Tribe defense to test JMU offense

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University’s high-powered offense faces a stern test Saturday when it hosts William and Mary at 3:30 p.m. It will be JMU’s Homecoming game.

The Dukes have one of the top offenses in all of Football Championship Subdivision, but the Tribe have a very strong defense. JMU has won three straight games. William and Mary is currently ranked No. 17 in the FCS Coaches Poll.

William and Mary is giving up only 23.2 points per game. JMU is averaging 33.9 points per game. The Dukes are averaging 498.6 yards per game, tops in the Colonial Athletic Association and seventh overall in FCS.

“[JMU causes] big time stress on every aspect of your defense,” William and Mary head coach Jimmye Laycock said. “The numbers that they’re putting up on offense are very impressive.”

JMU’s offense has been led by quarterback Vad Lee. The junior, who transferred from Georgia Tech this year, is fifth in Football Championship Subdivision in total offense. He is averaging 328.5 yards of total offense per game.

JMU head coach Everett Withers said that the most important thing Lee has done is to take over the leadership role in the locker room.

“Obviously, when you transfer into a program, he was not the staring quarterback of this program last year, so he had to prove himself in that way,” Withers said of Lee’s leadership. “That process takes time, and what’s happened is our players have rallied around him, because he is a really, really good teammate. He’s an unbelievable young man and a good teammate. He works really hard in practice and our kids, his teammates, see that. And he’s not afraid to take blame when things are not going well, when it’s his fault. And to me when you’re doing that as a leader, then that’s important, and I think that’s something that he’s done well and our team has rallied around that.”

Lee has thrown for 1,995 yards on 168-for-295 passing. He has 18 touchdown passes and six interceptions. He also leads the team in rushing with 633 yards on 123 carries and six touchdowns.

“He’s a very gifted athlete that can move around,” Laycock said. “He can throw, he can run. From what I’ve seen he can do just about everything. It really puts a stress on our defense, there’s no question there.”

Lee also has plenty of options in the passing game. He has thrown to 15 different players, including Strasburg graduate and JMU freshman tight end Jonathan Kloosterman (3 receptions for 35 yards). Junior tight end Deane Cheatham has led the way for the Dukes with 34 receptions for 373 yards and two scores, while Daniel Brown has led the wide receivers with 23 catches for 320 yards and four touchdowns.

The Dukes also have three running backs with over 300 yards, as sophomore Khalid Abdullah, redshirt senior Jauan Latney and freshman John Miller have split time at tailback.

JMU has struggled on defense throughout the year, and are coming off a win over Charlotte in which they gave up 40 points. The Dukes are allowing 32.0 points and 455.1 yards per game.

Things won’t get easier for the Dukes this week when they face a solid William and Mary offense. The Tribe are averaging 25.6 points and 320.8 yards per game.

William and Mary’s offense features a very balanced attack. The Tribe are averaging 172.6 yards per game through the air. Sophomore quarterback Steve Cluley has thrown for 1,365 yards on 108-for-193 passing with seven touchdowns. His top receiving threat is senior Tre McBride, who has 40 receptions for 549 yards and three touchdowns.

“He’s learning every week,” Laycock said of Cluely. “He learns from the things he does well. He learns from the things he doesn’t do well. …He’s getting us in the right play, making some nice throws. He’s still young. He’s still learning the offense. He’s still gaining experience. I like his work ethic. I like the way he’s working to get better.”

William and Mary is averaging 148.1 yards per game, led by Mikal Abdul-Saboor. The junior tailback has 707 yards rushing this season with seven touchdowns.

“We’ve got to do a good job of stopping the run,” Withers said. “They’re a very sound football team.”

Withers said he was very happy with the attitude of the players in practice on Sunday after a tough win on the road Saturday.

“We know that each week is it’s own entity,” Withers said. “It’s not about what’s been done in the past, it’s about how can we get better each week. It’s about each day giving your all for your teammates and for our team.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com