This Saturday, the James Madison University football team will travel roughly 140 miles southwest to Blacksburg, Va., the home of Atlantic Coast Conference power Virginia Tech, for its second game of the season.
It will be the Dukes’ only game against a Football Bowl Subdivision team this season, but despite the vast gap in the programs’ resources, the JMU side remains optimistic that if it plays its style of football, the team can compete with the mighty Hokies.
“We’re gonna dance with the players who brought us,” said Mickey Matthews, JMU head coach. “We certainly have some different change-ups for every game we play, including this one, but you got to stick with the guys who got you there.”
Coming off a disappointing 33-30 defeat at the hands of the Boise State Broncos on Monday night, Tech will surely come out with something to prove. Leading the Hokies will be quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who accounted for 186 passing yards, 73 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Boise State. Taylor, now a senior, has been a dual threat throughout his career. His career stat line boasts more than 6,000 total yards and 40 touchdowns.
“You’re not going to contain Tyrod Taylor, no one has in his career,” Matthews said. “You try to slow him down, put pressure on him, give him some different looks. Like all great quarterbacks, you want to force him into some mistakes. But he’s a great player, he’s an NFL quarterback.”
Tech also features one of the most dynamic running backs in all of college football in sophomore Ryan Williams. As a true freshman last season, Williams put together one of the best campaigns in history by a first-year runner, rushing for 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns. The Dukes’ starting safety unit, featuring sophomore Jakarie Jackson and redshirt juniors Vidal Nelson and Jonathan Williams, will primarily be in charge of containing all facets of the Hokies’ offense.
“Our safeties are very good athletes against the run and pass,” Matthews said. “They’re going to be challenged with the great backs and receivers they have. Virginia Tech has as much firepower at those positions as they may ever have had, so those three guys are going to have their hands full.”
Unlike Tech, the Dukes will be coming off a victory following their shellacking of undermanned Morehead State, 48-7, last Saturday.
The win put the Dukes at 1-0 for the first time in four seasons, but the Tech game is where they will truly get a gauge of where the team stands.
“This will be a great test to see where we are as a team,” said Mike Allen, cornerback. “The first game (against Morehead State), wasn’t really as much, but this will be a great game for us.”
Despite the impressive point total against Morehead, the team still struggled to click on the offensive end. The team finished with nine penalties, costing it 75 yards, and committed three turnovers. The team will need to play more efficiently if it expects to stick with Tech.
“We have to eliminate the bad plays,” said Drew Dudzik, quarterback. “Last week, we had some penalties that put us in third and long, and we converted, but against Virginia Tech, they’re going to make us pay for the little mistakes.”
Despite the miscues, the Dukes still managed to get great performances out of their top players against Morehead. Redshirt junior wide receiver Kerby Long was the star of the game, catching three passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
In addition, redshirt senior tailbacks Griff Yancey and Jamal Sullivan accounted for a combined 131 rushing yards and a touchdown. They will be joined in the backfield by redshirt junior Scott Noble, who will be returning from a one-game suspension because of an undisclosed rules violation.
“We have so many great skill players we need to get the ball to,” Dudzik said. “At running back we have three guys who can really get the job done, and at wide receiver we have six or seven guys who can make plays for us. We need to do a good job of spreading the ball around and controlling the ball.”
The Dukes were impressive in their sole game against an FBS opponent a year ago, falling to Maryland, 38-35 in overtime, in last season’s opener. Dudzik believes if the team manages to scratch and claw like they did in College Park last year, it can keep the game close.
“We can’t pack it in, we’ll fight to the end,” Dudzik said. “Last year against Maryland we hung around the whole game and the next thing you know we took them to overtime.”
With another year of maturation and experience, the Dukes might have the talent to give the Hokies a run. But for Dudzik, it’s about taking the game in stride and looking forward to the rest of the season.
“I think you just have to look at the game as a great opportunity,” Dudzik said. “We really have nothing to lose. They’re one of the top FBS teams in the nation.”