Dukes ready to face North Carolina

HARRISONBURG – James Madison University football coach Mike Houston knows a little about playing Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Last year he coached The Citadel, a Football Championship Subdivision team, to a 22-21 upset victory over the University of South Carolina.

JMU plays at the University of North Carolina at 3:30 p.m. today, and Houston said it’s important for the Dukes to treat the game like they do every other game.

“We didn’t do anything differently against South Carolina than we did against Furman and Chattanooga or anybody else we played,” Houston said of The Citadel’s upset last year. “So really it came down to us controlling the things we can control. You see some of these games get way out of whack with the score and most of the time that happens, because you go in there and do things that you don’t normally do in a ballgame. You have people trying to do stuff that they don’t do, defensively. You turn the ball over. You try to do too much. If we can just go in there and be us, I think that’s going to be our best chance for success.”

One of the biggest challenges for JMU will be stopping North Carolina’s high-powered offense. The Tar Heels are averaging 36 points per game with a very balanced attack.

The Tar Heels have a strong backfield led by junior Elijah Hood, who has rushed for 160 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns. They also have senior T.J. Logan, who has carried the ball 15 times for 134 yards and one touchdown.

“Hood is a large presence, but then has breakaway speed and is a powerful runner,” Houston said. “Then you have (Logan) who is really more shifty, but has that dynamic breakaway speed. I think they have a great one-two punch there at running back.”

Houston said that junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky is also a threat to run with the ball. He has 49 yards on 12 carries this season.

Trubisky has thrown for 421 yards on 43 for 64 passing with two touchdowns.

“I think being a dual-threat guy as effective as he is, I think he may be the key to the offense,” Houston said.

Trubisky has plenty of receivers to throw the ball to, led by senior Ryan Switzer, who has 12 receptions for 120 yards. Senior Bug Howard has five catches for 75 yards, and senior Mack Hollins has four receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown. Switzer also has seven punt returns for a touchdown in his career.

The Tar Heels run a similar-style offense to the Dukes, except Houston said they probably go at an even faster tempo than the Dukes.

Junior linebacker Brandon Hereford leads the Dukes with 17 tackles this season, while sophomore linebacker Dimitri Holloway has 13 tackles. The Dukes are allowing an average of 14 points and 203 yards per game.

The Dukes, who are ranked No. 8 in this week’s FCS Coaches Poll, are coming off a 56-21 victory over Central Connecticut State.

JMU junior quarterback Bryan Schor has thrown for 314 yards on 25 for 32 passing with three touchdowns and one interception. JMU has had plenty of success in the running game. Redshirt junior running back Cardon Johnson has rushed for 225 yards on 35 carries and four touchdowns, while senior running back Khalid Abdullah has 156 yards on 28 carries and two touchdowns.

The Dukes are averaging 68 points and 562 yards per game, but they will face a stern test today.

The Dukes will also see a familiar defense when they play the Tar Heels, who also play a 4-2-5 defensive scheme.

North Carolina struggled on defense a few years ago, but then former Auburn coach Gene Chizik joined Tar Heels’ head coach Larry Fedora’s staff as defensive coordinator, and Houston said they’ve really improved since then.

“Coach Chizik’s done a great job there with that unit,” Houston said. “I think it’s a unit that’s much improved over what they were a couple years ago and will be probably the best group we face all year.”

Sophomore linebacker Andre Smith leads the way on defense with 21 tackles this season. Senior defensive lineman Nazair Jones has 14 tackles, including a team-best three tackles for loss.

Houston said that this game will be a good barometer for his team.

“We’ve done a lot of positive things the first two games against two teams that I feel like are probably a little bit below the standard of play that we’ll see in the CAA this year,” Houston said. “Now we’re going in facing a team, in North Carolina, that probably is well above the talent level that we’ll see the rest of the year in the CAA. So I think it’s going to give us a good idea of exactly where we are.

“I said (Monday) I’m not quite sure where we are right now. I think we’re pretty good, but we’ll find out (today) just where we’re at.”

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