And So It Begins…
The regular season was quite the roller coaster ride. The highs (big road win over SMU, College Gameday coming to Harrisonburg, co-champs of the CAA), the lows (losing to the Ticks on homecoming, losing Vad for the season). But here we are. The Dukes are coming off a bye week in the first round of the FCS playoffs as the No. 5 overall seed with a home game against Colgate University — just four wins from a national title.
And let me tell you, a national title is the furthest thing on my mind. Why? Because if JMU doesn’t begin to fix some of things that have plagued them recently, none of that will matter.
Where to start…
It’s no secret that the offense carried this football team pretty much all year. The biggest part of that was the man, myth and legend himself: General Lavaedeay (Vad) Lee. I won’t bore with you with the video game numbers he put up, but when you win the CAA Offensive Player of the Year while playing three less games than everyone else, you must’ve been doing something right.
“Heartbreaking” doesn’t do justice to how sad it was to see Lee lost for the season after suffering a season-ending injury. But life went on, and in stepped Bryan Schor.
Schor has performed admirably after being thrust into the limelight, but at the end of the day he’s a backup quarterback. The coaching staff seems content to plug Schor in and have him try to replicate things Vad did. Part of that is for him to carry the football — a lot. There’s no way on God’s green earth that Bryan Schor should have more rushing attempts than Cardon Johnson and Khalid Abdullah COMBINED. But a quick look at the Villanova box score from last Saturday shows just that. Why is Schor running the ball 19 times? Flat-out intolerable, especially when you factor in that he only averaged 2.8 yards per carry in that game. What about the Delaware game? Schor’s 17 rushing attempts versus the Blue Hens were a team high. And that, my friends, is unacceptable and sickening. If Schor goes down, then what? Curtains on the 2015 season.
The moral of the story is to ride your workhorse running backs. Johnson and Abdullah are more than capable of carrying the rushing load. You can’t expose your quarterback to that many hits when there is no viable third option. Oh, and one more thing. I get it, Bryan, if you want to pull it on the read-option occasionally to keep defenses honest, but it would help to read the defensive end first and not just predetermine whether you are keeping it or handing it off.
Now, I must address the defense. I was 99.9% done with this unit after surrendering 103 combined points in back-to-back losses on October 24 and Halloween. This “young” unit, as the coaches like to say, gets a golf clap for limiting Delaware and Villanova to just 50 combined points in the last two games of the season. But don’t be fooled by the fool’s gold. The writing is still on the wall. This unit can’t stop a nosebleed. Delaware is as one-dimensional as a team gets as it’s incompetent throwing the football. JMU knew the Blue Hens would come out and try to run it down their throat, and they did to the tune of 295 yards on 5.1 yards per carry. Unacceptable. This, of course, came after the bye week during the regular season, which followed Richmond’s Jacobi Green’s 236-yard, 5-touchdown performance and W&M’s Kendall Anderson’s 138-yard, 3-touchdown fiesta. Sure the 38–29 win over Villanova in the season finale was great. Not great: The fact that this defense got burned for 321 more yards on the ground and surrendered 6.2 yards per carry to the Wildcats. Zach Bednarczyk, a backup quarterback forced into action after John Robertson was lost for the season due to injury, gashed the Dukes on 24 carries for 157 yards and two touchdowns. And while we can try to spin JMU giving up yards but forcing turnovers as bending but not breaking, it became apparent that Delaware and Villanova hurt themselves with self-inflicted mistakes. However, I do give freshman Rashad Robinson 100 percent credit for punching the ball out of Bednarczyk’s grasp that Taylor Reynolds scooped and returned 77 yards for a touchdown as the Wildcats were driving for the go-ahead score.
Moral of the story here is that teams are more than likely not going to beat themselves from here on out. In its last four games, JMU has given up 6.5, 4.7, 5.1 and 6.2 yards per carry respectively. That HAS GOT TO STOP. It all starts on first down. More times than not, the Dukes have given up too many 2nd and 4s and 2nd and 5s, which lead to 3rd and 1s or 3rd and 2s and a subsequent first-down conversion. Teams are able to control the clock, and more importantly, keep the explosive JMU offense on the sidelines. At some point, that falls on coaching for a lack of adjustments. Oh, and it’s not just run defense. Until this past Saturday, the pass rush had been completely missing in action. Taking the Richmond, W&M, and Delaware games combined, the JMU defense mustered just 2 sacks and 1 quarterback hurry COMBINED. Perhaps, they turned a corner last week against Villanova with 3 sacks and 2 quarterback hurries. I’d like to think so.
One last thing: The coaching staff can hide behind “It’s a competition week in and week out.” Just a gut feeling: I think there may be something deeper as to why Gage Steele, the tackling machine with the best name in CAA football, has seen a decrease in his number of snaps over the past few games.
Rest is nice. So is extra preparation time. But as a fan, do you know the best part about getting a bye? The fact that this team doesn’t have to play in a half-empty stadium with minimal students. I have great faith in JMU Nation to show up and pack Bridgeforth on Saturday (before 1 p.m..)
My biggest apprehension is whether the football team itself will show up in its biggest game of the year.