JMU Football Notebook: Houston, Dukes learning from past ESPN ‘College GameDay’ mistakes

Kirk Herbstreit, an analyst for ESPN's College GameDay, speaks to reporters outside Wilson Hall at James Madison University on Oct. 23, 2015. College GameDay is coming back to JMU this weekend. The Dukes host Villanova on Saturday. Rich Cooley/Daily file

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University’s football team is learning from previous mistakes.

Two years ago when ESPN’s “College GameDay” broadcast from JMU the team and then-head coach Everett Withers appeared on the three-hour pre-game show. The Dukes lostthat day to the University of Richmond.

“College GameDay” is returning this weekend, but current JMU head coach Mike Houston has said the team will be nowhere near the “College GameDay” set on Saturday. He said he wants there to be no distractions as they prepare for a very tough Villanova squad.

Houston said it wasn’t hard convincing his seniors it was the right thing to do.

“I don’t have to sell anything to them because they experienced it two years ago,” Houston said Tuesday in his weekly news conference. “And they have a sour taste in their mouth from the experience the last time GameDay was here. The other thing we lean on is the experience of the national championship game last year. And our whole focus is 100 percent about Villanova, because that’s the only thing that we can have an impact on.”

Houston said that “College GameDay” is more for the fans, and the players understand that.

“The players — they are not fans,” Houston said. “They will be one day. They’ll be alumni one day. They’ll be fans one day. But right now their job is to play a football game. And so they are focused 100 percent on doing what we are supposed to do this weekend. And that’s try to find some way to beat Villanova.”

PERFECT TIMING: Houston said the Dukes had a successful bye week last week.

He said the bye week came at a very good time for the team.

“It did come at a good point in our schedule, especially after a tough road game at Delaware,” Houston said. “To have a little bit of time just to regroup. I thought the kids handled the bye week very, very well. I thought they practiced very hard when we were out there. And we were able to give them a good bit of time away also.”

Houston said the team responded well on Sunday when they returned to practice after a few days off.

“They came back and practiced hard (Sunday) with a lot of energy,” Houston said. “So we’re excited about the match-up against a good Villanova team.”

LOOKING BACK: Houston said that last year’s 20-7 victory over Villanova was a turning point for his defense and for JMU as a program.

Starting quarterback Bryan Schor was injured in the first quarter of that game and was replaced by then true freshman Cole Johnson. The team, which led 10-0 at the time, had to rely on the defense to win the game.

“Your starting quarterback is on the sidelines. And you’re playing a very good team. And your defense really had to step up. And the run game really had to step up,” Houston said. “They responded. And I felt like that was a game — a hard fought, tough win — that eventually ended up clinching the conference championship.”

Houston said it was especially important for the defense, which had struggled in big games the past few years.

“That was a big game defensively because of what we came into when we first got here –and not a lot of confidence on that side of the football. Not having played well in a couple of years,” Houston said. “I really felt like that game brought our team together on a different level. And so I thought that was a big turning point for our program.

“We’ve played pretty solid ever since.”