the front runner for the Buck Buchanan [in my opinion],” Matthews said. “He’s a good player.”

Warren County graduate and JMU redshirt freshman linebacker Gage Steele had eight tackles, a forced fumble and half a sack.

PLAYOFF HUNT: The loss to the Tribe hurt the Dukes’ chances of making the playoffs.
JMU still has four games left, and may have to win all four to make it into the playoffs, which have expanded from 20 to 24 teams this season. The Dukes are ranked No. 23 in the FCS Coaches poll, but are not ranked in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 poll for the second time this year. As of this week, the Dukes are not listed in The Sports Network’s playoff projections.

The Dukes have a tough schedule ahead with home games against Villanova and Stony Brook and road games at New Hampshire and Towson.

JMU hasn’t made the playoffs three of the last four seasons.

Matthews said in his weekly teleconference that he wasn’t sure if the Dukes would need to win out to make the playoffs, and that he hasn’t had time to think about the playoffs.

“If you spend a lot of time looking at that, you’re going to get beat this week,” Matthews said. “So we have not concerned ourselves with that. We’re certainly aware that we have two [CAA] losses and we’re trying not to get beat again.”

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