JMU, Towson meet in battle of young squads

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — When James Madison University and Towson University face off today at Bridgeforth Stadium at 12:30 p.m., it will be another big game for two young teams.

Both teams have had their ups and downs this season as young players try to learn how to play at the college level.

JMU coach Everett Withers has liked how his young squad has continued to improve with each game and learned to deal with adversity.

“I think we’re growing in a lot of areas,” Withers said. “I think we’re understanding the process of taking care of the football, we’ve done that really well the last couple weeks. No turnovers for the last two weeks, which is really special for a young football team to do.”

The Dukes are really young on the defensive side of the ball. Last week in a 31-28 victory over Albany, JMU senior Dean Marlowe was ejected early in the game for targeting. That forced true freshman Marcel Johnson to take Marlowe’s spot.

Johnson finished with 14 tackles and a sack. The Dukes, who were also without redshirt senior and Handley graduate Jeremiah Wilson due to injury, played most of the game with three freshmen and a sophomore in the secondary.

“Jimmy [Mooreland], didn’t play quite as well as he’s played in other games, but he’s still playing at a really high level as a a true freshman,” Withers said. “Marcel Johnson actually played pretty well. …He and [true freshman] Aaron Peak had a couple plays that if they make them we’re probably talking about them being Co-Rookies of the Week. The growth of those guys will continue.

“I was really impressed with the fact that Marcel was able to go in the game and execute and execute calls that were obviously meant for Dean Marlowe — to be able to go in the game and do some good things. That only helps us down the road when those young guys get in the game.”

Towson was the Football Championship Subdivision national runner-up last year, but lost a lot to graduation from that team.

Towson head coach Rob Ambrose said he was aware that JMU is young in the secondary, but that doesn’t mean his squad will be able to take advantage of it.

“We’re not good enough right now, in any aspect, to just run the ball all the time or throw the ball all the time,” Ambrose said.

Withers said he’s seen an improvement from his defense the last few weeks. The Dukes have allowed 473.5 yards per game, including 233.3 on the ground. They will be tested by a solid Towson rushing attack.

Towson lost All-American running back Terrance West, who is now playing for the Cleveland Browns, to graduation, but Darius Victor has filled his spot well.

Victor, a sophomore, has rushed for 647 yards on 120 carries and has six touchdowns.

“He’s done exactly what I thought he would do,” Ambrose said. “He’s a mature guy. There are kids that see playing college football, despite the fact that they love the game, as an obligation. He sees every second that he gets to put a helmet on as an opportunity. And people like that in this world are kind of rare. …He’s without a doubt one of the best team players we have on the team, if not one of the best team players I’ve ever coached.”

Towson has struggled with its passing game, especially in the red zone. The Tigers have turned the ball over in the red zone three consecutive games.

The Tigers have also struggled defensively, where they are allowing 25 points per game. Ambrose said he saw improvements on defense in last week’s 14-3 loss to Stony Brook.

Towson will certainly be challenged defensively by JMU’s high-powered offense. JMU is averaging 26.8 points and 477.7 yards per game.

Withers said the offense is getting more and more confident each week. The Dukes have shown the ability to put together long drives, and last week they had a 99-yard drive, the second of the season, which ended with a touchdown to take the lead. They also overcame two penalties on the drive.

“For us to overcome the two penalties in the 99-yard drive is pretty impressive,” Withers said. “I think the offense is comfortable in situations no matter where the ball is on the field of executing and getting points.”

Withers said he expects today’s game to be similar to JMU’s game with Albany last week.

“We want to run it and establish the run,” Withers said. “It will be a good battle. It will be a lot like [the Albany game], a team trying to stop us from running it, and us trying to run it. And the same thing on the other side. They want to run it, we want to stop the run.”

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