Nine starters returning: JMU looking to build off last year’s defensive performance

JMU's Jordan Brown (44) and Cornell Urquhart (far left) celebrate during the Dukes' win over North Dakota State University in the FCS semifinals on Dec. 9 in Fargo, North Dakota. Courtesy file photo by JMU Athletics Communications

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University’s defense kept improving throughout last season and was a big key to the Dukes’ national championship run. Now the defense is looking to build off of that finish.

JMU returns nine starters on defense from a team that allowed 13 1/2 points per game in the last six contests.

JMU head coach Mike Houston said that he’s been happy with what he’s seen in preseason.

“The thing I’m really pushing on them is more consistency in performance snap after snap,” Houston said after Tuesday’s practice at Bridgeforth Stadium. “We’ve had some lapses, but early in camp you’re going to expect that. I have extremely high expectations for them given that most of them played a lot last year.”

JMU redshirt senior defensive lineman Andrew Ankrah said having so many players back from last year has helped them get off to a strong start in preseason camp.

“We have a lot of mature guys coming back who know how to play in big games, and who know how to be mentally tough,” Ankrah said. “So that’s good for us, and we can build off of that. And the spots that we have to replace we’ve got guys in there working very hard.”

Ankrah was named to the STATS FCS Preseason All-American team as was safety Raven Greene, who led the team with six interceptions last year.

One thing that Ankrah said helps the defense is going up against one of the top offenses in the country every day at practice. JMU was second in FCS last year in points per game (46.7).

“We have a great offense,” Ankrah said. “We have a great offensive line. We have a great leader in there in the huddle in (quarterback) Bryan Schor. It’s an honor, it’s a blessing just to have guys like that on our team. That’s why we come out so fired up on defense to compete. It’s just an advantage that we have to be able to compete against those guys each and every day. We’re blessed to have a great offense.”

Schor said it works both ways, and the defense also helps push the offense to work harder and become better.

Ankrah said that his only personal goal for the team this year is for the defense to come together quicker than it did last year.

“That starts with communication up front,” Ankrah said. “That starts with knowing what to do with your assignments and your calls and everything like that. And building that chemistry fast enough so that when we get to the first game we’re ready to go full go. We don’t want to have to wait until week two or week three to come together.”