JMU Football Notebook: Depth big key for Dukes this season

Clayton Cheatham

HARRISONBURG –James Madison University’s depth has been a key factor all season.

The Dukes’ football squad has suffered numerous injuries, but it hasn’t shown in the level of their play. JMU head football coach Mike Houston said that the team’s depth was on display last week in their 46-14 victory over William & Mary.

“We had eight kids last weekend that either had started or were slated to start for us this year that did not play,” Houston said Tuesday in his weekly press conference. “And we’re still continuing to play at a very high level. I think that speaks to the depth that we were able to develop the last couple years with recruiting and developing our roster.”

JMU starting tight end Jonathan Kloosterman returned to the lineup and came off the bench last week after missing several games due to illness. True freshman tight end Clayton Cheatham started and hauled in a touchdown pass early in the game.

Gerren Butler suffered a season-ending injury in the fourth game of the year, but redshirt senior Nick Edwards and true freshman Liam Fornadel stepped up and have filled Butler’s role.

Mike Houston

“You see guys that are getting their chances to play and they’re playing at a high level,” Houston said. “So you don’t see much of a dip in the performance of the team. I think it’s definitely something that’s our strength. I think we have quality kids that we have tried very, very hard to redshirt that haven’t played yet that I believe could go out and help us. We try to put the players in the best position they can be in to develop and be ready.”

ROUTING A RIVAL: Houston said the victory over William & Mary was a big win for the team for several reasons, one of which is it was a rivalry game.

Houston said the older players, especially were extra-motivated to get a win.

“I thought we were very motivated to go out and get a win there,” Houston said. “It was the first win by JMU at William & Mary since 2011. So it was a game that was very important to a lot of older kids because they had never won there before.”

Houston said he thought the Dukes played well in all three phases of the game. Houston said he felt like field position also played a key role in the victory.

“Certainly when you force six turnovers and are able to get some of the return yards that we got off of those turnovers that’s going to help you a lot,” Houston said. “So field position was an important part of the game on Saturday.”

It was also JMU’s eighth consecutive road victory. Houston said every win on the road is big for his team.

“Any time you get a road win in this league it’s something special because they’re hard to come by,” Houston said. “…We went into a tough place to play against a good solid football team and were able to pull off a road win in the conference. I think this is the best conference in the country. Every Saturday it proves itself to be that with the way the teams represent themselves and the way they compete and the way they compete outside of our conference.”

COMING TOGETHER: Houston said he was very happy with the play of the offensive line against William & Mary.

Houston said he thought it all started with how the offensive line practiced last week.

“We kind of challenged them (last) week that we wanted to get back to JMU football,” Houston said. “We wanted to get down to a little more aggressive come off the ball kind of mentality. And I thought they really responded. We had a our best Tuesday of the year, as far as an offensive front last Tuesday. And I thought that carried over into Saturday.”

Edwards returned from a suspension several weeks ago. He is starting at right guard in place of Butler.

Houston said having Edwards back has helped, along with some of the younger players gaining valuable experience. Houston said that he knew the offensive line would have to step up against the Tribe and they did.

“William & Mary is one of the top defenses in our league,” Houston said. “One of the top defenses in the country. They had to go out and play the way they did on Saturday in order for us to have the production we had offensively.”

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