JMU football notebook: Offensive line responds well to new style of play

HARRISONBURG — When James Madison University head football coach Mike Houston took over the job in January he wanted to make a change with how the offensive line played.

Through spring ball and the fall preseason camp, Houston said his players made the adjustment and it showed in Saturday’s 80-7 victory over Morehead State. The Dukes ran for 498 yards, just three shy of the school record.

“Last year they had a very successful offense, put up huge numbers,” Houston said in his weekly news conference on Tuesday. “They were a tempo, extremely fast paced, try to catch you off guard, don’t let you get set, very side-to-side team. What I would refer to as a finesse offense. That’s certainly not we want to be. We are going to be a no-huddle, spread offense, but we are going to be a very physical at the point of contact football team especially when we’re running the football.”

Houston said the offensive line has to work out on the sled every Tuesday to start practice to help them get used to staying low and being aggressive coming off the ball. He said if anyone looks at tapes from last year’s team to this year’s they would see a big difference in the pad level of the offensive line.

Houston said there’s always a little resistance at first in changing a playing style, but he said the players have handled it well.

“They enjoy playing this style of ball and they’ve bought into it,” Houston said. “Then you look at the success that we had on Saturday, and I think that’s taken care of (any resistance from the players) by now.”

Turnover success: JMU’s defense came up with five turnovers, which led to 28 points.

Houston said that he was very pleased with the way the defense played against Morehead State.

“I think the key to it was we came out and stopped their run game,” Houston said. “So kind of take that factor out of the offense. Then I thought our kids did a really good job, we forced a couple of fumbles with swarming tackling and the ability to get a little bot of pressure on the quarterback. And get in position to make a couple of big interceptions.”

JMU senior safety Raven Greene was a big part of that. He had a fumble recovery and an interception, which he returned 43 yards. Greene also led the Dukes with seven tackles.

“I think Raven’s a talented young man whose bought in and has really done a great job of learning the system,” Houston said. “He understands the system. He understands where the plays are to be made, and I’m really pleased with way he played.”

Kicking debut: Millbrook graduate and JMU sophomore kicker Tyler Gray saw plenty of action in the season opener.

Gray made all 11 extra points and made a 28-yard field goal in the third quarter.

He also had success on kickoffs, kicking the ball deep down the middle, which Houston said was exactly what they wanted. The Dukes were able to get down the field quickly and pin Morehead State inside the 20-yard line nine times.

“I think Tyler’s got a good, strong leg and just with the way their return game was last year we felt like that was the best placement for the football,” Houston said. “… I thought that impacted the game. The fact that they started almost every drive inside the 20-yard line.”

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