Frosh talent leading way for Dukes

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University’s football team picked up a big come-from-behind win on Saturday against Lehigh, and two true freshmen played huge roles.

JMU cornerback Jimmy Moreland blocked a potential game-tying field goal in the final minute, and running back John Miller ran for more than 100 yards for the Dukes in a 31-28 victory.

“Jimmy has a tremendous amount of talent,” JMU head coach Everett Withers said at his weekly news conference on Monday. “Jimmy blocked a extra point, field goal in practice on Thursday. Jimmy’s got a lot of talent. He can do a lot of things. He’ll continue to get better. He’s going to make mistakes, but the only way you get better is by playing. He’s one of those guys that’s going to play.”

Moreland had eight tackles to go along with his blocked field goal and was named the Colonial Athletic Association Special Team Player of the Week on Monday.

Miller carried the ball 16 times for 106 yards and a 9-yard touchdown. Miller also had a 36-yard run, which set up JMU’s game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“John Miller is a tremendous young man,” Withers said. “He’s a great kid, runs the ball tremendously hard. He’ll continue to get touches himself, because he is a talented player.”

Miller is one of three backs the Dukes used throughout the game Saturday, and overall JMU ran for 322 yards on 43 carries.

For his performance on Saturday, Miller was named the CAA Rookie of the Week.

“I think he has the ability of being a one-cut guy,” Withers said. “We talk about good running backs are one-cut guys. They make one cut and they’re north and south. He does a nice job of one cut and go. He has good speed. He can catch. He has a lot of those intangibles that you look for in a running back.

“As a young kid he has a lot of maturity about him also. Having him in the game is not a negative for us. We like it when John’s in the game. He’s done a nice job for us this year.”

SCORING RECEIVER: Another player with a huge game in the Dukes’ win over Lehigh was sophomore wide receiver Rashard Davis.

Davis had five receptions for 123 yards in the win over Lehigh, including two touchdowns.

“Rashard is not a very big receiver, so we wanted to get him the ball on the move some with some jet sweeps and some things like that,” Withers said. “He had some success doing that. We were able to get him down the middle of the field on safeties and linebackers. He has tremendous speed.

“Rashard is a talented young man, made several big plays for us. Hopefully that will continue for him and it will help our offense.”

Davis caught a 76-yard touchdown pass from JMU quarterback Vad Lee in the first quarter. In the third quarter, he finished off a 99-yard drive with a 35-yard touchdown reception to give the Dukes their first lead of the second half, 24-21.

MOTHER NATURE BREAK: With JMU trailing 21-10 at the half on Saturday, the Dukes got an extended 30-minute halftime break due to lightning in the area. The Dukes handled the time well and came back out for a dominant second half.

“I feel like our kids handled the halftime well, and obviously got paid for it,” Withers said. “I think our coaches did an unbelievable job of getting together with each of their units, and really keeping our guys focused on the task at hand. …We wanted to get them hydrated. It was a really hot day. And again keep their mind focused on the game plan and the adjustments we made. Our hats off to both our coaching staff and our players.”

The game plan in the second half clearly worked for the Dukes on both sides of the ball. JMU’s fast pace on offense finally wore down Lehigh in the second half, which is exactly what Withers said it’s designed to do. The Dukes had touchdown drives of 98 and 99 yards in the second half.

JMU was able to use different running backs throughout the game, and Withers said when the offense is clicking at the end of the game it doesn’t matter who is carrying the ball.

“We wore Lehigh down in the last of the third quarter and fourth quarter. And that’s what our offense is about,” Withers said. “It’s being able to go really fast and, by the time the third and the fourth quarter hits, that I could carry the football — [anybody] could carry the football. That’s our objective.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd