Secondary woes still a problem for Dukes

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

James Madison University’s secondary has struggled all season, and it was more of the same in JMU’s 33-17 loss to New Hampshire last week.

The Dukes had to play without starting cornerback redshirt freshman Kwe’shon Williams, who was out with a concussion. Redshirt freshman Taylor Reynolds took his place, and the Wildcats were very aware of it.

“With Kwe’shon not playing, they really took advantage of that — to their credit,” JMU coach Mickey Matthews said. “I think 70 percent of their throws were towards wherever Taylor was at. Taylor Reynolds is going to be a very good football player. Taylor played some early, lost his [starting] job and had not played any in the last two to three weeks.

“With Kwe’shon out, we rushed Taylor into play. He just had a rough day.”

The Wildcats threw for 449 yards against the Dukes.

Matthews said the team has had problems in the secondary all season and the problems haven’t gone away.

“Our secondary has been our Achilles’ heel all year,” Matthews said. “It just has. It was obvious when we moved [wide receiver] DeAndre [Smith] to corner, we just haven’ t been very good at corner, specifically. Then we lost one of our starting safeties — [Handley graduate] Jeremiah [Wilson to injury].”

Things won’t get easier this weekend when the Dukes host Stony Brook. Matthews said Reynolds is out with a concussion, and Williams’ status is still up in the air. He said they may move one of the safeties to corner for the game.

Matthews said Williams has played well this season, and not having him against New Hampshire was tough.

“Kwe’shon’s played well. He’s gotten better,” Matthews said. “That was a huge loss. That’s where they were throwing the ball.

“They smelled a little blood in the water.”

TOUGH ROAD TRIP: Matthews said the Dukes played their worst game of the season, and didn’t play well in any phase of the game.

Matthews said if he had to do over again he would have had the team leave Harrisonburg on Thursday instead of Friday, and felt his team was tired for the game.

“We spent too much time in airports,” Matthews said. “We left the hotel at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning and got back at 5 p.m. and you could just tell everyone looked tired.

“Anybody that watched the game could see we looked extremely lethargic, especially in the first quarter. It was our worst game of the year.”

Matthews said it wasn’t just one group that played poorly, it was just about everyone.

“[Quarterback] Michael [Birdsong] played pretty well Saturday, but that was about it,” Matthews said. “We didn’t play well at linebacker, at defensive line, we had a lot of drops by wide receivers. We just didn’t play very well.”

CLINGING TO HOPE: The Dukes’ playoff hopes are very slim, but if they win out they still have a shot.

JMU is home with Stony Brook this week, and then plays at Towson on Nov. 23. The Dukes need to win their last two games, and get help from quite a few other teams.
The playoffs have been expanded to 24 teams, and it’s possible the CAA could get four teams in.

The Dukes are currently in seventh place in the CAA with a 3-3 record, but they are only one game out of second place. There are four teams tied for second at 4-2, while Villanova is at 4-3. JMU has played four of the six teams ahead of them and is 1-3 against them.

Matthews said the Dukes just have to focus on winning the last two games.

“Obviously, for us to have a chance to make the tournament we have to win out,” Matthews said. “And for us to win out we have to win the next game, so that’s where we are.”

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