JMU Football Notebook: Improvement by Dukes’ secondary key to defensive success

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University head football coach Mike Houston has seen his team improve a lot since he took the job in Januray of 2016. One of the areas where the Dukes have improved has been in the secondary.

The Dukes are allowing just 132.4 passing yards per contest this season and only three passing touchdowns.

“I think they’ve improved a lot, and that’s probably an understatement,” Houston said Tuesday in his weekly press conference. “Where we were a year-and-a-half ago, almost two years ago, versus where they are right now. Certainly they’re talented athletes, but they were talented athletes when we got here. And I think (JMU defensive coordinator and safeties) coach (Bob) Trott and (JMU cornerbacks) coach (Tripp) Weaver have done a great job of establishing sound fundamentals in both zone coverage and man coverage.

“And really working to develop not only their physical ability, but also their mindset of how to play in the secondary.”

The Dukes have 17 interceptions this season, led by five each from cornerback Rashad Robinson and safety Jordan Brown. Robinson had a key interception in last weekend’s 21-0 victory over New Hampshire. He returned it 82 yards for a touchdown to put the game out of reach.

Bryan Schor

They also have plenty of depth. The Dukes were without cornerback Curtis Oliver against New Hampshire due to injury, but true freshman Taurus Carroll was among those to step up and make some plays for JMU’s defense.

Houston said the secondary’s ability to make plays in both zone and man coverage is very important to the team’s success.

“I think we’ve had success because we’re a team that we can go out there we can match people up in man,” Houston said. “We can got out there we can play solid zone defense. We understand both. We understand how to play well together. We communicate well. So I think it’s just a lot of hard work, a lot of growth and maturity. And a group that’s really driven to be the best.”

WORKING TOGETHER: One of the biggest keys to JMU’s success this season has been the ability of the team to work together.

Houston said that the defensive line and defensive backs helped each other out a lot in the victory over New Hampshire. He said both were pivotal in slowing down New Hampshire quarterback Trevor Knight, who had only 131 yards of total offense. Knight entered the game averaging over 230 yards of offense per game.

“I thought our DB’s did a great job in coverage, which forced Knight to hold the football a little bit,” Houston said. “I thought our defensive front did a great job with pressure, which hurried some throws. The combination of the two is the reason you saw the sacks and the interceptions. And you saw a lot of pressured throws, especially in the second half.”

The Dukes held the Wildcats to just 27 yards rushing and just 193 yards of total offense. Houston said the defense did a great job, but he said the play of both the offense and special teams also helped the defense.

“I’ve said it many times our special teams had a lot to do with (the win),” Houston said. “Being able to run the ball effectively most of the day offensively had a lot to do with it. So really it’s a thing where this team is built for all three phases to feed off of each other.”

A SCHOR THING: JMU quarterback Bryan Schor broke the school record for touchdown passes in the win over New Hampshire.

On Schor’s first touchdown pass of the game, a 13-yarder to Ish Hyman, he broke the record with his 82nd touchdown pass of his career. Schor broke the record previously held by Vad Lee and Justin Rascati.

Schor, who would later throw his 83rd touchdown pass, said the record never entered his mind before the game.

“It’s something I’ve heard it here and there and I’ve been asked about it for a little while,” Schor said of the record. “But it’s not really something I’ve thought about. If those accolades come so be it, that’s great. But I’m more focused on making sure that we go out there and win every game, and put our guys in the best situation. It’s not something I’ve really put too much thought into.”

Schor finished the game with 176 passing yards on 20-for-27 passing.

Schor has thrown for 1,664 yards this season with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Houston said he was happy to see Schor get the record.

“I’ll look back one day and I’ll remember how blessed I am to have a guy like Bryan Schor,” Houston said. “And not only is he an outstanding player, but I promise you he had given no thought to that record. And he doesn’t really care about it. He cares he got the win. I think everyone else was more excited in the locker room than he was. He’s what every coach wants at that quarterback position. And I’m very proud of him. He deserves to have the record. I just hope he extends that record quite a bit before he graduates from JMU.”

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