Dukes look to snap New Hampshire home winning streak

James Madison quarterback Bryan Schor passes against North Carolina on Sept. 17 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The Dukes play at New Hampshire today. The Wildcats have won 17 straight home games. AP file

HARRISONBURG – James Madison University’s football team will be facing one of its biggest challenges of the season when it plays at New Hampshire at noon today.

Not only is New Hampshire tied for first with JMU in the Colonial Athletic Association, but the Wildcats have won 17 straight games at home. JMU head coach Mike Houston said the Dukes will have to play well to snap the Wildcats’ home winning streak.

“Certainly I think that we’ll have to play our best game of the year this Saturday in order to have a chance to win,” Houston said. “I think if we’re somehow able to pull off a victory up there it would certainly be a significant win for not only this year’s team but our football program. I think it’s been a decade or more since JMU’s beaten New Hampshire up there at New Hampshire. But our team is very, very excited for this game. I think they will respond to the challenge.”

It is the first time since 2013 that JMU is playing New Hampshire. The Wildcats have made the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for 12 consecutive years, all of which have come under head coach Sean McDonnell.

The Wildcats (4-2, 3-0 CAA) have a dynamic offense. Former University of Oregon head coach and current San Francisco 49ers coach Chip Kelly was the New Hampshire offensive coordinator from 1999-2006. Houston said that some of Kelly’s offensive scheme is still being used.

“They’re going to line up in a lot of traditional formations with motion and movement, and they’re going to line up in a lot of non-traditional formations,” Houston said. “You’ll have three linemen over here, two linemen over there. A center, quarterback, receivers all over the place. It’s not just one play. They have a lot of variations to that. You got to be able to adjust to that quickly. Not only do they do it, but they do it very successfully.”

New Hampshire is led by dual-threat quarterback Trevor Knight, who has thrown for 908 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has also ran the ball for 306 yards and two scores.

New Hampshire running back Dalton Crossan has rushed for 639 yards on 121 carries and three touchdowns.

Houston said their offensive line is another key to their success at running the football.

“They start four seniors on the offensive line,” Houston said. “Those guys play together really well, very physical. They do a good job of opening up holes there. I think they have a good offensive scheme. Probably the biggest factor is the quarterback runs just as good as (Crossan) does.”

The Wildcats are averaging 22.2 points and 366.5 yards per game.

The Dukes (5-1, 3-0) have played well on defense this season, allowing 218.1 yards and 24.7 points per contest.

Brandon Hereford leads the Dukes with 52 tackles. Redshirt senior linebacker Gage Steele is second on the team with 29 tackles, despite missing two games due to injury.

Houston said New Hampshire runs a 4-2-5 defensive scheme like JMU does, which should help the Dukes on offense.

The Wildcats are allowing 20 points and 377.5 yards per game. They are led by Pop Lacey with 40 tackles, while DeVaughn Chollette has 38.

“They’ve got talent, but their talent is very physical, very hard-nosed, very disciplined, very fundamental,” Houston said. “They play well together. They know their scheme, they’re older. It’s just a lot of things that go into making them a team that’s given up a very low number of points per game on the year.”

JMU’s offense is one of the top-ranked offenses in FCS. The Dukes are second in rushing yards per game (339.8) and fifth in scoring (44.8).

JMU quarterback Bryan Schor has thrown for 1,060 yards and six touchdowns. Khlaid Abdullah has led the Dukes’ running game with 797 yards on 103 carries and 11 touchdowns. Cardon Johnson has 590 yards and six touchdowns.

Houston said it will take a great effort by his team to snap New Hampshire’s home winning streak.

“We’ve got a pretty big challenge this weekend going to New Hampshire,” Houston said. “Coach McDonnell has done a tremendous job up there. They are a very experienced football team, a tremendous winning tradition. A coach that’s been there for a long time and has consistently won throughout, and certainly has his program established. We’ve got a great task going up there.”

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