Following last week’s terrible loss at UNH, the struggling William & Mary Tribe will go on the road for an in-state rivalry game vs. the James Madison Dukes. To scout the Dukes, we at the W&M Sports Blog recruited the highly touted sports experts at the JMU Sports Blog. Okay, maybe they’re not experts. But imagine the W&M Sports Blog, but with a lot more experience (and a lot more Twitter followers), and you get the JMU Sports Blog! And we’ve said it 100 times, but if not for the JMU Sports Blog as inspiration, we never would have started our W&M Sports Blog. So if you haven’t checked out their page before, it’s well worth checking out, regardless of what CAA team you follow. For now, sit back, relax, and learn about the Green and Gold’s next opponent: the JMU Dukes!
We know JMU picked up a solid transfer QB from South Carolina in Connor Mitch this offseason. But incumbent QB Bryan Schor was the guy last year, and returns for his junior season. Could you describe JMU’s QB situation, how he’s performed so far this year, and some of his strengths/weaknesses?
Schor backed-up former JMU great, Vad Lee, and then was abruptly thrown into the starting role after Lee was injured last season. He did a fine job, but didn’t do enough to cement his status as the definite starter for 2016. By all accounts, Bryan worked really hard in the off season and elevated his game once Connor Mitch was brought in as a transfer to compete for the job.
Schor flashed potential last year, but has really exceeded most fans’ expectations thus far. He’s not flashy, but he’s a very effective north-south type of runner. He also can extend plays with his feet and then hit receivers down the field, as he showed multiple times against Delaware. He’s been very accurate, completing nearly 70% of his passes. Thankfully, he’s also been able to avoid turning it over, tossing only 2 interceptions. If he has a weakness, it’s that he hasn’t thrown the deep ball consistently. Overall though, he’s been pretty stellar.
Cue the running back segment! Aside from quarterback, who are some Offensive players that W&M should watch out for this coming week?
At the risk of sounding like blatant homers, JMU might have too many weapons to list. Khalid Abduallah and Cardon Johnson are as good a one-two punch running the ball as you’ll find in the CAA, if not all of FCS. They’re averaging 7.7 and 6.7 yards per carry respectively. And the Dukes have a plethora of talented pass catchers. With the way JMU runs the ball and spreads the wealth passing, you’re not going to find one single receiver with crazy stats. Domo Taylor, Brandon Ravenel, Terrence Alls, and Rashard Davis are all dangerous though and create serious mismatches for defenses.
Last season, let’s just say, JMU wasn’t necessarily known for its defense. Would you say the unit has improved this season? Who are some defensive players that W&M should keep an eye on?
Last year’s defense was atrocious. It would take a miracle to turn that unit into a shut down D, but things are pointed back in the right direction. The Dukes took care of business against a couple of lower-tier FCS programs to open the season, and then ran up against a talented UNC team that racked up some points in week 3. After a rough first half against Maine though, the defense flipped a switch and really clamped down on the Black Bears to help JMU get out of Orono with a win. Delaware moved the ball in garbage time, but was held in check for most of the game as well.
There’s definitely talent on that side of the ball for JMU. It was hard to see last year because of the scheme and the apparent lack of attention paid to technique by the former coaching staff, but it’s there. Taylor Reynolds is a good cover corner. Both Raven Greene and Rashad Robinson have shown a knack for plays on the ball. Linebacker Gage Steele has struggled with injuries, but definitely has a high ceiling. His running mate Brandon Hereford has been a revelation this year, leading the team in tackles. Simeyon Robinson went beast mode against Maine proving he can be a force and Andrew Ankrah has the ability to make plays.
Overall, it’s not a shut down defense, but it’s much better than last year’s. They still need to do a better job pressuring the QB, but unlike last year they can actually get off the field. Opponents are converting only 31.6% of third downs. That’s tops in the CAA and much better than the dreadful 45.6% opponent third down conversion rate of last year.
What do you perceive to be the biggest overall strengths/weaknesses of this year’s JMU team?
The rushing attack is lovely. At least to JMU fans like us it is. Johnson and Abdullah are both pretty deadly. They can run in between the tackles or bounce it around the edges. And Schor is no slouch either, especially in the red zone. We’re not even halfway through the season and JMU has 10 100 yard rushing games (4 by Abdullah, 3 by Johnson, 2 by Schor, and 1 by Trai Sharp). JMU is averaging over 340 yard a game rushing and has eclipsed 600 yards of total offense in two games. The run game has also opened things up throwing the ball. JMU doesn’t put up eye popping numbers in the air, but the Dukes are very efficient throwing the ball. And JMU’s return game might not be at the Scotty McGee level, but it’s pretty close with a team average of 43.2 yards per punt return.
As we mentioned, the defense is improved, but still not at championship level. Ignoring the UNC game, the unit has been solid overall. There were let downs in garbage time against UD and a real clunker of a first half versus Maine though, which is enough to concern plenty of JMU fans. They also have failed to pressure the QB with much consistency, something that needs to improve going forward.
How do you predict JMU will finish this year? Any bold statements or win-loss predictions?
It’s hard to imagine any team getting through CAA play unscathed, but we think JMU has the talent to compete for the league title and a playoff seed. Saturday’s game actually scares us because W&M is a desperate team right now. If JMU plays up to its potential, the Dukes should cruise though. Richmond is awful and terrible and everyone rightly hates them, but the rumors of the Ticks demise are greatly exaggerated. That’s going to be a very tough game for JMU. Nova still seems to be flying a little under the radar for some reason, but the Wildcats will also be a battle for JMU on the road. We’ll just leave it at that and keep on rootin as Dukes fans like to say.
VIEWING: WHEN & WHERE
Live stream on JMU’s MadiZone (Free): Saturday, 3:30 PM! Save the link here!