Dukes ready for showdown with Southern Methodist

HARRISONBURG — Everett Withers and Chad Morris know each other well.

Withers, James Madison University football head coach and Morris, Southern Methodist University football head coach, have faced off twice before.

Morris was the offensive coordinator at Clemson University for four years, and went against Withers twice during that time — once was when Withers was head coach at the University of North Carolina and once in the Orange Bowl when Withers was the defensive coordinator at Ohio State University. The two meet again tonight as JMU travels to SMU.

“Chad’s very talented,” Withers said. “He’s a very, very good coach. I’m not surprised at what they’ve done at SMU so far. You look at that offense, it will be like playing Clemson again.”

It is Morris’ first year as the SMU head coach. Even though they are 1-2, the Mustangs have lost to two of the best teams in all of Football Bowl Subdivision. SMU lost to No. 4 Baylor, 56-21, to open the season. Last week the Mustangs lost to No. 3 TCU, 56-37.

The Mustangs are averaging 29.7 points per game. They are led by quarterback Matt Davis, who has thrown for 667 yards on 50-for-78 passing. He has five touchdown passes, but also leads the team in rushing with 302 yards on 58 carries and four touchdowns.

“He’s a talented player, throwing the ball and with his legs,” Withers said. “He’s what you want as a dual threat quarterback. He can run it, throw it. He has a strong arm. He runs their offense well. … They have a lot of talent in all their skill positions.”

Wide receiver Courtland Sutton has been Davis’ top target with 12 receptions for 262 yards and four scores.

Defensively, Withers said SMU is a lot like JMU.

“They’re a good defense. I think they’re going to get better as the season goes,” Withers said. “Any time you play in that kind of offense, just like our defense, when you play in that kind of offense you have to hold on sometimes because you’re out on the field real fast. I think that they’re adjusting to that style of play.”

Withers said that SMU plays hard on defense, and he feels that is what is most important. The Mustangs have allowed an average of 41.7 points per game, but most of that came to two of the top offenses in FBS.

Now the Mustangs will face the top-ranked offense in Football Championship Subdivision.

The Dukes, who are ranked No. 8 in the FCS Coaches Poll, lead the FCS in scoring (51.0) and total offense (652.0) per game. They are also second in rushing offense (328.3) per game.

JMU senior quarterback Vad Lee didn’t have his best game last week throwing five interceptions, but he still threw for 275 yards and four touchdowns. JMU’s running back tandem of Khalid Abdullah and Cardon Johnson combined for 277 yards rushing in the victory over Albany.

It’s the first road game of the season for the Dukes. Withers said he wasn’t concerned about how his young players would handle going on the road in a big game.

“We try not to vary the differences of playing at home and away very much at all for our players,” Withers said. “… It’s a business trip.”

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