HARRISONBURG — James Madison University will be facing a very familiar Colonial Athletic Association football opponent today.
The Dukes will host New Hampshire at Bridgeforth Stadium at 3:30 p.m. in JMU’s homecoming game, the third time in the last two season the two teams will have met.
JMU head football coach Mike Houston said this will be a big challenge for his squad.
“It’s another formidable opponent coming in here in New Hampshire, who I consider to be a playoff caliber team,” Houston said. “They’re playing at an extremely high level right now. Coming off a blowout win at home against Towson last week. It should be a great match-up.”
The Dukes (7-0, 4-0 CAA) beat New Hampshire, 42-39, in the regular season last year and then in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, 55-22.
The biggest challenge for the Dukes will be slowing down New Hampshire quarterback Trevor Knight.
The sophomore is second in the CAA in passing (272.1 yards per game), passing touchdowns (18) and total offense (296 yards per game).
“I think Trevor Knight is probably playing as good as any player in the league right now,” Houston said. “He’s a legitimate dual threat quarterback. I think he’s maybe their best running back. When he gets out into open space, whether it’s a designed quarterback run or if its a quarterback scramble, he can really give you some problems. And he has the great ability to throw on the run.
“He’s been very accurate this year on the run, which creates problems because as you extend plays and plays break down, it really puts stress on defenses. And then his accuracy really creates problems.”
Houston said that Knight reminds him a lot of JMU senior quarterback Bryan Schor, which could help the JMU defense. JMU’s first-team defense practices against Schor and the JMU first-team offense at every practice.
New Hampshire wide receiver Neil O’Connor leads the CAA in receptions with 8.57 receptions per game, receiving yards per game (126.1 yards per game) and receiving touchdowns (nine).
“Neil O’Connor is leading the league in every kind of receiving category you possibly can,” Houston said. “He’s really been torching opposing defenses. And (New Hampshire wide receiver) Malik Love and some of the other receivers are quality, quality receivers. They have a lot of personnel that’s going to stress us.”
New Hampshire is ranked No. 17 in the STATS FCS Top 25 poll, and No. 16 in the FCS Coaches’ Poll.
The Wildcats (5-2, 3-1 CAA) are averaging 29.9 points per contest. They are allowing 24.6 points per game.
Houston said the Wildcats are solid on defense, and will be a challenge for JMU’s offense.
“They’re going to be a hard-nosed physical defense,” Houston said. “They’re going to play very, very hard. They’re going to be the same thing on offense. I think you’re seeing two teams that are probably fairly similar that are going to face off (today).”
The Dukes have won 19 straight games and are ranked No. 1 in both FCS polls. JMU is fifth in FCS in scoring offense (40.7 points per game) and second in scoring defense (11.4 points per game).
Schor has thrown for 1,488 yards on 118-for-175 passing with 15 touchdowns. JMU running back Trai Sharp has rushed for 462 yards on 89 carries and two touchdowns. JMU wide receiver David Eldridge leads all receivers with 19 catches for 260 yards and three scores.
Defensively, linebacker Kyre Hawkins leads the Dukes with 48 tackles and five sacks. JMU’s Jordan Brown, Jimmy Moreland and Rashad Robinson each have four interceptions.
JMU senior defensive tackle Cornell Urquhart said he is expecting another hard-fought game against New Hampshire.
“They played us really close up there (last year), and then when they came down here we played really well,” Urquhart said. “So I expect them to come out with everything they got and give us all they got. Because they have nothing to lose and neither do we. So it’s going to be an awesome game.”