Playoffs on line for JMU, New Hampshire

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

James Madison University football coach Mickey Matthews isn’t a fan of the football facilities at New Hampshire University. Matthews said in his weekly press conference that it can sometimes cause the players to overlook the Wildcats.

“The problem is the facilities aren’t very nice and you have to convince your players that New Hampshire and Maine, they have bad facilities, but they have really great players and they have a great program,” Matthews said. “So if you don’t watch it, you’re playing their facilities and not their players. It’s always a concern when you go up there.”

Matthews also said it’s tough on the players, because it’s so far away from Harrisonburg.

“It always seems like it’s the other side of the world when you go up there, because it’s so far from Virginia to New Hampshire,” Matthews said. “Our Virginia kids always think they’re going to Canada when they go up there to play New Hampshire or Maine.”

Focus shouldn’t be a big problem for the Dukes against the Wildcats with so much at stake. Both teams are hanging on to playoff hopes, and a loss could eliminate them from contention.

New Hampshire is 4-4, while JMU is 6-3, but both teams are 3-2 in the CAA.
The Wildcats are averaging 31.0 points per game this season, but are coming off a 17-0 loss to William and Mary.

“We didn’t do a great job on the offensive side securing the football,” New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell said. “We just didn’t get in sync all day. You can’t go down and turn the ball over, have a couple penalties, and then drop a couple passes, drop a couple interceptions and expect to win against a good William and Mary team, especially down at their place. We moved the ball, we just didn’t move it effectively.”

New Hampshire has been using two quarterbacks this season. Andy Vailas was the starter until he got hurt against Towson, and then Sean Goldrich took over and has remained the starter since. The last few weeks, the Wildcats have used both of them. The Wildcats are 3-1 since Goldrich became the starter.

“He’s been playing very, very well, very, very efficient with the football,” McDonnell said of Goldrich. “He’s been doing a hell of a job for us.”

The Wildcats have had a balanced attack this season, averaging 210.4 rushing yards and 231.1 passing yards per game. However, their defense has been suspect and they’ve allowed 25.2 points per game.

JMU is coming off it’s most complete game of the season. The Dukes were productive on both sides of the ball in their 31-21 win over Villanova last week.

The Dukes had 364 yards of total offense, including 207 passing yards. JMU sophomore quarterback Michael Birdsong went 20 for 29 and one touchdown in the win. The week before in a loss to William and Mary, the offense struggled, and Matthews said the difference in the two games was the play of Birdsong.

“We told Birdsong after the game Saturday, as bad as he played at William and Mary, that’s how well he played Saturday night,” Matthews said. “Michael just really played well. We were really upset with him after the William and Mary game. He’s just young. We’ve all had young quarterbacks, and they’re going to remind you at the wrong times how young they are. And he reminded us against William and Mary how young he still is.”

JMU’s defense continued to play dominant football against Villanova. The Dukes held Villanova quarterback John Robertson to just 44 yards rushing, 88 yards under his season average.

JMU’s Stephon Robertson had another solid game, with 16 tackles against Villanova. The Dukes also had seven sacks against Villanova, led by a very strong defensive line.

“I really give all the credit to Jeff Hanson, our new defensive line coach,” Matthews said. “Jeff has been terrific with those guys. The chemistry is super. Tyler Snow is almost having an All-American year at defensive end. Jordan Stanton is playing the best of his career, and he’s playing in spite of a torn meniscus in his knee. Brandon Lee is playing terrific.

“There’s no question that’s the strength of our football team right now. The pressure we’re getting with our four down people is tremendous.”

McDonnell said he’s well aware of how tough it will be to score against the Dukes.

“Defensively as good as William and Mary is, I think these guys are just as good, if not just a little bit better in a lot of ways,” McDonnell said of the JMU defense. “We’re going to have a major challenge with Stephon Robertson and the boys here at our place on Saturday.”

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