JMU Football Notebook: Running backs take on different role in Dukes’ win

Mike Houston

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University’s running backs had to take on a little bit of a different role in last weekend’s 52-10 victory over East Tennessee State University.

The Bucanneers typically went with eight or nine guys in the box to try to stop JMU’s run game. The Dukes had to rely on the passing game, which meant the running backs had to block.

JMU coach Mike Houston said he was very happy with how the running backs did in their role last weekend.

“The big thing to look at is what a great job they did in pass protection,” Houston said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “Because with the number of people that East Tennessee State was bringing on the pressures we had to keep the back in a good bit. And they did a great job in protection. That’s not always easy for a running back, and they worked very hard at that.”

The Dukes were held to 122 yards rushing on 39 carries. Junior Marcus Marshall led the way with 31 yards on nine carries.

Houston said they showed a lot of unselfishness in being able to block and do what was asked of them.

“They’re only frustration was that they wanted to do more to help the team,” Houston said. “I think they always have a team-first attitude. So they are willing to do whatever they are called upon to do each week in order to help the team win. And that’s the primary focus of every kid in that room.”

BREAKOUT GAME: JMU sophomore wide receiver Riley Stapleton not only had his first catch in last weekend’s victory over East Tennessee State University he had eight.

Stapleton finished the game with eight receptions for 64 yards and two touchdowns. It was only his second career start.

“The first spring I was here, I was hard on him for probably about the first eight months I was here,” Houston said. “Because you saw a kid that had the God -given ability and potential and he just had to develop it. He had to make himself into the player he’s becoming. And he’s not done growing yet.

“I’m just very proud of how he’s grown and how much, because he’s just improved drastically from January 2016 until now.”

The Dukes lost three starting wide receivers from last year’s team due to graduation, and redshirt senior Terrence Alls is suspended for the first four games of this season due to a violation of team rules. Starting senior tight end Jonathan Kloosterman was suspended for the first two games due to a violation of team rules, but the 2014 Strasburg graduate will be back for this week’s game.

Despite not having any returning starters back at wide receiver or tight end, the Dukes showed against East Tennessee State that the passing game will once again be strong.

JMU quarterback Bryan Schor threw for 304 yards on 25-for-33 passing and five touchdowns. Redshirt senior Ish Hyman had 93 receiving yards on six catches and two scores. Redshirt junior David Eldridge had six receptions for 80 yards and one touchdown.

“I was very pleased with the way they all played, the way they competed,” Houston said of JMU’s receivers. “And obviously Bryan had a great night throwing the football.”

SPECIAL TEAMS SUCCESS: Houston said that one of the big keys to JMU’s victory last weekend was the play of the special teams.

East Tennessee State’s average starting field position was its own 16-yard line, while JMU’s was the JMU 37-yard line.

“Its a whole lot easier to call defense if they’re inside their 20, than it is if you’re out near the 40-yard line,” Houston said. “And the kicking game was a big reason for that.”

Houston said he was not happy with special teams play in the Dukes’ season opener. He said there’s still room for improvement.

“That’s more of what we’re used to,” Houston said of last weekend’s performance. “We got a couple penalties there on kickoffs that we got to eliminate.”

JMU’s  kicker also made all seven extra points and was one-for-one on his field goal attempts in the home opener. Gray missed an extra point and a field goal in JMU’s season opener.

JMU’s John Miller also had a 41-yard punt return for a touchdown against East Tennessee State. The Dukes had a combined 151 return yards on punts and kickoffs.