Dukes ready for showdown with Wildcats

Bryan Schor

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University head football coach Mike Houston is expecting today’s Villanova game to be much like the one last year.

The Dukes defeated the Wildcats 20-7 last season. It was a game where the Dukes overcame some adversity, quarterback Bryan Schor was injured in the first quarter, and it was the play of the defense and special teams that led the way.

“It’s two of the top defenses in the league,” Houston said. “Two very good offenses, very physical football teams. So it should be a very similar match-up (to last season).”

ESPN’s “College GameDay” will be broadcasting their three-hour pre-game show from JMU at 9 a.m. today. The game is sold out and Houston said he expects it to be the largest crowd JMU has had since he took over as head coach last year.

Houston said the Dukes will not be at the show, and he wants them to focus solely on the game.

Mike Houston

“To me having “College GameDay” here on our campus is just a special event for our institution,” Houston said. “It’s going to bring some national recognition for our school. Our fans and alumni will enjoy it tremendously. At the end of the day the most important thing for our program is the football game.”

The Dukes (5-0, 2-0) have won 17 straight games, the longest current win streak in all of Division I. The winning streak is tied for the longest in CAA history.

JMU is ranked No. 1 in both Football Championship Subdivision polls. Villanova is ranked No. 11 in the STATS FCS poll. The game will also be a key contest in the Colonial Athletic Association.

One of the biggest challenges for the Dukes will be trying to move against Villanova’s stout defense. The Wildcats are allowing just 13.2 points and 238.3 yards per game.

Villanova (4-2, 2-1 CAA) uses a 3-3-5 defensive formation, and Houston said it will be a tough task to score on the Wildcats’ defense.

“They are very disciplined,” Houston said. “They have outstanding players. They play together very well in a well-coached scheme. They play with a lot of confidence. You see a lot of guys fitting things correctly and playing at a high intensity level. There’s a reason they’re putting up the stats defensively that they are. They are probably the best defense we have faced this year.”

Villanova is averaging 29.2 points and 352.2 yards per game. The Wildcats are led by running back Aaron Forbes, who has 311 yards rushing this season.

Villanova freshman quarterback Jack Schetelich has thrown for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He was thrust into the starting lineup after Zach Bednarczyk (1,068 yards and six touchdown passes) suffered an injury a few weeks ago.

Villanova wide receivers Ryan Bell and Taurus Phillips each have 18 catches and three touchdowns.

Houston said slowing down their running game will be a challenge.

“You look at their offensive line — big physical offensive line,” Houston said. “I think that we’re going to have to be very disciplined with fitting our gaps aggressively. Not only being in the right spot, but we’re going to have to be very physical at the point of contact. (Forbes) is an All-CAA player. And much like we faced with Maine, we can’t give them the creases. Because (Forbes) does a good job of running downhill and taking advantage of any daylight he sees.”

The Dukes will be without offensive lineman Gerren Butler. The 2015 Skyline graduate suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament a few weeks ago and is out for the season.

The Dukes are coming off a bye week. They are averaging 41.8 points and 517.4 yards per game. The defense is allowing just 11.6 points and 231.2 yards per contest.

Houston said the Dukes will need to play at a high level to knock off Villanova.

“It will be a tremendous challenge for us,” Houston said. “I think it’s a game where we’ll have to play our best game in order to have a chance to win. One where I’m going to stress to our team we got to consistently do the things that good football teams do (today) throughout the ball game to pull it off.”