JMU football notebook: Fixing mistakes made in loss important for Dukes

North Carolina's Jason Strowbridge (55), Cayson Collins and Myles Dorn try to stop James Madison's Khalid Abdullah (32) from scoring as James Madison's Daniel Schiele (15) blocks in the first half of their game Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C. Abdullah scored on the play. The Dukes had 495 yards of offense in the 56-28 loss. AP

HARRISONBURG – James Madison University head football coach Mike Houston saw some positive things from his team in Saturday’s 56-28 loss to the University of North Carolina.

The Dukes, a Football Championship Subdivision team, finished with 495 yards of offense and led throughout the entire first quarter against a solid Football Bowl Subdivision squad.

“I think you’re playing a team that’s picked to be one of the top two or three teams in the ACC this year and has good as skill as we’re going to see at any point throughout this year,” Houston said Tuesday in his weekly press conference. “We took a 21-14 lead into the second quarter and had almost 500 yards total offense on the day. So that shows me what we could be.”

Houston said the most important thing for his squad is to fix the mistakes they made, especially defensively. JMU gave up 635 yards of offense to the Tar Heels, who scored a touchdown on their first eight possessions of the game.

“North Carolina’s a talented team. They’re going to have success no matter what we do. That’s just a fact,” Houston said. “If you can correct the mistakes that allowed them to have more ease with their success then I think we can become a team that can be a really solid, top to bottom, both sides of the football team. But we got to get those things corrected. We got to get more disciplined. Part of it I understand is first year growing pains, new system, expectations stuff like that. Some of that has a little bit to do with it.

“I have a very low tolerance for repeated mistakes. So we’re going to get those corrected pretty quickly.”

Defensive line woes: One area of concern for JMU is the pass rush by the defensive line.

The Dukes have not recorded a sack in three contests, after having 13 last year. They have also only had seven tackles for a loss in three games.

JMU switched to a 4-2-5 base defense this season and has a new defensive coordinator, Bob Trott. Houston said it will take time for the defense to get better, but he’s confident that it will.

“The biggest thing I want to see is more consistent steady play,” Houston said of his defensive line. “I think that we’re getting better. I think that we have some guys that are playing harder and we’re getting more to where we’re playing within the scheme. And we’ve got to continue to push them to do just that.”

Houston said they will continue to work on generating more of a pass rush and try to get the problem fixed.

“I do think that playing more players may be something we can look at, so we’ve got guys that are fresher in the ball game,” Houston said. “We’ve got to generate more pressure on the quarterback.”

Emerging force: One player who has played well on defense for the Dukes has been junior linebacker Brandon Hereford.

JMU redshirt senior Gage Steele has missed the last two games with an injury, and Houston said he is still day-to-day. Hereford has started the last two games at middle linebacker in Steele’s place and has led the team in tackles both contests.

“I think Brandon’s done a great job,” Houston said. “He’s a physical ballplayer. I thought he played really well Saturday against Carolina. He made some mistakes, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of effort or physicality. I thought he competed really well.”

Hereford leads the Dukes with 28 tackles, including three for a loss of yards. He has 18 solo tackles. He had 10 solo tackles against North Carolina.

Houston said Hereford’s play will make the team even stronger when Steele does return.

“I think the big thing is when Gage does return we have a little more depth at the inside linebacker position,” Houston said.

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