JMU Football Notebook: Dukes stay united in tough times

HARRISONBURG — It’s been a tough week for James Madison University’s running backs.

Redshirt senior Cardon Johnson suffered a season-ending injury in JMU’s 75-14 victory over Norfolk State University last weekend.

Junior running back Trai Sharp found out on Saturday during the game that his father had died.

JMU head coach Mike Houston said that all of the tough times have brought the team together.

“We do it together, and we talk about it openly, just kind of like you do in your living room with your family,” Houston said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “I do think this is a tight-knit bunch. You could see it after the game the other night. You could see it on Sunday just how much they care about each other. They’re constantly supporting each other. And I do think it will be emotional for those reasons this Saturday for everybody. I think that unity and that caring for each other is truly our strength.”

Houston said that he talked to Sharp on Tuesday morning and Sharp plans on playing Saturday against the University of Maine.

“He’s doing as good as can be expected,” Houston said of Sharp. “He is driven and wants to, and his mom wants him to, and he’s going to play Saturday. He’ll be back with the team later in the week. And he wants to get back to his teammates and his teammates want him back.”

Houston said he also heard from Johnson’s mom on Tuesday morning and she said that Johnson’s surgery went well.

Houston said Johnson suffered a lower-right leg injury. Last season, Johnson missed the last six games of the year after tearing his right achilles.

“It’s tough losing Cardon — you hate it for him,” Houston said. “Certainly he’s the second-leading rusher in the conference. He had a dynamic game against East Carolina, But really any kid his senior year having that injury is really tough. So you hate that for him personally.”

Houston said Johnson could get a medical redshirt and come back to JMU for a sixth season next year, but he said that will be Johnson’s decision to make.

NEXT MAN UP: With Johnson’s injury, Houston said he expects to use true freshman Percy Agyei-Obese more moving forward.

Houston said they still plan to use four running backs like they have been with Agyei-Obese being the fourth back.

“We had kind of figured we would have to use Percy (Agyei-Obese) this year and we were dressing him and traveling him every week,” Houston said. “He actually gets reps with the offense this week. He’s been our scout team tailback the last several weeks. But were going to try to play four running backs so I expect to see him in there in the lineup.”

Agyei-Obese was JMU’s second-leading rusher against Norfolk State with 103 yards on 16 carries and one touchdown.

JMU, which is still ranked No. 1 in the both Football Championship Subdivision polls this week, has plenty of depth at running back with Sharp, junior Marcus Marshall and senior Taylor Woods leading the way.

Houston said he expects the other running backs to step up with Johnson out.

“We have a group that’s very talented there in that room,” Houston said. “And they will pick up the slack. And they will kind of do it for him.”

DEFENSE THRIVING: JMU’s defense has been every bit as strong as the offense this season.

The Dukes are allowing just 12.7 points per game, but the majority of those points haven’t come against JMU’s defense. They have allowed only 17 points on defense, with the remaining 21 points coming on interception and kickoff returns for touchdowns.

JMU senior defensive lineman Cornell Urquhart said that one big factor is simply being in the second year of the system together.

“I think this is our second year under a fairly new coach, and I think were buying into the scheme,” Urquhart said after the win over Norfolk State. “And we’re playing together. I think chemistry is a major part of what we’ve been doing so far. And we’re just doing what we’re coached to do.”

In the victory against Norfolk State, the Dukes held the Spartans to just 43 yards rushing and 48 yards passing.

JMU redshirt senior defensive back Raven Greene said after the game that everything starts with the play of the defensive line.

“It starts up front,” Greene said. “Guys like Cornell (Urquhart) make sure to get after them and setting the tone. (Norfolk State) didn’t have much time back there. It set us up well.”