Dukes ready for CAA showdown with Spiders

Much will be on the line when James Madison University plays at Richmond today at 12:30 p.m. in a battle of Top 25 teams.

The Dukes (7-3, 4-2 CAA) enter the game with a five-game win streak, while the Spiders (7-3, 4-2) are coming off a 33-20 loss to Maine.

JMU is ranked No. 25 in the Sports Network FCS top 25 poll, for the first time this year, while Richmond is No. 14. The winner probably has a good chance at a playoff berth, while the loser could be sweating it out when the selections come out.

JMU coach Everett Withers said he isn’t worried about any polls, and just wants his team to stay focused.

“We just really worry about the next ballgame. Rankings don’t really matter until the end of the year, and I think that’s the mentality to have,” Withers said. “We just play each game and take the journey and go through the season. Rankings are for fans and for alumni and, I guess, administrators. We just worry about trying to play the next game, and go and win the next game.”

It is unsure which Richmond quarterback will be starting. Michael Strauss is coming back from a foot injury, and just started to practice with the team this week. Michael Rocco has started with Strauss out, but hasn’t had a lot of success. Rocco has thrown 11 interceptions and only four touchdown passes while Strauss has 11 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Strauss has missed the last four games. Strauss has thrown for 1,686 yards, while Rocco has thrown for 1,415 yards.

Strauss and Rocco are both former University of Virginia quarterbacks. Withers said he was just worried about JMU and not who would be playing quarterback against them.

“We worry more about us than we worry about the other team,” Withers said. “We’ve got warts we’ve got to fix. That’s our focus this week — worry about JMU and getting better.”

The Spiders turned the ball over five times in the loss to Maine, including four interceptions.

Richmond is averaging 32.0 points and 465.8 yards per game. Reggie Diggs leads the receivers with 57 receptions for 735 yards, and Brian Brown has 55 catches for 765 yards.

“They do a good job of what they do formationally and the plays that they run offensively,” Withers said. “They’ve had troubles with turnovers of recent, so that will be a big factor going into this ballgame.”

JMU’s defense is giving up 30.4 points and 437.5 yards per game. JMU gave up 24 points to Stony Brook last week, but shut the Seawolves out in the second half.

Offensively, JMU continues to shine this season led by quarterback Vad Lee. He has thrown for 2,633 yards with 24 touchdown passes and also leads the team in rushing with 719 yards and six touchdowns.

“Vad Lee just looks like he’s improving daily,” Richmond coach Danny Rocco said. “I kind of had a chance to see them a little earlier in the season in a couple crossover games and every time I see them on film their football team just continues to get better. Pretty much in all phases, but it kind of does run through the quarterback. He’s as dynamic as they come. His ability to break contain and extend plays, and then his accuracy seems to be better and better and probably comes with his confidence in the offense.”

Richmond is allowing 22.0 points and 313.9 yards per game.

“They’ve got some talented players on defense,” Withers said. “We’ll have our hands full on offense.”

Danny Rocco said he didn’t think this was a must-win game for his team. The two teams are tied for third place in the CAA, and he said he expects a hard-fought contest.

“They’re playing real well right now,” Danny Rocco said. “JMU is playing with a lot of confdience, well-coached, disciplined. We’re going to have a really good football game here on Saturday.”

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