Dukes face tough challenge against Tribe

James Madison University head coach Mike Houston walks on the field Sept. 17 prior to JMU's game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. JMU hosts William & Mary today. AP file

HARRISONBURG – James Madison University’s football team will face another tough Colonial Athletic Association challenge today, when the Dukes host William & Mary at 3:30 p.m.

The Tribe (2-3, 0-2 CAA) have struggled this season, but JMU head coach Mike Houston said they are still very much a quality team. They return most of the starters from last year’s team, which defeated JMU.

“Obviously, they have a very talented roster,” Houston said. “I have no doubt we will get their very best this Saturday, in a game pitted between two in-state rivals that will be a very hard-fought game. I expect that we’ll be challenged on both sides of the football and I think we’ll be greatly challenged on special teams. I think that we’ll need to play probably our best game of the year this Saturday in order to have a chance to get another win in the CAA.”

One of the biggest problems for the Tribe this season has been turnovers. William & Mary quarterback Steve Cluley has thrown nine interceptions, but has also passed for 872 yards and five touchdowns. Wide receiver DeVonte Dedmon has 21 receptions for 375 yards and three scores.

Tailback Kendall Anderson has been a steady force for the Tribe. Anderson, who missed one game with an injury, has 257 yards rushing on 49 carries and one touchdown. Funderburke has 294 yards on 39 carries and four touchdowns.

Anderson ran for 170 yards in a loss to New Hampshire last week.

“I think the big thing about William & Mary’s running game is Kendall Anderson. I think he’s one of the top skill players in our conference,” Houston said. “I think he’s really the focal point right there. But just like with us, you look at their offensive line. They start four seniors and a junior. So they have a veteran group. Three of them were All-CAA last year. So it’s a veteran group of proven quality guys up front. That’s really the key to any running back being able to have the room to run.”

The Tribe are averaging 329.6 yards and 19.6 points per game.

Defense has traditionally been a strong suit for the Tribe under head coach Jimmye Laycock. This year the Tribe are giving up 339.6 yards of offense and 24 points per game.

“They remind me a lot of Maine’s defense, in that they got some guys that move really well,” Houston said. “They got some long guys up front on the d-line. They play very disciplined in their scheme. It’s a very similar scheme to what we run. I think they’re more athletic than what we saw last week in the secondary.”

The Dukes (4-1, 2-0 CAA) are coming off a 43-20 victory over Delaware. JMU’s defense played well throughout most of the game.

JMU’s Andrew Ankrah played well with seven tackles. Houston said Ankrah has been playing better after a slow start to the season.

“The biggest thing Andrew’s doing is he’s playing within the defense now,” Houston said. “I think he struggled with some things early on, and I thought we had some mental breakdowns in some games, some missed assignments. I thought he played his best game of the year thus far (against Delaware). I think the big thing was he didn’t have blown assignments and he played very, very hard.”

JMU’s defense is allowing 24.8 points and 363.8 yards per contest.

The offense for JMU continues to put up big numbers. JMU is averaging 531.2 yards and 47.6 points per game, both numbers are second in all of Football Championship Subdivision.

JMU running back Khalid Abdullah has 603 rushing yards on 78 carries and eight touchdowns to lead the way. JMU quarterback Bryan Schor has thrown for 878 yards on 70 for 101 passing and six touchdowns.

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