This is the moment Landan Word relishes each Saturday.
“It sounds a little sinister,” Word, the James Madison senior linebacker, said. “But watching them crumble and seeing them shook over the line of scrimmage, it’s something you love as a defender.”
He said he’s noticed the opposing offense reluctantly surrender often this season and that the Dukes’ defense is capable of making it happen each week.
Earlier this fall, safety MJ Hampton’s 83-yard interception return for a touchdown against Villanova doomed the Wildcats. At Chattanooga, it was safety D’Angelo Amos’ interception that broke the back of the Mocs. In Williamsburg, defensive end Ron’Dell Carter acted like Zable Stadium was his personal playground, destroying anyone in his way for 10 tackles, six tackles for loss and a sack.
“You can see it in the quarterback’s face, the running back’s face and the offensive line’s faces,” Word said. “They don’t know what to do and as a defense that’s when you know you’ve got them and you start playing ball. You start getting the turnovers. You start getting the sacks and huge tackles for loss. That’s something as a linebacker that I love to see. I love to see it, and watching someone give up is special to me.”
For JMU, boasting the fifth-best scoring defense (16.1 points per game allowed) in all of FCS, that instance can come at different times and typically has without turbulence.
But during this past Saturday’s win over New Hampshire, it took Word and a pair of reserve linebackers – Kelvin Azanama and Diamonte-Tucker Dorsey – to fill the void of senior Dimitri Holloway. The latter was ejected in the first quarter for targeting, and his teammates rose to the occasion to smother UNH into the Wildcats’ end point.
New Hampshire successfully used a trick play to its advantage to set up a touchdown in the opening quarter, so the usually dominant defense wasn’t just that until the second.
An interception for safety Adam Smith in that frame on UNH’s second trick play attempt led to the JMU offensive drive that put the Dukes ahead 30-10 going into halftime.
“Of course, it sucks not having Dimitri out there especially in the first quarter and having to leave so early,” Word said, “but you’ve got to play ball after that. We’re one defense. We don’t rely on one person specifically, so I think Tuck did a great job of taking advantage of the opportunity he was given.
“So it’s just the next man up and that’s how we practice as well. You have to be prepared and Tuck was more than prepared. He practices hard. He practices like he can play and he showed that on Saturday.”
After Holloway, JMU’s leading tackler, was sent to the locker room, UNH mustered only 112 yards of total offense and six points.
Tucker-Dorsey had five tackles, Azanama had four and Word, the most experienced of the three, had three tackles.
“You spend a whole week doing one thing and you get out in the game and you just have to adjust,” Word said. “That’s one thing our team is great at, adjusting on the run and getting everything fixed and sound on the sideline with the coaches in the press box to down on the field. But that’s the biggest thing, really, staying poised, calm, cool and collected.”
JMU coach Curt Cignetti said Word is extremely reliable.
“Landan is a quieter kind of guy,” Cignetti said, “although he’s got to communicate a little bit on defense. But he’s a steady Eddie, too. You know what you’re going to get every, single day from him.”
Word said JMU has a stiff test this Saturday with Richmond visiting Bridgeforth Stadium.
Spiders quarterback Joe Mancuso leads Richmond in rushing with 588 yards, has thrown for 1,654 yards and combined for 22 total touchdowns.
“Everything has to come together this week, especially with the type of offense they run,” Word said. “It’s another tricky week. You’ve got trick plays and you’ve got eye games, the whole thing.
“… But we need to come out strong, make them one-dimensional and take that run game away from them and force them to do something that they’re not comfortable with. That’s what we’ve done with every other team before and that’s how you get into the other team’s head. You force them to do what they didn’t plan.”