Dukes in good position for November

HARRISONBURG – James Madison University head football coach Everett Withers wanted his team to have something to play for in November, and now the Dukes are in that position.

JMU, which is ranked No. 11 in the FCS Coaches poll, has two games left – at Delaware on Saturday and home with Villanova on Nov. 21. If the Dukes win one of their last two games they will most likely qualify for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. If they win both games they could have a shot at a top 8 seed, and a bye in the first round.

“We wanted to find a way to make November relevant,” Withers said at his weekly press conference. “There are a lot of teams across the country right now playing in November and their games mean absolutely nothing. We wanted our games to mean something in November.”

The Dukes are 7-2, but lost their last two games to Richmond and William & Mary.

Withers said that JMU, which is coming off a bye week, had a very tough stretch of six games and despite the losses he’s very proud of his team.

“Coming out of a six game stretch that we came out of at 4-2, we kind of say check it off,” Withers said. “It’s not great, but it’s pretty good. There’s some other people that would like to be 4-2 out of that six game schedule.”

Refreshed Dukes: Withers said the team had a good week of practice during its bye week.

He said the team practiced Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon, and Thursday morning to give them some time off before coming back to practice on Sunday.

“We got back to work (Sunday) night and had a really good practice,” Withers said. “We felt like our kids were refocused, reenergized and ready to go for the November stretch of our season. So we felt like that was good for us.”

Withers said that last week was also a good time for many of the freshmen who had to take a red-shirt this year and won’t play in any games this season.

He said they were able to have those guys practice, and put them in game-like situations.

“I think we got a bunch of young guys reps on Tuesday and Wednesday for the most part,” Withers said. “We felt like some of the young guys did some good things. It’s just an opportunity to kind of start the spring ball process early for them. … We felt like they did a good job. Obviously, there’s a lot of work to be done. But we feel like we’re headed in the right direction for the future.”

Back on offense: Withers said wide receiver John Miller is back practicing with the team. Miller missed the last game due to injury.

Withers said he wasn’t sure if Miller would be returning kicks this week against Delaware, but he does expect him to play on offense.

“I think what it does it just gives us another weapon on offense,” Withers said. “What I’ve challenged our offensive staff to do is not take anybody out of the offense, just find a way to add John to it. That’s how we want to enhance and make it better, and John makes us better. So we’re going to try to figure out how to get John plugged in without having to subtract somebody from it.”

Miller has 15 receptions this season for 149 yards and two touchdowns. The sophomore also has returned 10 punts for 111 yards, and four kickoffs for 37 yards.

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