JMU football notebook: Career day from Abdullah keyed Dukes’ victory

JMU's Khalid Abdullah (32) takes the handoff from quarterback Bryan Schor (17) in their game against North Carolina on Sept. 17 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Abdullah was named the CAA Offensive Player of the Week this week after his 172-yard performance against Maine on Saturday. AP

HARRISONBURG – James Madison University’s Khalid Abdullah had a career day in Saturday’s 31-20 football victory over the University of Maine.

Abdullah ran for 172 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns. He was also named the Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Week.

JMU head coach Mike Houston said that while the player’s 85-yard touchdown stood out, he thought that Abdullah’s smaller runs were just as important.

“The ones that don’t stand out maybe to the fans are the 3- and 4-yarders where it’s between the tackles,” Houston said in his weekly press conference Tuesday. “Khalid, one, did a great job of taking care of the football because he was taking a pretty good beating inside. Number two, he did not lose yardage. He’s always falling forward. A strong running day for him. He ran behind his pads really well against a pretty formidable front that was trying to stack the box on him. So I thought he was key in the win Saturday.”

Abdullah has 444 yards rushing this season on 68 carries and six scores. He’s averaging 111 yards per game, which is second in the CAA. The senior has 2,313 yards in his career, which is 10th all-time in JMU history.

Houston said that Abdullah isn’t a big vocal leader for the team, but leads by example.

“Khalid is the hardest worker on the field. It’s every drill, every play, everything he’s doing is one speed,” Houston said. “He’s honed in on what his job is, and he’s trying to do it to the best of his ability. Whether he’s carrying the ball, or he’s protecting for (quarterback) Bryan (Schor) or a play fake. He’s always giving great effort, has great work habits.”

Road warriors: JMU faced a tough challenge in the win over the University of Maine.

The Dukes were coming off a 56-28 loss to the University of North Carolina on Sept. 17, and Houston said the team did not get back until late from that game. They then had to take a flight up to Maine on Friday for Saturday’s noon contest against the Black Bears. Houston said he was happy with how his team responded.

“I thought our kids showed a lot of resiliency,” Houston said. “Certainly it would have been easy to make excuses about the situation we were in, but they didn’t. There weren’t any excuses or anything like that. They stuck together. They had a lot of adversity. So I think just their ability to stick together on the sidelines, play together each side of the ball, special teams and find a way to pull it out there in the fourth quarter. I think that probably grows us up a little bit and shows a lot of character.”

Houston said being on the road made things a little tougher, and said the wind was a factor for the wide receivers in that game.

He said that he expects every game in the CAA to be tough this season, especially on the road.

“I think any time you win on the road in the CAA it’s a quality win,” Houston said. “I don’t think there’s a team in our league that can’t beat any other team in our league on any given Saturday. Certainly we’re extremely excited to be able to go to Maine and come away with a win, but it certainly was not easy and that’s a credit to Maine.”

Defense on the rise: JMU’s defense stepped up in the second half.

The Dukes limited Maine to just 120 yards of offense in the second half.

“The biggest thing I thought was we had fewer critical errors,” Houston said of the defense. “We still had a couple that we got to get cleaned up, but we still had fewer mistakes. From that standpoint we made Maine work a little bit harder to drive the football. I think we were able to get a lot more pressure, not only in the passing game but in the run game also, to cause some problems there. We had a pretty good day as far as tackles for loss as well as sacks.”

The Dukes have been solid against the run all season, allowing just 100 yards per game on the ground.

Houston said a lot of the success is due to the players understanding their roles in the new 4-2-5 defensive scheme.

“Really that’s the key to playing good run defense is understanding where you go and how you do that on a consistent basis. That way there’s not any gaping holes or things like that,” Houston said. “I think the kids are understanding more and more week to week, how to play within the system. I think having some success playing within the system gives them more and more confidence moving forward.”

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