Dukes ready to start CAA football season

James Madison University's Jimmy Moreland tries to tackle North Carolina's Elijah Hood as he runs for a touchdown in the first half of their game in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on Sept. 17. The Dukes play at Maine today. AP

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University’s football team starts its Colonial Athletic Association conference schedule today against the University of Maine.

Despite Maine’s 0-2 record, JMU head football coach Mike Houston said the Black Bears present a real challenge for his team. The Black Bears’ two losses came to Football Bowl Subdivision teams University of Connecticut and University of Toledo. Maine had a bye last weekend.

“Maine has a tough hard-nosed football team,” Houston said. “They’re a team that’s been battle tested in two very, very tough games against upper level opponents. They’ve had two weeks off to get ready for us. So I imagine they’re well rested. It’s their home opener. I’m sure they’ll be highly motivated with us coming in there, and Maine is always a tough place to play traditionally for CAA schools. I would say we’ve got a pretty stiff test this Saturday.”

The Black Bears (0-2) are only averaging 12.0 points per game, but they’re led by a solid passing attack. Maine quarterback Dan Collins has thrown for 334 yards.

“He’s really the leader on offense, and he’s really the difference maker — a very solid quarterback,” Houston said of Collins.

Maine wide receiver Jaleel Reed leads the team with nine catches for 180 yards and one touchdown.

The Black Bears have also used several different running backs in each game who have had success. Houston said Maine uses a formation that is seldom used anymore in college — the Pro-I — which could present a challenge for his defense.

“They’re a multiple-pro offense,” Houston said. “So you’re going to see them in what you hardly ever see in college football anymore, where you’re going to see them in a pro formation with two backs, and an I backfield with a tight end and a quarterback under center.

“It’s something you used to see 10 years ago a lot. So we got to prepare our kids for that physically downhill run game this week in practice.”

Maine is allowing 34.5 points and 349 yards per game. The Black Bears lost to UConn on a last-second field goal. Against Toledo, Maine trailed 17-3 in the third quarter before a blocked punt helped the Rockets pull away.

The Black Bears are one of three teams that will be coming off of a bye week before playing JMU plays this season. In 2014 the same thing happened four times to JMU. Houston said it’s not something that they can control so they just have to be ready to play the game.

“I didn’t make the schedule, I inherited it,” Houston said. “I don’t know if somebody pissed off the CAA years ago, I don’t know. But we’re going to play the hand that we’re dealt and we’re going to go attack it.”

The Dukes (3-1) are coming off a 56-28 loss to the University of North Carolina. JMU had 495 yards of offense in the defeat and are still averaging 539.7 yards and 54.7 points per contest.

JMU junior quarterback Bryan Schor has thrown for 532 yards on 39 for 54 passing and four touchdowns. He has also rushed for 159 yards on 22 carries and four touchdowns. Houston said that Schor has really dedicated himself to being successful this season.

“I think that’s a player that’s worked very hard to give himself a great preparation and understanding of what needs to happen, whet needs to go on,” Houston said of Schor. “That preparation carries over into being able to make decisions because he knows the offense so well, he’s going to know the opponent. Know what he sees pre-snap, what to expect. He’s done a good job of knowing where to go with the football and not putting the ball in jeopardy.”

The CAA has six teams ranked in the Football Championship Subdivision STATS Top 25 poll and the FCS Coaches Poll this week.

Houston said that every week will be a challenge in the CAA, and he expects today’s game to be no different.

“I believe our kids are very motivated to get off to a good start in the CAA, but will be challenged greatly,” Houston said. “We’ll have to play probably our best game of the year in order to have a chance to win this Saturday at Maine.”

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