HARRISONBURG — It hasn’t been the easiest season for James Madison University senior A.J. Bolden and the rest of the Dukes offensive line. But one drive in last weekend’s playoff victory over Stony Brook was a sign that the position group may be playing its best at the right time.
JMU took the opening drive and methodically went 74 yards in eight plays for a touchdown. It was only JMU’s second touchdown on an opening drive this season, something the Dukes did regularly last year.
“I felt like we were getting back to us,” Bolden said of the drive. “Last year we came out and the majority of the time we scored on the first drive. So it really felt like we were getting back to us. I think our chemistry is clicking and we’re starting to peak at the time that we need to peak.”
The Dukes struggled with the running game throughout the victory, but the passing game was solid. JMU quarterback Bryan Schor threw for 255 yards in the win.
JMU’s offensive line has had to deal with several injuries throughout the year. Before preseason camp started redshirt sophomore Tyree Chavious suffered a season-ending injury.
Early in the season redshirt sophomore and 2015 Skyline graduate Gerren Butler suffered a season-ending injury. JMU tight end and 2014 Strasburg graduate Jonathan Kloosterman has also been in and out of the lineup throughout the season due to a suspension and an illness. JMU redshirt senior Nick Edwards was suspended for the first four games, but has started every game on the offensive line since.
Bolden, a 2013 Millbrook graduate, said that it’s been tough for the offensive line to build chemistry with so many different changes in the lineup.
“Between injuries and new guys rotating in and out trying to find our chemistry — it can get hard,” Bolden said. “But at the same time that helps us create a bigger bond between all of us, because we have to know each other. And if we don’t know each other we know things can slip up and that’s the last thing we want in the playoffs. We’re trying to go back and repeat a national championship. So we have to continue to come together.”
JMU had some of its strongest offensive games toward the end of the season. The Dukes scored 30 or more points in two of their last three regular season games.
Bolden, Edwards and redshirt senior Aaron Stinnie are all seniors, but the rest of the offensive line is very young. JMU uses eight offensive linemen throughout each game to keep the players fresh. The other five linemen that are used are all freshmen and sophomores.
Bolden said it’s been great seeing the young guys step up and continue to improve.
One thing that has helped the offense when it has struggled in games has been the play of the defense. JMU’s defense is the top-ranked unit in the country, allowing just 8.8 points and 235.1 yards per game.
Bolden said it’s a good feeling to know they can rely on the defense if they need to. Bolden said the defense has shined under defensive coordinator Bob Trott. He said the offense is trying to get to where the defense is.
“Offensively, we’re just trying to follow in their footsteps,” Bolden said of the defense. “And I know it’s not a coaching change, it’s been a player change for us, but what we’re tying to do is find ourselves and continue to get in our groove.”
JMU hosts Weber State University in the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Friday. Bolden said being a senior makes every game more meaningful.
“I understand the stakes it’s either win or go home in the playoffs,” Bolden said. “So, for us we have to go out there and give it everything we have. And I know I have 22 other seniors who feel exactly the way I do.”