We profiled Vad Lee on Monday here, but the former Georgia Tech quarterback is talented, to say the least. Lee threw for 1,561 yards and 11 touchdowns in his sophomore year at Georgia Tech, but his ability to run makes him a constant threat. Lee finished with 513 rushing yards, averaging slightly more than three yards-per-carry, and eight rushing touchdowns. Now at James Madison, Lee will become an even bigger offensive threat as he will be the focal point of their offense. Containing him will be the biggest key to the game on Saturday, because if the Terps struggle to do so, this game will turn into a shootout.
The Terps will face two familiar faces when the offense takes the field against the Dukes on Saturday. Two Terps that transferred after coach Randy Edsall’s first year, linebacker Titus Till and safety Jeremiah Wilson, anchor the Dukes defense that allowed 251.2 yards-per-game in 2013. It also helps that senior DeAndre’ Smith and redshirt junior Taylor Reynolds return at both cornerback positions, as both are converted wide receivers. Although they are inexperienced, both Reynolds and Smith are fast, high-IQ cornerbacks that can stick with the Terps receivers. Reynolds is a tall cornerback at 6’1″ who can match up against Levern Jacobs and Deon Long nicely. Smith, who is slightly more inexperienced, will be able to match guys like Marcus Leak and Stefon Diggs, though Diggs’ speed will be a lot for Smith to handle. After Reynolds and Smith, the secondary is certainly thin, but their two starters are more than capable of getting the job done. With a full offseason under their belts, however, expect an improved secondary from last season that finished ninth in the CAA in pass defense.
This is the first season since 1998 that former coach Mickey Matthews won’t be on the sidelines coaching James Madison. After the Dukes finished 6-6 in 2013, former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers takes over in his first season as head coach. Withers may be a familiar name for Maryland fans, as he was the head coach for North Carolina in 2011 when he finished 7-6. Withers has had a lot of big-time jobs as he spent time as defensive coordinator for Louisville, Minnesota, North Carolina and Ohio State and an NFL assistant for the New Orleans Saints and Tennessee Titans. Matthew’s experience in big games throughout his career may translate very well for the Dukes this season. Coaching under guys like Mack Brown, Urban Meyer and Jeff Fisher, Withers has been around winning programs for the majority of his career. After learning from some of the top guys in all of football, Withers will look to create his own success at James Madison now. Although the Dukes lost almost three-fourths of their defense from last year, I fully expect Withers to have his team ready come Saturday.
Filling Stephon Robertson’s production
As the secondary should be much improved, the linebacking core may take a step back this season after the graduation of former senior linebacker Stephon Robertson, who is now playing professionally in Canada with the Montreal Alouettes. Robertson was a two-time all-CAA defensive player of the year and finished with 141 tackles last year. Former Terp Titus Till will look to take over the spotlight this year, but he certainly has very big shoes to fill. As Till may be able to take over on the field, Robertson still leaves a huge void as a leader for this team, and that can impact the chemistry of this defense early on in the season.
Last year, James Madison finished sixth in the CAA in rushing yards per game with 172.6 yards. Then-senior running back Dae’Quan Scott finished 46th in the FCS with 1,040 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 4.3 yards-per-carry. With him gone, the next highest rusher for James Madison was sophomore Khalid Abdullah (246th in FCS) with 347 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 5.1 yards-per-carry. Although Abdullah has a higher yards-per-carry average, Scott was a speedy back that carried the team since his freshman year. Scott started 32 of his 33 games, compared to Abdullah playing 9 out of 12 games last year. While Abdullah certainly can be productive, Scott leaves a huge hole for the offense this season.