We have recruited Rob and Todd from the JMU Sports Blog to help us out with this week’s preview article. Huge shout out to Rob and Todd for their inside scoop on the Dukes. I (Davey, ’15), used to follow the JMU SB to keep up to date with the CAA (and admittedly JMU sports), before the William & Mary Sports Blog was created.
You can attribute a big part of the WM Sports Blog’s creation to the inspiration from Rob and Todd at the JMU Sports Blog! So, without further ado, let’s learn more about this week’s opponent, the James Madison University Dukes.
1. We know JMU’s QB Vad Lee is a transfer from Georgia Tech. Tell us how its been watching him adjust to and mature at the FCS level. How has the overall adjustment gone, and what are the strengths and weaknesses in his game?
It’s been really fun to watch Lee grow into his role as the season has progressed. Like the entire team, he looked like he didn’t really grasp the entire offense in the opener against Maryland. In the next couple games after that, he started to appear more comfortable and things began to come together. The offense found a better run-pass balance and lately he’s gotten the chance to throw more short and intermediate passes. At this point in the season, he’s got full command of the offense and has become the unquestioned leader of the team.
He’s calm under pressure as he showed by leading late scoring drives against UD and Albany. He spreads the ball around in the air and is able to buy time with his feet. And if he needs to run it, he definitely can. He doesn’t throw with a ton of zip or have the most accurate deep passing game, but he’s a dangerous player in the Dukes’ offense.
2. Who are Vad Lee’s go to targets on offense, and how is the ground game?
In the beginning of the season, Sean Tapley, a WR transfer from UNC was Lee’s top target. He’s done a much better job of mixing it up and getting more guys involved after the first month of the season though. His most reliably target has been Dean Cheatham, which is not something we saw coming. Daniel Brown is a big target with good hands, Brandon Ravenel had a breakout game against Towson, and DeAndre Smith has 5 touchdowns in his last 4 games. Plus there’s Andre Coble and Ish Hyman and the aforementioned Tapley. All told there are 8 Dukes with more than 10 catches, so Lee has options.
The ground game is very solid. The running back corps has experienced a rash of injuries and Withers seems to go with a different guy each week (or half). Thankfully, most guys have answered when called upon and taken advantages of the caries they’ve been given. JMU averages a CAA best 5.2 yards per carry and 245 yards a game. John Miller, Juan Latney, and Khalid Abdullah all can get it done. And Lee isn’t too bad running the ball either, with two 100 yard games already this year.
3. What’s JMU’s defense like this year, could you tell us about some of the unit’s strengths and weaknesses?
Um, how can we put this? It’s not good. JMU has been giving up yards and points in bunches. They were dominant a few weeks ago against Towson, but that doesn’t really say much because, well, it was against Towson. The unit has really struggled adjusting to the 3-4 scheme that the new coaching staff implemented. Although at times the tackling has been so poor, that it’s not fair to place the blame purely on adjustments to the new scheme. In addition to poor tackling, JMU has been very susceptible to big plays. They’ll play well for stretches, only to see the efforts wasted with a huge scoring play. Ironically enough, they’ve got some playmakers who can make a difference. They just need to settle down and make the simple plays consistently.
4. What players should we watch out for on JMU’s defense?
On the D-line keeps your eyes on Sage Harold. He’s stepped up the last month or so and has been able to pressure the QB. Freshman CB Jimmy Moreland is already a fan favorite and exciting playmaker. He’s got 3 picks, 5 pass break ups, and 2 fumble recoveries. And he’s found the endzone twice on returns. Many fans thought Gage Steele was the heir apparent to JMU great Stephon Roberston at linebacker. He’s struggled with injuries and hasn’t quite lived up to such lofty expectations, but he appears to be rounding into form lately. And Dean Marlowe is a hell of a safety who the coaches finally seem to have in the right spot, after forcing him into cover roles earlier.
5. Where do you expect JMU to be ranked at the end of the season? And which teams from the CAA do you think will make the FCS Playoffs?
We think JMU will finish 4th in the CAA and we expect the CAA to get four teams. Villanova and UNH look like the clear-cut top two. Then two of the three Virginia teams – Richmond, William & Mary, and JMU – should settle this thing the old-fashioned way down the stretch. Albany has a good record but they’ve already lost to JMU and have a tough schedule ahead. Delaware has four losses already and still has to play both Nova and UNH. Stony Brook is probably better than their record but they already have five losses and a win over a DII which doesn’t count.
6. What are your guys’ favorite things to do during JMU Homecoming (which is this weekend); and what would you recommend to Tribe fans visiting the area?
A little odd this year since it falls on Halloween so Friday night may be a little less predictable on the bar scene. We recommend Clementine Cafe and a visit to Three Brothers Brewing for a tour, tasting, and to stock up for Saturday. Obviously JMU is in a beautiful part of the state and the nation this time of year and all the hiking and mountain biking you could ever ask for are at your disposal, but gameday is all about the tailgate. Lots open at 8 a.m. and we’re glad to say our folks take this seriously. Our main suggestion is to have fun walking the tailgate lots. Most of our fans are great even if you can expect plenty of “NERDS!” thrown your way, something we actually imagine most Tribe fans consider a point of pride and deservedly so. Even if you park in cash lots near our basketball “facility,” the Convocation Center, make sure you save time to make it to the tailgates nearer the stadium as well.
7. Give us your Purple and Gold prediction for this weekend’s matchup!
Tight game as expected. Home game makes the difference down the stretch even though our student section will be empty by then no matter how great the game. Dukes 35, Pantless Griffins 34.
We at the WM Sports Blog would like to thank Rob and Todd for their contributions to this article! Again, be sure to check out their website here. It’s always great to see other CAA blogs doing well, especially one for a school in the great state of Virginia.
Tribe Keys to Victory:
- Stop Vad Lee. Get in his face, contain him in the pocket, force bad decisions, interceptions, and fumbles. If Lee has a poor game, JMU will be extremely hard-pressed to get a win.
- Establish the run, and set up the pass. Mikal Abdul-Saboor needs to build off of last week’s game, in which he ran the ball 37 times. Take advantage of this suspect JMU defense.
- Steve Cluley will also need another good game (think Villanova), in order to keep up with the Dukes’ high-flying offense.
Viewing: The game will be broadcasted regionally on the American Sports Network (ASN). To find out which channel the game is on, check this list! If you can’t catch it on TV, you can view the game for free using JMU’s Madizone– Check out this link prior to the start to access Madizone.
WM SB Prediction: W&M 30 JMU 27
Of course we can’t agree with the JMU SB’s prediction! If the Tribe can contain Vad Lee, continue to force turnovers, and put up points on offense, William & Mary will walk away with a victory. GO TRIBE
You can check out the official game notes here!