JMU football notebook: Johnson, Abdullah to share RB duties

HARRISONBURG – James Madison University head football coach Mike Houston said on Tuesday that running backs Cardon Johnson and Khalid Abdullah will both be listed as starting running backs for Saturday’s home game against Morehead State University.

Houston said they were both deserving of being a starter.

“I don’t care who takes the first snap,” Houston said in his weekly press conference. “They’re both starters based on everything we’ve seen throughout camp and throughout my time since I’ve been here. We’ll list them both as starters Saturday.”

Houston said he wants the offense to be balanced, and he has plenty of confidence in the running game.

Johnson, a redshirt junior, ran for 1,037 yards last season on 161 carries and had 10 touchdowns. Abdullah, a senior, ran for 975 yards on 194 carries and 13 scores.

“Cardon and Khalid – they’ve been great ever since I got here,” Houston said. “The thing that I’m excited about is you finally get to see them in a game. I’ve seen them in a lot of practices. I’ve seen them in a lot of drills. I’ve seen them against our defense during practice, but you finally get to see them against another opponent on Saturday.”

Houston said that he expects JMU’s offensive line to be solid. He said he’s been very pleased with what he’s seen from them during the preseason.

“I think our offensive line is playing very physical,” Houston said. “They’re playing with a lot of tenacity. They’re playing well together.”

Two is better than one: Houston said he’s not ready to name a starting quarterback yet, but he said that both Bryan Schor and Connor Mitch will be ready to go against Morehead State on Saturday.

“I think both of them are going to be prepared to play Saturday,” Houston said. “Whoever takes the first snap, we’re going to have complete confidence in. I’m excited to watch them lead our team throughout our season.”

Schor, a junior, threw for 847 yards last season on 70 for 111 passing. He had seven touchdowns and one interception in eight games. He started the final four games of the season after 2016 JMU graduate Vad Lee suffered a season-ending injury.

Mitch, a redshirt junior, transferred from the University of South Carolina in July. Last year Mitch threw for 165 yards and a touchdown for the Gamecocks. He suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the second game of the year.

Houston said whoever gets the starting nod will stay in the game as long as it’s competitive or barring injury.

“I don’t ever want anybody ever looking over their shoulder,” Houston said. “So whoever starts the game is going to be our quarterback. At the same time we’re blessed that we will have a solid backup if we were to need them at any point and time. I think we don’t want to treat that position any different than any other position. At the same time there is a certain rhythm, and I want to make sure that each quarterback whomever it is in the ballgame has an opportunity to get in a rhythm.”

Special teams depth: The Dukes will have plenty of depth at special teams this season.

Houston said that sophomore Charles Tutt and senior Brandon Ravenel will be the primary kickoff returners. Tutt returned seven last year with a 38.7 return average and a touchdown before an injury sidelined him. Ravenel returned nine with a 38.9 average and a touchdown.

“Charles Tutt was having a fantastic year last year when he had the injury,” Houston said. “Then Brandon Ravenel came on and filled in and they didn’t miss a beat with kick returns. So we got experience there with those two back.”

He said Tutt along with senior Rashard Davis and junior John Miller will handle punt returns. All four have experience returning punts.

“I think the good thing is if somebody’s tired, if somebody’s banged up or whatever, it’s not like you’ve got an inexperienced guy back there,” Houston said. “We’re blessed to have that kind of depth.”

Houston said that Millbrook graduate and JMU sophomore Tyler Gray will handle kickoffs and placekicking, while redshirt senior Gunnar Kane returns as the punter.

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