Dukes Win Birdsong's Debut, 28-21
HARRISONBURG — Michael Birdsong said, going into his first start as a collegiate quarterback Saturday, the James Madison football team would “light up the sky.”
It was an admirable goal for the confident true freshman, but it didn’t work out, as the Dukes’ offense managed more of a dim glow — but it was bright enough. No. 9 JMU, after blowing a three-touchdown lead, survived a late rally by one-win Georgia State for a 28-21 win in a less-than-full Bridgeforth Stadium on homecoming.
For yet another week, the Dukes’ offense — which went three-and-out six times in 14 possessions — was less-than-potent. Madison (6-2 overall, 4-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association) had 340 yards for the game but had just 122 at halftime and was 0-for-5 on third down. JMU finished just 3-for-13 on third down, and two of those came on its last drive of the game, when a sizeable number of fans were gone. The announced attendance was 22,813.
“We’re not doing very good,” JMU coach Mickey Matthews said. “On offense, you can tell my frustration is off the scale with our offense. We’ve to do better on offense.”
Birdsong, starting in place of the benched Justin Thorpe, was adequate in his debut, completing 11 of 23 passes for 119 yards with a touchdown and an interception that should have been caught, but it bounced off wide receiver Arlandis Harvey’s hands and into the arms of GSU safety D’Mario Gunn. Had it been caught, JMU would have had the ball deep in GSU territory with about 20 seconds left before halftime.
“I thought Michael played OK,” Matthews said. “[It was] obvious it was his first start. I thought we could have helped him a little bit more. He made some plays that helped us, but he certainly could play better than that.”
Birdsong showed flashes, and Matthews said — although irritated by the question — Birdsong likely would be the starter going forward.
“As far as I know, he’ll be the quarterback,” Matthews said. “Is that fair enough?”
Birdsong admitted he had jitters but said he learned from his first start.
“Just to play my game and stay relaxed out there,” Birdsong said. “The biggest part about football is having fun, you know? I got caught up in trying not to make mistakes instead of just playing football.”
But the Dukes hung on when it mattered, overcoming three missed field goals by Cameron Starke, to stop the Panthers (1-8, 1-5) on a final drive.