Look Who’s Back

Thorpe, JMU Rout Maine

Posted: November 5, 2012

ORONO, Maine – Justin Thorpe led the James Madison football team to a dominating 31-7 win over Maine on Saturday.


Yes, Justin Thorpe.


The benched quarterback entered late in the first quarter for some planned option packages and, after splitting a few series with starter Michael Birdsong, got hot and took over full-time early in the second period, ending up with 219 yards of total offense and prompting questions about which quarterback will start the rest of the season.


The answers, though, will have to wait until after coach Mickey Matthews watches film. He said Saturday it was too soon to say what the 10th-ranked Dukes (7-2 overall, 5-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association) will do next week at Villanova as they continue their march toward the Division I-AA playoffs.


“We’ll have to wait till we get home, and that’s really the answer,” Matthews said. “We’ll just have to wait to get home.”


Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said he’s on Team Thorpe.


“I think they found out probably who they want their quarterback to be,” he said. “[Thorpe] scares you. All the things he can do with his feet, in addition to when he throws it like he can throw it.”


Depending on Birdsong’s health, the question might already be answered.


With under a minute left in the game, the true freshman returned with JMU ahead 31-0. On an option run, Birdsong got gang-tackled and injured his right ankle — while getting stripped of the ball by Maine safety Jamal Clay, who then ran for a 67-yard touchdown to cost Madison what would have been its first shutout since a 56-0 win over Hofstra on Oct. 4, 2008.


“One of my teammates was tackling him and [Birdsong] got held up, and I went in trying to get the ball,” Clay said. “So I attempted to strip it, and as I stripped it, it just fell into my hands and I scored.”


Birdsong, meanwhile, had to be helped off the field. On the way, he didn’t put any weight on his ankle.

Defensive end Sage Harold (back) and linebacker Titus Till (ankle) also were hurt in the game, but Matthews said Birdsong’s injury was the only one that was “significant.”


Thorpe, obviously, made a case to reclaim his starting job, which the junior captain lost when he was benched Oct. 22 at Richmond. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder completed nine of 12 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns — a 9-yarder and an 8-yarder — on 16 carries. His touchdown pass went 44 yards to tight end Brian Barlow down the sideline. Barlow had four catches for 79 yards.


“I came into the game, had a couple packages that, you know, I could get in and just run the ball and try to make some yardage,” Thorpe said. “And things were going good, so I guess the coaches wanted to keep it going.”


Birdsong went 5-for-8 for 54 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.


Tailback Dae’Quan Scott, who rushed for 121 yards and a 27-yard touchdown on 23 carries, said Thorpe gave the Dukes a boost and even set up his touchdown run. On the play before, Thorpe picked up 33 yards.


“He came in and gave us a spark,” said Scott, who had his fourth straight 100-yard rushing game. “... Like that touchdown, he opened it up for me. I felt like if he didn’t turn the first one, I don’t think I would have been able to score like I did.”


Matthews said JMU — now 13-2 in November since 2008 and still in the hunt for the CAA championship — planned to play Thorpe some Saturday in an effort to integrate more option into its offense. Thorpe is the superior runner; Birdsong is the superior passer.


“We wanted to go back to running the option,” Matthews said. “We just felt like we had become way too predictable on offense, and we just really felt like we needed to return to the option, which is what we did, and I think it really helped us tonight.”


Cosgrove said he prepared his team for both quarterbacks.


“We thought [Thorpe] would play,” Cosgrove said. “I thought — feared — that he would play because I’ve seen him on his upside. I mean, four or five weeks ago, I heard from Mickey that he’s the best player in the league, and I, personally, think he might be, just in terms of dynamics — and then, all of a sudden, he’s not playing for them.”


Overshadowed by the quarterback switch was the Dukes’ defense, which had its best game of the season — an effort that included three interceptions, two by cornerback Ryan Smith.


“We got our butts kicked,” Cosgrove said. “And we got out-played, out-coached, and we got out-everything’ed, and that was a very good football team.”


The Black Bears (3-6, 2-4) didn’t go over 100 yards of offense until late in the third quarter and had just 32 yards on 25 plays at halftime. They finished with only 104 yards, 19 rushing and 85 passing.

Maine went just 4-of-13 on third down. But, on the bright side, only 2,591 fans saw it in 10,000-seat Alfond Stadium.


Madison — which had 476 yards of offense — went 11-of-20 as part of its first complete-game performance in more than a month.


“It is about time we played more dominant,” said middle linebacker Stephon Robertson, who led JMU with seven tackles and also had an interception. “Justin came in and gave us a little bit of a spark, and [Scott] always has some good runs. … Defense can feed off that, and we definitely did that today.”