Blue Hens’ running game will be a challenge for Dukes

James Madison quarterback Bryan Schor passes in the first half of an NCAA college football game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Sept. 17. AP

HARRISONBURG – James Madison University’s football team will be facing a strong running game when it takes on the University of Delaware at 1:30 p.m. today at Bridgeforth Stadium.

The Blue Hens have three solid running backs who have had success. Delaware’s Wes Hills is averaging 106.5 yards per game. Thomas Jefferson is averaging 74.7 yards per game, and Jalen Randolph is averaging 65.3 yards per contest for the Blue Hens.

JMU head coach Mike Houston said the offensive line has a lot to do with the success of their running game.

“Their offensive line’s huge,” Houston said. “They’re big kids. Then you look at the way they move their feet. They move very well for big linemen – they’re not sloppy.”

Houston said all three running backs are effective, and quarterback Joe Walker can also run with the ball.

“It’s not like you can sit there and say, OK if we can get this kid out of the game we can slow this kid down,” Houston said. “They’re going to keep coming at you. It’s going to take a great effort by our defense to slow them down Saturday.”

The Blue Hens (2-1, 0-0 CAA) are averaging 242.3 yards per game on the ground. They are only averaging 65.3 through the air, but Houston said Walker is a very accurate passer, especially on deep balls. Delaware wide receiver Diante Cherry has 119 yards and three touchdowns this year.

Delaware is averaging 33.7 points per game.

The Dukes (3-1, 1-0 CAA) have a strong running game of their own. They are second in the Football Championship Subdivision, averaging 328 rushing yards per game.

JMU senior running back Khalid Abdullah has 444 yards rushing and six touchdowns, while redshirt junior Cardon Johnson has 407 yards rushing and five scores.

The Dukes, who are averaging 48.8 points and 512.2 total yards per game, have also been effective in the passing game. JMU is averaging 184.2 passing yards per game.

JMU junior quarterback Bryan Schor has thrown for 669 yards on 51 for 76 passing and five touchdowns.

“I think Bryan is doing a good job of distributing the football where it needs to go,” Houston said. “He’s been everything we’ve asked him to be this year. He does a good job getting us into the right plays. I think he has good presence in the pocket not to get rattled He’ll stand in there when there’s a lot of heat around him. If he has to take off he’s got the ability to extend plays or to scramble and gain yardage with his feet also.”

JMU’s offense will be challenged this week. The Blue Hens are only allowing 19.3 points per game.

Delaware has a combined seven interceptions in three games this season.

“The big thing is they create a lot of pressure up front,” Houston said. “Their front four, especially their interior tackles, have tremendous size. (Cam Kitchen) is a great rusher off the edge. Obviously, they’re talented in the secondary. I think they’re a solid defensive football team. I think we’ll be challenged to run the football Saturday.”

The Dukes are coming off a 31-20 victory over Maine on the road, and Houston said he was happy with how his team played. He said it will take another solid effort against Delaware in order to get the victory.

“In my opinion, I think we will far and away have to play our best game of the year in order to have a chance to get the win Saturday,” Houston said. “Certainly it’s going to be a pretty tough test coming in here on Family Weekend. I expect it to be a good crowd at Bridgeforth Stadium. We’re excited to be back home.”

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