Consistency a goal for Dukes

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University’s football team is looking for consistency as it hosts Delaware today in a Colonial Athletic Association game at 4 p.m.

The Dukes have been up and down in their first four games, which has led to a 2-2 record. They have struggled putting two solid halves together.

JMU had been struggling in the first half of most of its games, but last week the Dukes started out strong, but didn’t finish strong in a 48-31 loss to Villanova.

The Dukes missed out on an opportunity to score late in the first half, and settled for a field goal on their first drive of the second half.

“We’ve got to try and get fast starts and finishing together,” JMU head coach Everett Withers said. “I think the big thing we have to do is learn how to finish at the end of a half and start of the second half and finish of the second half.”

JMU’s defense has been its biggest problem all season. The Dukes are allowing 37.8 points per game, and 489.5 yards per contest.

The Dukes are playing a lot of young players on that side of the ball, and Withers said it will take time for them to grow and become the kind of defense he wants to have.

“One thing that we have to do better as a defensive staff, as a defensive team, is be more aggressive in the front seven,” Withers said. “I think sometimes we sit and watch. We look for somebody else to make a play instead of a guy attacking and going to make a play. Some of that is a little bit unsure of what they’re doing, not a lot of confidence in what they’re doing, and a lot of that’s youth. A lot of guys [on defense] haven’t played a lot of snaps.”

The Dukes will be tested on defense this week against a balanced Delaware squad. The Blue Hens are averaging 138.7 rushing yards per game, and 153.3 yards passing per contest.

Delaware quarterback Trent Hurley has thrown for 448 yards in three games. The duo of Jalen Randolph and Wes Hills have combined for 292 yards rushing this season.

Delaware head coach Dave Brock said running the ball is always the key to success for the Blue Hens.

“If we can run the ball efficiently, then I think we have the chance to be a good football team — an explosive offensive football team,” Brock said. “For us to be the team we want to be and the program we want to be, we’re going to have to play great offensive football this year.”

Brock said JMU’s offense is what worries him the most about today’s contest. The Dukes are averaging 26.8 points per game and 490.3 yards per game.

JMU quarterback Vad Lee set a school record last week throwing for 406 yards. Lee has thrown for 978 yards and seven touchdowns, and he’s also run for a team-best 341 yards.

“For us, we’re going to try to simulate [in practice] what they do … it’s very challenging with a player of [Lee’s] ability and his skill set,” Brock said. “The improvement he’s made in the first four games is probably second to nobody in this league. He’s gotten better almost every half. You almost see it throughout the game.”

The Blue Hens are allowing 24.0 points per game and 397.7 yards per game.
Delaware was off last week and will be playing its first CAA game of the season today on the road.

“We’re excited about going into conference play,” Brock said. “I think that’s one of the great things about the CAA — you love the opportunity to compete against great programs, playing at good venues. We look forward to the opportunity to go down to James Madison and open the conference slate on the road against a terrific opponent.”

Withers said he was pleased with the way the players responded at practice the day after the loss to Villanova, and he likes where the team is headed.

“I think our kids have seen growth,” Withers said. “Coaches look for small victories and we’ve seen those each week. We’ve been on the road three out of four weeks. We just faced a top 10 FCS team that had a bye week before playing us. You play well in the first half, didn’t play well in the second half, but you played well in the first half. You have to take that and say that’s a small victory for a team trying to grow and develop.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 166, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com