Dukes facing another strong defense in SBU

HARRISONBURG — A week after facing a top rushing defense, James Madison University will face another one today.

The Dukes play at Stony Brook University today at 1 p.m. Much like William and Mary last week, the Seawolves have a stout defense, especially against the run.

The Seawolves are allowing 12.9 points and 82.4 rushing yards per game.

“They’re very big, they’re very athletic,” JMU head coach Everett Withers said. “They fly around to the football. I think they’re well-coached. They’ve done a very good job of getting a scheme together. They have some unique pressure situations, how they blitz you. They do a great job of mixing up coverages with disguises.”

Stony Brook has been led on defense this season by senior linebacker Christian Ricard, who has 65 tackles, including 6.5 sacks.

JMU had trouble running the ball last week against William and Mary, but had no problems throwing the ball in the second half.

The Dukes struggled in the first half offensively, but scored 18 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to pull out the victory.

JMU quarterback Vad Lee threw for 324 yards in the game, completing 26 passes to six different players.

Even though the Dukes were down 24-13 in the fourth quarter, Withers said he liked the fact that his team didn’t flinch.

“If you watch our team, we struggled there in the first half, but there was never any panic,” Withers said. “In the third quarter there was never really any panic, because they all know that if we just keep going and stay together we’ll have a chance at the end. When you have success the way that we’ve had it, in the end it grows confidence.”

The Dukes have won four games in a row, and will try to win their fifth in a row against the Seawolves.

While Stony Brook has been stellar against the run, the Seawolves have struggled offensively. They are averaging only 15.6 points and 293.4 yards per game.

That could be a good sign for a JMU defense that has been getting better each week. In the victory over the Tribe, the Dukes’ defense kept them in the game while the offense struggled to put points on the board.

“One of the things I thought we did on defense was communicated really well,” Withers said. “Our guys did a great job of getting in the right coverages for matchups in the run game and the pass game. …You hope they mature and grow and continue to get better. They’re always ups and downs with youth, and the second level of our defense is still pretty youthful. So those guys are growing each week.”

Stony Brook is led by sophomore running back Stacey Bedell, who ran for 750 yards and has seven touchdowns. Stony Brook junior quarterback Conor Bednarski has thrown for 905 yards with six touchdowns.

The Dukes will be on the road, but Withers said the team enjoys playing away from home. Withers said he was worried about his players getting in trouble on Halloween, so the team stayed in hotels before their home game with William and Mary last week.

“I think the players like the us against the world mentality you have when you go on the road,” Withers said. “I think it’s important that you lock in, and that our kids have a focus once we get on the bus, plane … whatever we take to get there. I think our kids like the process that we take when we go on the road.”

At the end of Withers’ weekly press conference, he took time to talk about the lack of JMU students at the Homecoming game last week. Withers said he was very upset that more students didn’t come out to support the team.

“We had 5,800 students sign up for tickets for the game and only 500 students showed up for the game, and I got a problem with that,” Withers said. “So whatever we got to do to get students to get involved in JMU football, to get in the stands and stay there we got to get that done. That’s embarrassing. That’s Homecoming and only 500 students show up to the game. I got an issue with that.”

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