JMU Football Notebook: Balanced offense continues to shine for Dukes

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University has relied on a balanced offense for the last couple of seasons and it showed again in last weekend’s victory over the University of Maine.

After a slow start, the Dukes ran for 191 yards, despite being a little short-handed. They relied a lot on junior Marcus Marshall, who finished the game with 135 yards on 19 carries. Junior Trai Sharp had only eight carries due to missing practice time last week after the death of his father. Senior Taylor Woods had seven carries.

“We wanted to be able to run the football early on in that ballgame,” JMU head coach Mike Houston said Tuesday in his weekly press conference. “And certainly Marcus (Marshall) and Taylor (Woods) got a lot of the carries early just from the fact that Trai (Sharp) missed a lot of practice last week. There were a lot of things last week that he had just not done in practice. I think this week you’ll see us use all three.”

The running game started off slow, but the passing game was solid from the start. JMU senior quarterback Bryan Schor threw for 281 yards on 21-for-31 passing and four touchdowns.

As the game went on JMU”s passing game helped open things up more for the running game.

“We want to be a balanced offense, which we were Saturday,” Houston said. “We want to run the football effectively. We want to throw the ball effectively. And we want the two to work in conjunction.”

The Dukes’ offensive line may be without Skyline graduate Gerren Butler. The redshirt sophomore suffered an injury during the win over Maine and was on crutches at the end of the game.

“I don’t know a whole lot on Gerren just yet,” Houston said. “He’s being evaluated (Tuesday). So we should know more later on in the week.”

MAKING EACH OTHER BETTER: JMU’s wide receivers have had a good knack for being able to go up and catch passes in one-on-one match-ups with opposing defensive backs this season.

Houston said much of that success starts in practice, where the first-team receivers have to go against JMU’s first-team defensive backs.

“Certainly that’s something they’ve got to learn how to do in order to survive in practice,” Houston said. “And I think that quality of David Eldridge. That quality of Terrence Alls. That quality of Riley Stapleton. That quality of Ish Hyman to attack the ball in the air has made our secondary better also. Because we’ve had to learn how to battle for position and battle for balls in the air.”

The Dukes have also had 13 different players catch passes this season. Houston said that is by design. He said it’s important to have a lot of depth at wide receiver and to make it harder for teams to focus on one guy.

“You have so many different guys that can make plays,” Houston said. “And Bryan is so good at not forcing the ball, but putting the ball where it needs to go depending on the play call and the defense he sees. You combine that with our running game and it forces you to defend the entire field horizontally and vertically.”

FRESHMAN FORCE: Houston admitted he’s been a little surprised at how well true freshman wide receiver Ezrah Archie has played in the last two games.

Archie saw his first playing time in the Dukes’ win over Norfolk State University on Sept. 16. He had three catches in that game.

Then in last weekend’s victory over Maine, Archie had a team-high eight receptions for 90 yards and one touchdown. Archie started against Maine due to an injury to senior John Miller.

“To his credit he’s come through and made the plays,” Houston said. “And he’s earned the right to be on the field. And he’s taking advantage of the opportunity once he’s got out there.”

Archie now has 11 catches for 108 yards on the season.

Houston said that Archie was one of the last recruits they tried to sign, and he’s very glad that they were able to get him.

“We felt like we just wanted to take just one more receiver in (the 2017) class,” Houston said. “And we thought he had a chance to develop. But you know he came in here and to his credit he has done such a good job since he got here that we decided to play him this year.”

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