Dukes Easy To Pick On

At Least In The Secondary

Posted: November 13, 2013

HARRISONBURG — James Madison football coach Mickey Matthews said he has intentionally avoided talking about the struggles of the Dukes’ young secondary this season.

“Those kids had enough pressure on them anyway,” he said Tuesday during a frigid practice at Bridgeforth Stadium. “It hurt us very badly at Akron; it hurt us very badly in the Richmond game. Our lack of experience really hurt us in those games, but I just didn’t want to make a big deal about it because I didn’t think it was fair. Those kids were doing the best they could; they just didn’t play a lot.”

After JMU’s 33-17 loss to New Hampshire on Saturday, he had to say something. The Dukes’ defensive backfield got smoked like a Christmas ham, giving up 449 passing yards — 397 by UNH quarterback Andy Vailas, who set a career record.

Madison was without starting boundary cornerback Kwe’Shon Williams, who sustained a concussion the week before against Villanova, and New Hampshire picked on his replacement, Taylor Reynolds, a fellow redshirt freshman who arrived at JMU as a quarterback and lost his starting cornerback job to converted wide receiver DeAndre’ Smith, a junior, weeks ago. Sophomore Abdul Bangura, a transfer from Mississippi, also subbed for Williams on Saturday.

UNH had star wide receiver R.J. Harris back from injury for the JMU game. He had 10 receptions for 183 yards and three touchdowns as the Wildcats used a quick passing attack to negate a JMU pass rush that has produced a Colonial Athletic Association-best 31 sacks in 10 games this season.

“With Williams not playing, they really took advantage of that, to their credit, at New Hampshire,” Matthews said. “Like 70 percent of their throws went towards where we had Taylor Reynolds lined up, and Taylor’s going to be a very good football player when he grows up, but football players develop at different stages.”

Williams will return to action Saturday against Stony Brook (3-6 overall, 1-5 in the CAA) at Bridgeforth, a must-win for JMU (6-4, 3-3) to preserve its chances at making the 24-team Division I-AA playoffs.

“I feel great,” Williams said.

Williams said he didn’t know he had a concussion until the Sunday after the VU game because, he said, he had never had a concussion before and thought it was a just a headache.

A quarterback at Norview High School in Norfolk, Williams has developed into a solid corner for JMU, which starts two freshmen — the other being true freshman boundary safety Raven Greene — in the secondary. The very slight 5-foot-9, 165-pound Williams has 43 tackles (22 solo), 10 pass breakups and three interceptions in his first season as a starter.

He must be doing at least somewhat OK. Williams, who admits to having “little man’s syndrome,” said he’s gotten compliments.

“We played Villanova. They had a 6-7 — I think he was a 6-7 receiver there,” Williams said. “I think he thought he was going to have a field day, but he congratulated me after the game, so I must have been doing something right.”

Madison’s secondary problems, Williams said, aren’t an issue of ability, just experience.

“It’s not a lack of talent,” the 19-year-old said. “As Dean [Marlowe] said, that’s how we got here. Sometimes communication can be a problem, knowing that we’re all new to each other.”

Marlowe, a junior All-CAA free safety, said it’s obvious teams are trying to exploit JMU’s defensive backs — of which the Dukes don’t have many. Junior boundary safety Jeremiah Wilson tore a pectoral muscle against Richmond on Oct. 12 and is out for the season. That made Greene the starter. If Williams hadn’t been able to play against Stony Brook, Matthews said he was considering temporarily moving Marlowe to cornerback. But with Williams healthy, the Dukes have aborted that idea.

New Hampshire was the second team this season to set passing records against the Dukes. Richmond quarterback Michael Strauss set a UR mark with a 423-yard performance in a 38-31 loss to JMU on Oct. 12.

In the two games between Richmond and New Hampshire — a loss to William & Mary and a win over Villanova — Madison’s secondary stabilized a bit with Smith and Williams at corner, but Williams’ absence against UNH hurt, and even though the Dukes’ pass defense had been better, it’s still not great.

JMU ranks fifth out of 122 Division I-AA teams in rush defense (98.2 yards per game), 21st in scoring defense (22 points per game) and 29th in total defense (343.3 ypg), but it is tied with Marist at 91st in pass defense, giving up 244.9 yards per game. That’s second-worst in the 11-team CAA, ahead of only Albany, which is 1-9 overall and 0-6 in the league. The Great Danes are giving up 257.5 passing yards a game.

 Marlowe said he expects there to be improvement.

“We had a couple of struggles the past couple games, like the Richmond, last game — a lot of things going into the boundary part of the field,” Marlowe said. “Overall, we’re talented; it’s just experience. It’s a lot of people on our team that are inexperienced, like the corner. They’re going to get better as time comes.”