Q&A with the JMU Sports Blog: #9 JMU vs. #16 W&M

wm vs JMU halloween

As most of you know, Richmond shattered the CAA world last week by defeating the previously undefeated JMU Dukes. The Dukes put up a strong fight, even finishing with over 40 points, but it wasn’t enough to match the Spiders’ firepower on Homecoming weekend. However, the Dukes are hungry. They’re out to prove that they are still the best team in the CAA. Will the Tribe be ready to play on Halloween day?

To get a scouting report on this year’s JMU Dukes, we enlisted Rob and Todd of the JMU Sports Blog. It’s safe to say that without the JMU Sports Blog, the William & Mary Sports Blog would not exist, as we basically ripped off the entire idea/model from them! But seriously, their blog is awesome. If you haven’t checked them out before, you should definitely do so. But without further ado, enjoy our Q&A with the JMU Sports Blog!

Last week, much of the country saw JMU for the first time through ESPN College Game Day. It was an incredible atmosphere, as thousands flocked to the Quad to catch a glimpse of the Game Day crew. What was this experience like, and how much does this mean for the football program and JMU as a whole?

We think it means more than we can even assess or imagine at this moment and the aftereffects will be felt for years to come. It’s really difficult to quantify at this point, but one thing we’ve talked about for years is there can’t be an institution in the country with a higher gap between the way their alumni feel about the school (overwhelming, insanely positive) and the rate of giving back to the school (almost unfathomably low for a school of this size). Something like this reminds people what they love, both football fans and non-fans alike and can make a big difference in that gap. The nation (and FBS conferences) aren’t going to remember that JMU lost to Richmond on regional TV, they’re going to remember ESPN Gameday and that scene and turnout. And it’s not just football, the new baseball coach said he had eight recruits on campus Saturday and all he had to do was take them to the Quad, turn them loose, and keep his mouth shut. You think every single one of them doesn’t want to come here after that? 

And finally, one of the most difficult things for JMU to change culturally on the football side  is the perception outside the Mid-Atlantic that they’re a small school (or like W&M, probably even most folks think it’s a private school). 22,000 students and growing ain’t small in any world and that certainly showed on Saturday, not just nationally, but also to stodgy old alums and faculty who may not have realized the sheer volume of passion for JMU that’s out there and untapped.

Back to Football: We all know that JMU QB Vad Lee has been the best offensive player in all of FCS through the first 8 weeks. However, he left last week’s game against Richmond with an apparent ankle injury. Is there any update on that, and if he’s out, how comfortable are you with his backup?

JMU just announced that he had season ending surgery and is done. Alrighty then.

While losing Vad is a big blow, we’re actually pretty confident in his backup, #17 Bryan Schor. It’s unrealistic to think he can just step in and match Lee’s play, but we think he’ll be fine. The key to the offense is playing with pace and making quick decisions. Schor is more athletic than most fans probably realize and he’s got a quick release. He might not rewrite the record books like Vad, but he’s capable of leading the Dukes’ offense.
Newly crowned JMU QB Bryan Schor looks to fill a huge void following Vad Lee's season-ending injury. [photo: jmusports.com]
Newly crowned JMU QB Bryan Schor looks to fill a huge void following Vad Lee’s season-ending injury. [photo: jmusports.com]

Aside from Quarterback, who are some other offensive players that the Tribe should look out for this coming Saturday?

All of them. Just kidding, sort of. The fact is that a whole host of players have shined in the Dukes offense this year. We’re about to find out if that were due to Vad Lee elevating the entire unit, or if JMU just has a lot of weapons. Our guess is a little bit of both, but there’s no denying that JMU has some playmakers. Like the Tribe, the Dukes have a couple of capable rushing threats in #25 Cardon Johnson, and #32 Khalid Abdullah. They both rush for over 90 yards a game. #37 Deane Cheatham and #11 Brandon Ravenel have been the most consistent pass catchers, and #13 Ishmael Hyman, #6 Rashard Davis, and #3 Dominique Taylor are all threats to score as well.

On the other side of the ball, who are JMU’s top defensive players this year?

Coming off last week’s debacle of a performance, we’re inclined to just skip the question and keep talking about the offense. the defense was really, really awful against Richmond. But we can’t completely dodge the question. We continue to believe that corner back #14 Taylor Reynolds is a good defender who’s improved by leaps and bounds since coming to JMU. #33 Gage Steele can rack up tackles at linebacker and #93 Andrew Ankrah has emerged as a playmaker on the defensive line. The truth is that everyone on the defensive side of the ball should be playing for pride this weekend and trying to prove to themselves and the fans that they’re way better than they showed last Saturday. 

What would you say are JMU’s biggest strengths and its biggest weaknesses this year?
 
Biggest strength is they really are one unit, they have incredible belief in each other and the staff. All of that will be tested after the emotionally draining last week with Gameday and Vad’s injury.  We think they’ll be just fine. The other biggest strength is obviously the multiple ways they attack on offense. For years under the old regime we heard how great our talent level was and how JMU was recruiting great athletes but the scheme and the mentality usually limited that to 2 or 3 players taking all the touches. This offense’s greatest asset is the way they put ALL of JMU’s great playmakers in space throughout the game. Even without Vad, we’d expect Schor, Johnson, Abdullah, Cheatham, Kloosterman, Hyman, Ravenel, Taylor, and Davis to each have multiple opportunities this week. Until last week, health had also been a big strength. Obviously we lost Vad and our top two kick returners, one of whom (Tutt) was a big contributor on D too.
Biggest weakness is youth, especially on defense. Despite all the notoriety for Vad, this team is realllllly young. They also aren’t all that stout on the D-Line and have had trouble generating consistent pressure on opposing QB’s.
Linebacker Gage Steele leads a struggling JMU defense. [photo: jmusports.com]
Linebacker Gage Steele leads a struggling JMU defense. [photo: jmusports.com]
 
Moving forward: what do you predict JMU’s final record to be without Vad Lee?
 
At this point, we don’t think Vad makes a huge difference in the rest of the regular season. The Dukes are fortunate to have a late-season bye after this game so Schor, who is vastly underrated by our own fanbase, will have plenty of time to get ready for an inconsistent and possibly mediocre Delaware team (how the hell did the Tribe lose to those guys?!) and Villanova. We think they’ll get to 9-2 and make the playoffs. After that, it’s all matchups and we’ll have to see whether the Defense improves after getting punched in the mouth last week. Even if the Dukes only score 39 points/game instead of 49, that’s plenty to win with even marginally better D and a few more big plays.

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