Third downs, red zone scoring are weaknesses for JMU

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

One of the biggest problems for James Madison University’s football team in its 29-22 loss to Delaware last weekend was third-down conversions. The Dukes were a dismal 3 for 16 on third downs.

JMU coach Mickey Matthews said third-down conversions is a problem the team really needs to fix.

“Its a huge concern,” Matthews said. “We need to get better. It was the whole game Saturday. If we convert all those times, it’s not much of a game. We moved it to get down there several times, but we’ve got to learn to finish drives.”

For the season the Dukes are 34 for 79 on third-down conversions, which is 43 percent.
Another problem connected with that has been scoring in the red zone. The Dukes missed out on a couple scoring opportunities against Delaware, including Cameron Starke missing a 33-yard field goal. They also had to settle for two field goals in the first half, when they were inside the Delaware 24.

Matthews said the coaching staff is considering making some changes to the lineup this week. He said they are also looking hard at their play calling.

“We’re evaluating our calls,” Matthews said. “We’ve just got to do better in the red zone if we’re going to win any of these games. We’ve got to play better, block better and throw better.”

NOT SO SPECIAL TEAMS: The Dukes had a poor game on special teams against the Blue Hens.

The usually reliable Starke missed an extra point and a 33-yard field goal, although it was his first missed field goal of the season.

Punter Connor Arnone had a 36-yard punt, which was returned 22 yards to the JMU 15. Later Arnone also had a punt blocked, which led to the Blue Hens starting at the JMU 15.
The blocked punt came one play after Arnone had nailed a 60-yard punt, which would have put the Blue Hens at the Delaware 20. However, that play was nullified by a false start on JMU, which Matthews called the biggest play of the game.

“It’s a problem,” Matthews said of his special teams play. “When you get beat, everything is a problem. It’s like they say, a victory has a thousand fathers, defeat is an orphan.”

SPECTACULAR STEPHON: JMU linebacker Stephon Robertson may have saved his best season for last.

The redshirt senior is putting up monster numbers, and earned the Colonial Athletic Association’s Defensive Player of the Week for a second consecutive week.

Against Delaware, Robertson had a career-high 16 tackles, including a career-best 4.5 for a loss. He also had an interception on the first play from scrimmage, which set up a field goal.

“That was the best game he’s played since he’s been here,” Matthews said. “He’s played super this entire year. We’ve said for two or three years he’s the best player in the country.”

Robertson leads the team with 61 tackles, two sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.

Matthews said that the 5-foot-11, 230-pound Robertson reminds him a lot of former JMU standout and current Kansas City Chief Akeem Jordan.

“He’s Akeem Jordan all over again,” Matthews said. “He’s better against the run than Akeem was, but he’s probably not as good against the pass as Akeem at this point.

“Stephon can play in the NFL, no doubt about it. But he’s got to go to a team that runs a 4-3 [defense] because of his size.”

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