Lee continues to improve

JMU quarterback had more than 320 total yards in win

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — Vad Lee is coming into his own for James Madison University’s football team.

Over the first three weeks of the season, Lee has improved with each contest. If that continues for the rest of the season, Lee will be a handful for the Colonial Athletic Association.

Lee ran for 174 yards and threw for 147 in JMU’s 38-22 victory over Saint Francis on Saturday. The 174 yards rushing were a career high for the Georgia Tech transfer.

“It felt great,” Lee said. “[JMU head coach Everett Withers] has got a lot of run plays for me and the way they [were] playing, it was just there. We just have those plays, depending on how the defense is going to play us, and we really executed it today.”

Withers said Lee is becoming more and more comfortable in the Dukes’ hurry-up offense and with knowing when to run and when to throw.

“Some on the runs were designed runs and some of the runs he just drops back to pass and it opens up like the red sea and you take off and you go,” Withers said of Lee. “He’s starting to feel comfortable doing that, not having to stand back there and complete a pass, just take off and go.”

Withers said having Lee run with the football makes it that much tougher for opposing defenses to stop the JMU offense.

“I just think that any time [you have a running] quarterback we call it a plus-one, he’s a plus-one runner,” Withers said. “They have to account for him in the run game. … When they have to account [for] him, that opens it up for everybody. For him to run the ball today was a way for him to open it up for some of the other runners.”

One of the other runners who benefited by Lee’s rushing was redshirt senior Juaun Latney, who ran for 106 yards against the Red Flash. Latney only had 61 yards in JMU’s first two games.

Lee entered the Saint Francis game with only 95 yards rushing in his first two games, but said while he’s trying to become a better passer he’s not afraid to run with the ball.

“It’s something that I’m gifted at, so it’s something I’m not shy to do,” Lee said. “I’m not shy to run the ball. When the opportunity is there, I want to take advantage of it. We need to make plays. I need to make plays with my legs and my arm. That’s what this offense is built around — my legs and my arm.”

HOME SWEET HOME: JMU made the most of its first home game of the season, and it was the first for many of the players and the entire coaching staff.

Lee said it was amazing to play in front of the JMU fans.

“My first one, so I was so excited,” Lee said. “I think that’s probably why I started off a bit slow. I was just so excited, juiced up. The fans were great. The atmosphere was great. The streamers, I love those. …I’m just happy to be here.”

Linebacker Ascene Jacques and defensive lineman Sage Harold said that they felt playing at home was part of the reason they started off slowly on defense. The Dukes gave up more than 200 yards of offense in the first quarter, but only 207 yards the remainder of the game.

“The first home game — we were just trying to be live, and not really tuned in on the game,” Harold said.

Harold said playing at Bridgeforth Stadium never gets old, and he loves the atmosphere.

“I love playing at home,” Harold said with a big smile. “There’s no other place like being at home. … It’s amazing when you come out of the tunnel and you look up into the stands.”

Withers also was happy with the crowd, which was announced as 23,577, and fan support, but still wants it to get better.

“I thought it was good. It was a good atmosphere,” Withers said. “You know, I’m big on enhancing and making better.”

DEFENSIVE STANDOUT: Harold was named the CAA Defensive Player of the Week for his game against the Red Flash.

Harold finished with 10 tackles, including seven solos. He also had a sack, a tackle-for-loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Withers said it was Harold’s best game this season for the Dukes, who switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense this season.

“Sage had a really good game,” Withers said. “I thought it was the first time he was really comfortable in his role as a defensive end for us. He played really aggressive for us. Really he and [defensive lineman] Brandon Lee played really hard for us and felt comfortable in the ballgame. Did they play perfect? No, but any time you get a guy that has 10 tackles, and a forced fumble, and fumble recovery and a sack he’s usually playing in a confident way. And that’s what he was able to do on Saturday.”

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