Withers happy with Dukes’ play on the road

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University’s 48-40 victory over Charlotte on Saturday had plenty of positives and negatives.

JMU head football coach Everett Withers said in his weekly press conference that despite some flaws, he was happy with how his players responded in a close game on the road.

“I’m really proud of our football team because it really seems like we have a way and a feel about going on the road and playing,” Withers said. “To me, that’s very important. That’s one of the things that we hope to continue to grow and enhance — that when we play on the road it’s not a factor for us. We don’t get spooked about going on the road and playing, and to me that’s a big part of the growth and the journey that we’re taking with this football team.”

JMU built a 21-0 lead over the 49ers, but the lead slipped away and the game became much closer. JMU was able to recover an onside kick by Charlotte in the final minutes to hold off the 49ers.

The Dukes had 237 yards on the ground and 333 through the air. JMU is now ranked first in the Colonial Athletic Association in total offense, and seventh in all of Football Championship Subdivision, averaging 498.6 yards per game.

Withers said even though the offense was able to score on half of its possessions, the Dukes still left a lot of room for improvement.

“There was a period there in the second quarter and the third quarter where we really kind of got stagnanted, a little bit, offensively and didn’t do well,” Withers said. “They did a nice job of stopping our run, and we came up short on a couple third downs. We had two turnovers there in the second half that we didn’t really capitalize on. I think we got three points out of them. We got a lot of growth to do. It was a very inconsistent game, offensively, defensively and in the special teams.”

Withers said the defense gave up five big plays, which helped keep the 49ers in the game.

“We made five plays on defense that were critical to their success,” Withers said. “Three plays in the run game, which we gave up on those three run plays 110 yards of the 160 yards [total] rushing. Then another two plays on defense where we misplayed balls or made mental errors that gave up another 120 yards. So again you take those five plays out of the ballgame, I think we played a really good ballgame.”

LEADING THE WAY: Withers said he knew how talented JMU quarterback Vad Lee was before he transferred in from Georgia Tech this season, but what he’s been happiest about is the junior’s leadership skills.

“Really there was not a big expectation on the passing game one way or another [coming into the season],” Withers said of Lee. “Hopefully, he could grow into a leadership role on our football team, because you need for your quarterback to be your leader on your football team. We knew he had skills running the football, because of the system he was in at Georgia Tech, but a give a lot of credit to our offensive staff, [offensive coordinator and quarterbacks] coach [Drew] Mehringer and those guys for growing a young man in an offense that he had no idea about this time last year. So he’s progressed.”

Lee was named the CAA Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against Charlotte. Lee threw for 333 yards on 32 of 47 passing and four touchdowns passes. He also had 71 yards on 12 carries and two rushing touchdowns.

Withers said that most of Lee’s passes were short passes and let the receivers make a play, because that’s what Charlotte was giving the Dukes. He said that Lee could have played better than he did.

“He will tell you that he’s not close to where he can be and hopefully will be,” Withers said. “He’s still got a lot of growth. He did not play as complete of a game as everybody would love to think he played. There were some yardage and some touchdowns out there you’d like to have. Any time you’re able to have the stats that he had, and you know you can get better that’s a good thing.”

STILL RUNNING ALONG: JMU’s running game continues to do great things. The Dukes are averaging 245.5 rushing yards per game, which is second in the CAA and ninth in the country.

Against Charlotte, redshirt senior Jauan Latney led the way with 91 yards on 15 carries.

“It’s who we are, I think, and that’s the identity we want to have on our football team. We want to be able to run the football,” Withers said. “We want to be able to run the ball early in the ballgame. We wanted to come out fast and establish the run — we were able to do that. Jauan [Latney] is a big part of that run game. All of our backs are a big part of that run game, and we just have to continue that. That’s something that we want to build on each week as the season progresses.”

Withers said the biggest key to the running game has been the play of the offensive line, which has been solid for the Dukes all season.

“We felt like our offensive line is one of the strengths of our football team and has grown into that,” Withers said. “That was not the case if you watched us in the spring. I think they’re playing with a high level confidence. I think we probably played as physical up front as we’ve played all year long.”

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