JMU football notebook: Passing game shines in win over New Hampshire

HARRISONBURG – New Hampshire decided to take away James Madison University’s run game on Saturday, but the Dukes proved they can be successful throwing the ball as well.

JMU quarterback Bryan Schor, who was the Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Week, threw for a career-high 334 yards and five touchdown passes.

“New Hampshire has a good defensive football team,” JMU head coach Mike Houston said in his weekly press conference Tuesday. “They are very good against the run. We felt like they would have defenders in the box consistently throughout the day. They were playing their safeties down. Anticipating that we worked a lot on our play-action pass game. We worked a lot on some of the things that we could with RPO (run-pass option) stuff to take advantage of that. I think we came out and did a really good job of that.”

The Dukes beat New Hampshire, 42-39, snapping the Wildcats’ 17-game home winning streak. It also put JMU all alone in first place in the CAA.

Houston said he’s not sure if the success of the passing game against New Hampshire would affect how teams play them. The Dukes entered the contest with New Hampshire second in Football Championship Subdivision in rushing yards per game. As a whole, the Dukes are averaging 514.9 yards and 44.4 points per game.

“You would hope it would loosen up the safeties a little bit, so we wouldn’t have them crowding the box as much. But it will all come down to week-to-week how people will choose to defend us,” Houston said of the passing game. “The one thing that I have confidence in is you can only take away so much defensively. I have confidence in our players and I have confidence in coach (offensive coordinator Donnie) Kirkpatrick that we’re going to be prepared to take advantage of whatever somebody tries to take away.”

Late-game struggles: For the third straight game the Dukes had trouble closing out their opponent.

JMU held a 42-18 lead with 10 minutes left in the game, and gave up 21 points to New Hampshire in the final quarter. The same thing happened to JMU in its two previous games.

“We’ve had some pretty good-sized leads in the fourth quarter,” Houston said. “So certainly teams don’t really have a whole lot to lose. They’re a lot more aggressive and throwing the ball around a good bit, doing some things that they maybe typically had not done.”

Houston said some credit definitely goes to New Hampshire for making plays down the stretch.

He said that they will continue to try to fix how they play with the lead at the end of games.

“The big thing we’ve got to do is we’ve got to continue to improve in that situation,” Houston said. “We had multiple opportunities there on Saturday to make plays on balls that really should have been intercepted. We’ve got to make those plays, because those plays get you off the field.”

Houston said that the Dukes had trouble getting off the field in the first half Saturday as well. They played 46 snaps on defense, which Houston said led to some of the troubles they had late in the second half.

“We played 46 snaps on defense (in the first half) and that’s just too much,” Houston said. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting off the field and limiting our snaps, so at the end of the day you don’t take 100 snaps on defense.”

Perfect timing: Houston said the bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for the Dukes.

He said it will help the Dukes get refocused and ready for the last four games of the season as well as get healthy. The Dukes’ next game is home with Rhode Island on Oct. 29.

“We’re going to really focus on us this week fundamentally,” Houston said. “Certainly we’re going to use the time to prep for Rhode Island, but we want to really get better with what we are doing at the same time. We want to refocus on what we’re doing. Get our legs back under us for a couple guys that might be dinged up a little bit, get them healthy. We want to really look to improve in a few situational areas that we have the time to address this week. And we look forward to getting a couple days (off) at the end of the week, so the kids can be fresher and ready to go Sunday and have a good prep week for Rhode Island.”

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