Dukes facing another strong defensive CAA team

Kyre Hawkins

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University will be going up against yet another strong Colonial Athletic Association defense today.

The Dukes will play at William & Mary College today at 3:30 p.m. The Tribe have lost some close games this season, but they are fourth in the CAA in total defense.

“This is a team that’s very similar defensively to what we’ve seen the last three weeks,” JMU coach Mike Houston said. “I think we’ll be challenged greatly to move the football (today).”

William & Mary is allowing just 17.7 points per contest.

Houston said the success of the defense starts with the defensive line.

Jimmy Moreland

“First off is just the size of their defensive line,” Houston said. “Three of the four guys are returning starters and seniors or fifth-year seniors, The two interior tackles — (Isaiah Stephens) is an all-CAA player and (Bill Murray) gave us fits last year. (Matt Ahola) is a fifth-year senior. Those guys are big, strong, athletic players. And (Gavin Johnson) is an extremely good athlete, he’s a young guy. But if you have a front like that most often times you’re going to have a pretty good start at having a solid defense.”

The Tribe are led at linebacker by Clarke County graduate Josh Dulaney, who has 38 tackles and three sacks.

William & Mary’s pass defense is second in the CAA, allowing just 179.3 yards per contest.

“I just think you’ve got guys that have been there,” Houston said of the Tribe’s defense. “They’ve got experience. They’re talented. They have size and strength. They play a solid scheme. They’re extremely well-coached. They’re very similar to the things that made Villanova a solid defense this past week.”

JMU is coming off a hard-fought 30-8 victory over Villanova. Before that the Dukes had two tough defensive contests with Maine and Delaware.

Many of the teams in the CAA have strong defenses this season, and Houston said he thinks part of the reason is that defense is part of the identity of the league.

“I think it kind of fits this conference,” Houston said. “This is a blue collar conference. This is a conference that’s always kind of been the rough and tumble, beat each other up kind of conference. So I think that most of the teams in our league kind of have that identity of being a strong, defensive team. So they recruit to it. And certainly the recruiting areas — maybe the Northeast, Virginia — those areas kind of lend itself to being a little more hard-nosed.”

The Dukes not only have the top defense in the CAA, but also one of the top defenses in the country.

JMU leads Football Championship Subdivision in team passing efficiency defense (71.81), and is second in scoring defense (11 points per game) and total defense (221.7 yards per game).

JMU redshirt senior linebacker Kyre Hawkins leads the team with 41 tackles and 4.5 sacks. JMU redshirt junior cornerback Jimmy Moreland and junior cornerback Rashad Robinson each have three interceptions to lead the Dukes.

William & Mary has struggled at times this season on offense. They have been led by running back Nate Evans, who has 309 yards on 65 carries and three touchdowns.

The Tribe will be starting freshman quarterback Shon Mitchell this week. Last week Mitchell played in his first game and threw for 101 yards.

“I do think that (Mitchell) is extremely athletic,” Houston said. “So we do expect to see a little bit of quarterback run with him in there. …He’s a great player. And he’s going to be a great player in this league in time, and just hopefully it doesn’t happen (today).”

Houston said he expects senior tight end Jonathan Kloosterman to play some today. The 2014 Strasburg graduate has missed the last two games due to an illness.

It is William & Mary’s homecoming, and Houston said he expects the Tribe will give JMU a very tough battle.

“I expect them to play very, very well (today),” Houston said. “So I’m going to challenge our team. We’ve got to have a tremendous week of practice. We’ve got to continue to make improvements. And we’ve got to be ready to go down there and play just a very physical football game. And be ready just to claw and scratch and fight and do anything we can to try to find a way to win that ballgame.”