2010 Football Game Preview: #13 Virginia Tech vs. James Madison

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  • Date: Saturday, September 11, 2010
  • Time: 1:30PM
  • TV: ESPN3.com (Internet Only)

For weather information and a roster card link, see the Info Center to the
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Virginia Tech will be back in action on Saturday against James Madison, just
five days after their 33-30 loss to Boise State. The Hokies are facing a 1-AA
team, but JMU is one of the best 1-AA programs in the country. In fact, they are
ranked #12 in the 1-AA polls after last weekend’s 48-7 blowout of Morehead
State.

Since 2004, James Madison has been one of the top 1-AA teams nationally, with
a National Championship to their credit, as well as one more appearance in the
semifinals. It took Head Coack Mickey Matthews a few years to get going, but
he’s built a very strong program in Harrisonburg.

James
Madison under Mickey Matthews
Year Wins Losses Result
1999 8 3
First Round
2000 6 5
No Playoffs
2001 2 9
No Playoffs
2002 5 7
No Playoffs
2003 6 6
No Playoffs
2004 13 2
National Championship
2005 7 4
No Playoffs
2006 9 3
First Round
2007 8 4
First Round
2008 12 2
Semifinals
2009 6 5
No Playoffs

Totals
82 50  

James Madison began last season by nearly upsetting Maryland, falling to the
Terps 38-35. However, they lost starting quarterback Drew Dudzik for the rest of
the season in game number five and the offense struggled the rest of the way.
That was the main reason for the 6-5 finish in 2009.

Dudzik is back this year, though he doesn’t have a lot of experience around
him on the offensive side of the ball. Nevertheless, the offense still rolled
through Morehead State despite their inexperience.

There is connection between the coaching staffs at Virginia Tech and JMU.
Chris Malone and J.C. Price both coach for the Dukes, with Malone handling the
offensive line and Price coaching the defensive line. Both were starters on
Virginia Tech’s 1995 Sugar Bowl team.

The James Madison Offense

James Madison isn’t all that different from Virginia Tech. They have an
emphasis on a power running game and toughness in the trenches. Take a quick
look at their rushing stats over the past several seasons.

JMU
Running Stats
Year YPG Rank
2009 180.45 17
2008 282.79 4
2007 265.08 7
2006 218.33 11
2005 234.45 13
2004 212.93 20

Average
232.34 12

That’s a lot of yards on the ground, and the Dukes got off to a good start in
2010 by running for 294 yards against Morehead State while averaging four yards
per carry. Despite starting a r-freshman at right guard and right tackle, JMU
did not allow a single sack.

The Dukes are able to dominate at the line of scrimmage against most other
1-AA teams. However, they will be facing off against the Hokies with a
relatively small offensive line.

James
Madison Offensive Line
Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
LT
Theo Sherman
6-4 300 r-Sr.
LG
Earl Watford
6-4 280 r-So.
C
Roane Babington
6-2 275 r-Jr.
RG
Scott Jones
6-5 295 r-Fr.
RT
Matt Krout
6-5 280 r-Fr.

Obviously James Madison has a lot of inexperience on the right side of the line.
They also don’t feature a lot of mass up the middle. Left tackle Theo Sherman
is the biggest and best player up front, and could be a future NFL player at
offensive guard. However, there is no true offensive tackle here, and a guy like
Steven Friday will be difficult for this unit to handle off the edge in obvious
passing situations.

Quarterback Drew Dudzik (6-1, 210, r-Sr.) is poised to have a very good
senior year after missing over half of the 2009 season. He offense struggled
down the stretch of last season, but the defense was able to get the team over
the hump to have a winning record.

Dudzik isn’t going to wow anyone with his throwing ability. However, as a
fifth-year senior he knows the offense and he’s a very good runner. In the
near-win at Maryland last year, Dudzik had 112 yards on 14 carries, and he was
also 9-of-15 through the air with two touchdowns. Dudzik had a 70 yard touchdown
run in that game, so he’s been able to have success against an ACC defense,
albeit not a very good one.

JMU will use a trio of running backs against the Hokies. Two seniors, Jamal
Sullivan (5-9, 220, r-Sr.) and Griff Yancey (5-11, 205, r-Sr.), provide a lot of
experience to the Duke backfield. However, their most talented back could be
Jordan Anderson (5-11, 200, r-Fr.). Anderson ran for over 2,000 yards at
Westfield High School as a senior, and he led the Dukes with 66 yards on just 12
carries against Morehead State last week.

Sullivan and Yancey also had over 60 yards on the ground, and each back had
11 or more carries. James Madison certainly doesn’t shy away from pounding the
football on the ground. They had 61 running plays against Morehead State, and
threw just 15 passes.

James Madison has an inexperienced group of wide receivers, which might
contribute to how much they run the football this year. Kerby Long (5-11, 185,
r-Jr.) is the most experienced player, and he’ll have to carry the load for the
JMU receiving corps this year. He had three catches for 112 yards and two
touchdowns against Morehead State, and he also had one carry for 35 yards. He’s
James Madison’s best outside threat.

Also at receiver is Dae’Quan Scott (5-9, 190, r-Fr.), who had two catches
last week. Scott lacks height and experience. Behind Scott on the depth chart is
Quinton Hunter (6-1, 175, So.). Hunter was once one of the top 10 prospects in
the state of Virginia, and he signed with UVA. He played in nine games as a true
freshman last season before transferring to James Madison.

Brian Barlow (6-3, 240, r-So.) is a quality 1-AA tight end, but he lacks the
size to be an in-line blocker against a 1-A team of Virginia Tech’s caliber.

Overall, this JMU offense is inexperienced. With two freshmen starting on the
right side of the offensive line, and three of their top four receivers either
freshmen or sophomores, this offense doesn’t stand a great chance to get much
accomplished against the Hokies.

The JMU Defense

The James Madison defense was very good last year, keeping the Dukes in a lot
of football games despite the struggles of the offense. They got off to a good
start in 2010, holding Morehead State to just 152 yards of total offense and 2.2
yards per carry.

This is a good, well-coached unit. However, they still have the size of a
1-AA defense, which means Virginia Tech will be the bigger, more physical team.
To get an idea of how big the JMU defense is, here’s a look at their 2-deep on
the defensive line.

James
Madison Defensive Line
Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
DE
Sean O’Neill
6-4 240 So.
DE
Aaron Harper
6-1 230 r-So.
DT
Nick Emmons
6-3 255 r-Sr.
DT
Lamar Middleton
6-2 255 r-Jr.
DT
Ronnell Brown
6-2 270 r-Sr.
DT
Jordan Stanton
6-4 255 r-Fr.
DE
D.J. Bryant
6-3 245 r-Jr.
DE
Tyler Snow
6-3 245 So.
Starters in Bold

Only one player on the defensive line weighs 270, and after a month of hot
preseason practices, Ronnell Brown could easily be below that mark as of now.

Nick Emmons, Ronnell Brown and D.J. Bryant are the experienced players of
this group. Sean O’Neill is a new starter after seeing limited playing time as a
true freshman last season. Emmons is a good pass rusher, but overall this group
doesn’t have the depth or the size to stop Virginia Tech’s power running attack.

The linebackers are equally small. Strongside backer Pat Williams (6-0, 220,
r-Jr.) is a very good 1-AA football player who played his high school ball at
First Colonial in Virginia Beach. He has also played strong safety in the past,
and he runs well. However, he had to put on weight to play linebacker, and
probably won’t hold up well in the running game against Virginia Tech.

The middle linebacker is Stephon Robertson (5-11, 210, r-Fr.), a terrific
natural football player who has already been inducted into the Fairfax County
Football Hall of Fame. He had a tackle for loss and a forced fumble against
Morehead State. However, like the rest of his teammates on the defensive line
and at linebacker, he is undersized.

James Madison starts five defensive backs. With this type of defense, they
can play with eight man fronts or nickel formations without changing any
personnel on the field. The weak safety can line up as a safety or as an outside
linebacker. This position is manned by Jonathan Williams (6-0, 205, r-Jr.), who
is a very good and experienced player.

His backup is Peter Rose (5-11, 195, r-Fr.), a one-time Virginia Tech signee
before he was arrested in a major drug bust at Amherst High School. He was the
AP Group AA Player of the Year in Virginia during his senior season. Rose led
James Madison in tackles against Morehead State last week. His two brothers, Jon
and Anthony, are also on the JMU roster.

The other safeties are free safety Jakarie Jackson (5-11, 185, So.) and
strong safety Vidal Nelson (5-11, 205, r-Jr.). Jackson is a good player who
started as a true freshman last season.

The starting cornerbacks are Taveion Coffee (5-11, 180, Jr.) and Mike Allen
(6-0, 175, r-Jr.). Both of these players are new starters and lack the size to
hang with Virginia Tech’s bigger receivers, such as Jarrett Boykin.

This is a very good, very talented 1-AA defense. However, they aren’t going
to have the talent or the size to hang with the Hokies over four quarters of
football.

Special Teams

We mentioned Kerby Long earlier as James Madison’s top playmaking wide
receiver. He is also their top playmaker on special teams. Look for Long to
return kickoffs and punts against the Hokies, and Virginia Tech must cover punts
better than they did against Boise State.

James Madison is breaking in a new kicker, Ben Hopewell (6-0, 185, r-Fr.). He
was 2-of-2 in his collegiate debut against Morehead State last week. David Skahn
(6-2, 175, So.) is also in his first season as a starter. He punted just once
against Morehead State, but it went for 48 yards. Skahn can also handle kickoffs
for the Dukes.

James Madison does not have the depth that Virginia Tech possesses, so the
Hokies will have a big personnel advantage on special teams. Unless they make a
lot of mental errors like they did against Boise State, the Hokies should win
this battle with no problem.

Final Thoughts

Five days isn’t enough time between football games. Virginia Tech played a
tough, emotional football game on Monday night, and now they must turn around
and play a game tomorrow. Granted, it’s a 1-AA team, but it’s one of the top
1-AA teams in the country.

We see 1-AA upsets happen every year, even against good teams. Michigan fell
to Appalachian State, but went on to beat Florida in the Capital One Bowl. Iowa
nearly lost to Northern Iowa to start last season, winning 17-16, but went on to
win the Orange Bowl. Just last week, Jackson State shocked Ole Miss in triple
overtime. Ole Miss was one of the SEC’s better teams last season.

Virginia Tech can’t sleepwalk through this game, because James Madison has
nothing to lose. Most of JMU’s players are from the state of Virginia, and I’m
sure plenty of them were hoping for a scholarship offer from Virginia Tech.
They’ll be motivated, and as a team you’ve got to think that JMU sees this as
the best opportunity they’ll ever have to beat Tech.

It will be natural for the Hokies to come out a little sloppy in this game.
With a short week of preparation, and an air of disappointment still hanging
over the Merryman Center, I don’t expect Tech to play all that well on Saturday.
If I’m not over that Boise State loss, then I’m sure a lot of the players aren’t
either.

I think the Hokies will be sloppy, but they’ll win comfortably on Saturday.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, James Madison 10

Will Stewart’s Take: If the Hokies were ever going to be upset by a 1-AA
team, this would be it. I can’t speak for the players, because I don’t talk to
them, but judging by the emails, phone calls, and conversations I’ve had since
Monday night, Hokie fans have been gutted by the loss to Boise State.

If the players are as disheartened by the loss to Boise State as the fans,
you’re going to see a very, very flat team run out of the tunnel Saturday
afternoon. If JMU decides to play the game of their lives, anything can happen.
Wins by 1-AA teams over 1-A teams used to be freakish events — or something
that happened only to, say, Temple — but as Chris pointed out, some 1-AA teams
have pulled off some stunners and have made some other games very, very close in
recent years.

But players like playing the games, and simply putting on the uniform gets
most young football players fired up. The desire to improve and to get more
playing time drives most players, even in a situation where they may not
otherwise be motivated.

This is what the Hokies will have to lean on Saturday, until they put more
games behind them and the sting of the Boise State loss fades. Like Chris, I
don’t foresee a sharp effort from VT Saturday, due to a D.C. hangover, but as
long as they avoid disaster, they should get through this okay.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, JMU 13

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