JMU notebook: New offense coming together quickly for Dukes

James Madison head coach Mike Houston speaks with Cornell Urquhart in the first half of their college football game against North Carolina on Sept. 17 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. AP file

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University head coach Mike Houston knew the offense would be in good hands when he hired Donnie Kirkpatrick to be the offensive coordinator.

Kirkpatrick was the wide receivers coach at East Carolina University, and Houston wanted to blend in some of what Kirkpatrick was doing at ECU. Houston also hired Bryan Stinespring, former Virginia Tech offensive coordinator, as the tight ends coach, and wanted to use some of what he did at Virginia Tech as well.

So far this season the combination of the coaches and their ideas have worked well for JMU.

“I think our offensive staff has done a great job of bringing all those ideas together and producing what we’ve produced so far this year,” Houston said Tuesday in his weekly news conference. “It’s really come together probably as good as I could have hoped for.”

The Dukes are second in Football Championship Subdivision in points per game (47.6) and rushing yards per game (342).

JMU’s offense went up against a solid Delaware defense Saturday and still scored 43 points and had 607 yards of offense. For the season, JMU is averaging 531.2 yards of offense per contest.

“I knew that we had some quality players coming back, and I knew that we had certainly some strengths because of athleticism those players possessed,” Houston said. “Did I think that it would come together quite the way it has? I don’t know, but I think that goes back to (what) our kids have bought in. Our kids are doing what they’re coached to do. I think our coaching is doing a great job.

“I think it’s just that whole everybody committed to the common cause kind of deal, that’s resulted in things transitioning as fast as they have.”

Fitting in: JMU redshirt junior Terrence Alls was late getting to JMU this summer, but he’s now starting to find his groove for the Dukes.

The transfer from Duke University was finishing classes at Duke, before arriving in Harrisonburg in August.

“When he first got here he was in lousy shape because he had been trying to finish his degree at Duke University so he could get here,” Houston said with a laugh. “He hadn’t been training as much, so I think the first day we worried about him passing out more than anything with his performance.”

Alls has been playing better with each game. He had four catches for 70 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s win over Delaware.

He said he’s feeling more and more comfortable at JMU.

“I’m just getting more comfortable with Bryan (Schor) and everything’s getting better,” Alls said. “Just different ways getting on the field to help the team out has been vital to my success.”

Houston said Alls has had a great attitude and blended with the team really well.

“He’s worked very hard,” Houston said. “He’s done a good job of not coming in here kind of ‘look at me I’m an FBS player coming to an FCS school.’ He’s been a normal guy around the locker room, a normal guy in the weight room. He’s pretty quiet naturally. Then out on the field all he’s done. He’s worked to improve every single week.”

Back in action: JMU linebacker and Warren County graduate Gage Steele led the Dukes with 11 tackles against Delaware.

Steele had a half sack, and four solo tackles in the win.

It was Steele’s second game back after missing two games with a leg injury. He said it was a good feeling to be back on the field.

“It’s definitely nice to be back out there with my teammates,” Steele said. “To be back out there on the field making plays, making calls, just having fun with the defense it’s a big thing. Having fun with the team, it’s something you miss out when you’re injured. But being back is definitely nice.”

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