Each week during the football season, TSMD likes to sit down with the adversaire du jour and get their perspective on the upcoming matchup. This week we’ve got a border war with the James Madison Dukes on the docket, so we’re featuring Matt Jones of DukesOfJMU.com, part of the Rivals network of sites. Matt has been a Dukes fan for awhile now and as a Virginia Tech alum knows his stuff about both the Terps and all things Virginia. Follow him on Twitter @MattJones36 and be sure to check out the Dukes site for some in-depth JMU coverage.
1.) What’s been the general consensus at James Madison of the Everett Winters hire (does it feel like a new era for JMU football?)
I’m only in my first year on the James Madison beat, but from everything I’m hearing, it does seem like a ‘New Era’ of JMU football. There are people that doubt Withers’ coaching background, whether you look at the defenses he put out there while he was an assistant at Ohio State or his 7-6 record as an interim coach at North Carolina in 2011, but the consensus at James Madison seems to be that he’s got the Dukes moving in the right direction.
Mikey Matthews was in Harrisonburg for 15 seasons. Withers has used the line, ‘People get comfortable,’ an indirect way of saying that the James Madison program had gotten a little bit stale. There seems to be more energy throughout the preseason, which I think can only be considered a good thing.
2.) JMU picked up former Georgia Tech QB Vad Lee, what have the reviews been like on him and what are the expectations for his quarterback play this year?
The reviews on Lee have been nothing short of great. The big concern with him was his ability to pass the ball, something he struggled with in two years at Georgia Tech. With a dedicated QB coach working on his passing since January, he seems to have complete control of the offense. He’s throwing the ball well in practice, showing good zip on his ball and an accuracy I think a lot of GT fans wished he had in Atlanta. I think that comes from confidence, something I’m not sure GT coaches had in him throwing the ball.
I expect Lee to be an above average quarterback, a playmaker that can make things happen when things break down. JMU’s offensive line hasn’t played together really at all, whether that’s because of injury or two new transfers, so that is going to be a process. If Lee needs to make plays with his feet, I think he could be dangerous for defenses.
3.) CAA coaches and media had JMU pegged to finish close to last place in the conference — was that a bit harsh or spot on?
JMU was predicted to finish eighth in the 12-team CAA, but that’s still not where JMU has usually been tabbed. Coaches and school officials tend to vote in those polls based off last year’s results, and JMU’s 6-6 finish was lackluster. With a couple transfers, I think voters are kind of in a wait-and-see mode with the Dukes, so I can’t say I’m too surprised JMU was picked so low. Withers has brought some serious talent to JMU in his short time, so teams would be wise not to sleep on the Dukes. I’ve been saying JMU is a seven or eight win team this season, which would put them on the brink of a I-AA playoff berth.
4.) Who is the X-factor on the Dukes that Terps fans should know about, someone who could affect the outcome of this game (good or bad)?
Outside of Lee – a gamebreaking type talent at the QB spot – I think a guy like freshman tailback John Miller could be a swing guy for JMU. If he comes out in his first college action and does what he’s doing in practice, he could be a speed guy that the Terps aren’t totally ready for. On the other hand, if he plays like a freshman and makes a few mistakes, that could put JMU in a hole they can’t afford to get into.
5.) Same question: your prediction and why?
I think the spread on this game is around 22 points, and I see the game playing out like that. As a huge underdog, JMU will need to make some explosive plays and/or create some turnovers, and in Game 1 I don’t know if they will be cohesive enough to do those things. I see Maryland winning a 35-10 kind of game, capitalizing off JMU’s work-in-progress secondary and generally wearing down the Dukes with their deeper roster.
A big thanks to Matt Jones for filling us in on the Dukes. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and head over to his spot on game day for some great JMU coverage.