Dukes’ offense faces a tough test

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University’s offense has been putting up video game kind of numbers this season.

The Dukes’ high-powered and Football Championship Subdivision No. 1-ranked offense will be tested today. JMU hosts Stony Brook, which has one of the top-ranked defenses in the FCS, in a Colonial Athletic Association game at Bridgeforth Stadium at noon.

JMU coach Everett Withers said he likes for his team to play with “no seat belts.”

“We want to play 100 miles an hour with no seat belt, no hands,” Withers said. “That’s really our motto going into every ballgame. Put the foot on the gas, throw your hands up, take your seat belt off and go play the game. That’s how we want to play.”

It has certainly worked so far. The Dukes, who are ranked No. 5 in the FCS Coaches poll, are averaging 50.3 points per game. JMU has the top-ranked rushing offense in the FCS with 356.3 yards per game, and the top overall offense averaging 671.3 yards per game.

JMU (4-0, 1-0 CAA) is coming off a 48-45 comeback victory over Southern Methodist University, which brought a lot of national recognition with it. JMU co-offensive coordinator Brett Elliot was interviewed for an online Sports Illustrated article. JMU quarterback Vad Lee was interviewed for a story on ESPN.

Lee is believed to be the first Division 1 player to throw and pass for more than 275 yards in a game. He threw for 289 yards and ran for 276 in the victory over SMU.

The Seawolves are allowing only 12 points per game, which is fourth in the FCS.

“They will have a defensive line that looks like your typical FBS defensive line,” Withers said. “Their secondary is fast, big, aggressive and strong. They’re big up front at the tight end and at the offensive line positions. They’ve got talented skill guys. This is a really big challenge for us this week.”

JMU’s running game has been strong all season, led by a stout offensive line.

Lee leads the team with 503 yards rushing. Tailback Khalid Abdullah has 412 yards, and Cardon Johnson has 401 yards.

Stony Brook (2-1, 1-1 CAA) is averaging 23.0 points per game with a balanced offensive attack. The Seawolves are averaging 212 yards per game rushing and 134.0 through the air.

The Seawolves have used two different quarterbacks this season, and Withers said they will prepare for both. Joe Carbone has thrown for 259 yards, and Conor Bednarski has thrown for 143.

Stacey Bedell leads the Seawolves’ ground game. He has rushed for 351 yards and four touchdowns this season.

“They’ve got a very talented tailback,” Withers said of Bedell. “We’re going to get ready for a physical run game.”

Warren County graduate Gage Steele leads the Dukes on defense with 37 tackles.

There’s been a little more attention on JMU after the SMU win, but Withers said he believes his players won’t let it be a distraction.

“We’ve talked about they don’t count the SMU win any more than they count any other win,” Withers said. “That counts just like any other win. That’s the mantra that we take into the next game.”

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