JMU Athletic Communications
HARRISONBURG — Opposing defenses have tried just about everything to slow James Madison’s offense this season.
FBS East Carolina stuck mostly with its base defense and East Tennessee State used as many as nine defenders around the line of scrimmage to halt the Dukes’ rushing attack. Maine mixed its pressures and believed playing man coverage on the perimeter would give JMU quarterback Bryan Schor trouble.
Those plans might have worked for a quarter or a half, but inevitably Schor and company broke through.
JMU is fifth nationally in rushing offense (298.8 yards per game), fifth in total offense (560 yards) and sixth in scoring (47.3 points).
But today, the top-ranked Dukes face their toughest offensive challenge yet as they travel to Colonial Athletic Association foe Delaware.
Kickoff between JMU (4-1, 1-0 CAA) and the Blue Hens (2-1, 0-0) is set for 3:30 p.m. at Delaware Stadium in Newark, Del.
“The obvious is that they’re stopping people from scoring points and they’re stopping people from making first downs,” JMU offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick said.
First-year Delaware coach Danny Rocco and defensive coordinator Chris Cosh have installed a 3-4 defense, which is a unique look according to Kirkpatrick and JMU senior left tackle Aaron Stinnie.
Kirkpatrick said JMU hasn’t matched up with any defense that use a 3-4 as its base system this year.
“It definitely changes things because you have to think a little bit more,” Stinnie said. “Teams can be a little more exotic with what they’re going to bring out of a 3-4, so you have to block-pass scheme a little differently and run blocking a little differently.
“Rather than shooting out at an angle, you kind of have to just go straight up, and it kind of slows things down a little bit because you have to be aware of what might be coming or not.”
And Delaware, which ranks fifth nationally in rushing defense (62 yards per game) and 11th in scoring defense (14.7 points), features one of the best linebacker units in FCS. The Blue Hens will bring those linebackers on the blitz.
The Blue Hens’ top two tacklers are senior inside linebackers Charles Bell, a preseason All-CAA choice, and Troy Reeder, a Penn State transfer, who have 24 and 17 tackles, respectively. Outside linebacker Colby Reeder has 11 tackles and an interception while the other outside linebacker, Anthony Jackson, has 10 tackles.
“I think the [3-4] helps us get more athletes on the field,” Troy Reeder said. “I think we’ve just really emphasized consistency and we think more on the basis that if we each do our individual job and do it well, then we’re going to put ourselves in a really good position to play good defense.”
Because of the athleticism Delaware possesses at linebacker, JMU must communicate well on the offensive line considering the number of young players the Dukes have up front.
JMU sophomore right guard Gerren Butler, who started the first four games, is likely to miss today’s game after exiting last week’s contest early due to injury. JMU coach Mike Houston said a combination of senior Nick Edwards and freshmen Liam Fornadel and Zaire Bethea will be used at the position. None of the three have a career start, but Fornadel and Bethea have seen action regularly this year.
Edwards is one of four players returning from suspension today along with wide receiver Terrence Alls, cornerback Justin Bethea and linebacker Brandon Hereford.
“Fortunately, we have some older guys like [senior left guard] A.J. Bolden and Aaron Stinnie up front that have a lot experience,” Kirkpatrick said. “And a lot of this will be on Bryan Schor, which it always is. So we’ll try not to tie him up too much mentally because he’s got to go out there and make plays. But at the same time, the quarterback has to be able to recognize what they’re doing defensively.”
In its non-conference action, Delaware knocked off Delaware State 22-3 and Cornell 41-14, though its most impressive defensive performance might have come at FBS Virginia Tech when it held the Hokies to just two offensive touchdowns and 81 rushing yards. The matchup with JMU is Delaware’s CAA opener.
“Virginia Tech just could not knock Delaware back off the ball, so they couldn’t create any running lanes,” Kirkpatrick said.
Houston said Delaware’s defense provides a tough test this week for the Dukes.
“They’re playing at a very high level,” Houston said of Delaware’s defense. “You have a combination of older, experienced players that know what they’re doing, playing real well together. And that’s always a recipe for success.”
If JMU wins, it’ll extend the nation’s longest active winning streak in Division I to 17 straight victories, which would also tie a CAA all-time record for consecutive wins.