Dukes Expect Spartans' Best

Greg Madia, Publisher
Dukes of JMU
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JMU Athletic Communications

HARRISONBURG — Simeyon Robinson doesn’t care who his team is playing.

The James Madison senior defensive tackle said he prepares and plays the same way each week for good reason. The defending national champion Dukes rank No. 1 in both the STATS FCS Top 25 and FCS Coaches Poll, and their opponents are always ready to take a shot at them.

“It happens every game that someone tries to rile you up or tries to get under your skin,” Robinson said. “You have to try to contain yourself, be disciplined and not let it get the best of you.”

The 6-foot-1, 265-pounder said he expects today’s game between two programs on opposite ends of the FCS spectrum to be no different when JMU (2-0) hosts Norfolk State (0-2) in a 3:30 p.m. kickoff at Bridgeforth Stadium.

JMU holds the nation’s longest winning streak in Division I at 14 straight, while Norfolk State has dropped its first two contests this year, including a 14-10 opening defeat at the hands of Division II Virginia State.

The Dukes and Spartans have never met before, and there is plenty of crossover and familiarity since both staffs heavily recruit the Tidewater region. Both rosters feature players from the same high schools.

“They’re definitely going to come out and try to get some bragging rights,” said Robinson, a Virginia Beach native. “They’re going to try to take us out, but we can’t let that get into our heads.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re disciplined during the game and make sure we’re not feeding into the side stuff.”

Between the sidelines, both teams’ biggest concern deals with Norfolk State’s quarterbacks.

Third-year Norfolk State coach Latrell Scott said true freshman quarterback Juwan Carter would make his first career start today, and that another true freshman quarterback, Tripp Harrington, who started the Spartans’ first two contests, would also play.

Carter – the state’s 5A Offensive Player of the Year at Highland Springs last fall – completed 18 passes for 227 yards in his two appearances.

“He improved tremendously from Week 1 to Week 2,” Scott said. “He’s a very tough kid. He’s poised.

“We’re going to keep channeling his maturation progress, let him grow and we’ll do as much on offense going forward as he can handle.”

JMU’s defense, which ranks ninth nationally in scoring defense (12 points per game allowed) and 11th against the run (63.5 yards per game), has prepared for both Carter and Harrington.

“They’re similar-type quarterbacks, so that makes it a little easier on our part,” JMU defensive coordinator Bob Trott said. “But they’re both very athletic. They’ve got run plays for them and they’re dangerous when the play breaks down that they can scramble.

“We tell our players all the time that the most dangerous play in football is the scramble.”

Robinson said it’s the responsibility of the Dukes defensive line to contain Carter and Harrington when they try to escape the pocket.

When JMU is on offense, it has shown that it will take whatever the opposing defense gives it.

Against ECU, the Dukes rushed for 422 yards. But when East Tennessee State loaded the box in Week 2, JMU quarterback Bryan Schor threw for 304 yards and five touchdowns.

“I think that our coaches have taken a good, hard look at how East Tennessee State defended us,” second-year JMU coach Mike Houston said. “They did some things that they took from what various people did against last year, and we’re preparing for that this week even though it is a completely different scheme that Norfolk State has shown.”

Despite the 0-2 record, Norfolk State only gave up 34 points in those two losses. The Spartans haven’t given up more than 20 points since a Nov. 5, 2016 loss at Savannah State.

“You have a defense that’s big up front, runs well on the back end, is very aggressive and it’s a solid scheme,” Houston said. “We’re going to have to play very well in order to move the football.”

Scott said slowing JMU’s offense provides the biggest challenge yet for his defense.

On special teams, JMU senior John Miller leads the country in punt returns, averaging 27.7 yards per return. He also had a 41-yard punt return touchdown last week.

Miller said he trusts his blockers, including lead man Jimmy Moreland, to allow him to gain yards and set the offense up with good field position.

“When I’m back there looking for the ball, Jimmy is my eyes,” Miller said. “So once I catch it, I’m following him. He’s running the return with me.”

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