JMU win brings national attention

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University’s 48-45 win over Football Bowl Subdivision opponent Southern Methodist University on Saturday garnered a lot of attention for the Dukes. JMU, a Football Championship Subdivision school, beat an FBS school for the fifth time in school history.

JMU head coach Everett Withers said at his weekly press conference that he received a lot of congratulatory texts from people that he knows, including Ohio State University head coach Urban Myer. Withers was defensive coordinator under Meyer at defending national champion and current No. 1 ranked Ohio State for two years before coming to JMU.

ESPN was also in Harrisonburg on Monday to do a story on JMU quarterback Vad Lee, which will air at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Withers said it’s good for the school to gain some attention.

“Our whole objective is try to win games as a football program, and to try to do it the right way and try to do it with good kids,” Withers said. “Any time you can do that — win games the right way — people notice that. … Our focus is on winning games, but we’re also all in on trying to help grow the brand at JMU.”

The Dukes win over SMU was anything but easy. JMU led by 10 points twice and also trailed twice during the game. JMU trailed 45-41 with 2:04 left in the game. Lee, who had thrown three interceptions, led the Dukes down the field for the game-winning touchdown.

Lee led the Dukes on a nine-play, 75-yard drive, capping it off with a 17-yard touchdown pass to John Miller. Lee finished the game with 289 yards passing, three passing touchdowns and 276 yards rushing with two rushing touchdowns.

Withers said Lee, who is also the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Week, is a competitor and he trusted him to make the big plays on the final drive.

“He’s a resilient guy,” Withers said. “He’s a guy that wants to do well for his teammates. He doesn’t want to turn the ball over. So, he knows when he does that he has to go out and do some things to help us win the game.”

Lee, a senior transfer from Georgia Tech, has thrown eight interceptions in his last two games, but has made up for it by making positive plays. Withers said he had a long talk with Lee on Sunday and is hopeful that he will improve as the season goes on.

“He struggled in the first four ballgames last year, and then all of a sudden he got a rhythm and he got going,” Withers said. “So, were hoping that’s what he’ll do. He’s a talented young man that wants to improve and get better each week.”

Even keeled: Even though there has been a lot of excitement at JMU over the win over SMU, Withers said it’s important for his team to stay focused. The Dukes host Stony Brook on Saturday, who have the top-rated defense in Football Championship Subdivision.

Withers said he talked to his team about the importance of staying focused and putting the SMU game behind them.

“I think the players got the message of (Sunday’s) meeting. This journey’s long and we’re not going to let outside influences affect how we prepare to get ready to play games,” Withers said.

The Dukes (4-0, 1-0 CAA) moved up to No. 5 in the FCS Coaches Poll this week. Withers said he was impressed with how his younger players handled the road trip, but he said now they have to be able to handle any attention that comes with a big win. He said the seniors will play a big role in helping the younger players with that.

“We’ve got a great group of seniors. It’s not a big group, but we’ve got a great group of seniors who have done a good job of focusing and getting our young guys to focus on the journey,” Withers said. “So, that’s who we’re going to lean on.”

Player of the Week: JMU linebacker Andrew Ankrah was named the CAA Defensive Player of the Week.

The redshirt sophomore had four sacks in the victory over SMU, and five tackles for loss. He finished with seven tackles and also had two forced fumbles.

“Andrew is a very talented, big, good looking, strong guy that can run.,” Withers said. “He really is just starting to work his way into his potential. He’s not even close to where he should be and can be. … Andrew played extremely hard for us. … He had an unbelievable day. Now we have to get Andrew to build on that, and be better and be more consistent and do that each week.”

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