HARRISONBURG — Don’t tell James Madison coaches they can’t fix something that’s broken.
Each Thursday during the Dukes’ practice, they have a period designed for their offensive players to fix the broken play.
When Saturdays come around and quarterback Bryan Schor is frantically scurrying from right to left behind the line of scrimmage, they want the offense to be prepared.
“We work at it,” JMU offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick said. “We talk about it and we have a choreographed scramble drill that everybody has a particular area [of the field] or a secondary route to get to.”
Sometimes the play doesn’t go well, like when Schor decides to keep the ball to run before being hit too hard for Kirkpatrick or coach Mike Houston’s liking.
Last week, Houston said he and Kirkpatrick talked to Schor about taking too many hits during the team’s Sept. 9 win over East Tennessee State. Schor slid three times to safety instead of lowering his shoulder this past week in the Dukes’ 75-14 romp of Norfolk State.
But more often than not, the dedication to never give up on a play pays off for JMU.
In the East Tennessee State game, Schor connected with John Miller for a first down after being forced to scramble.
Before the snap, Miller was lined up in the slot to the right of Schor and ran a slant inside to the left. But as Schor was flushed right, Miller darted back to the right and eventually across the field to where Schor found him for a completion.
“Ever since this coaching staff got here we practiced it,” Miller said. “But before, I never really was on a team that actually practiced the scramble drill.
“So when Schor scrambles, because we know he’s going to do it during the game, we have certain spots that we’re supposed to be in. And once I know he’s scrambling, it’s probably going to be a big play.”
Backed up on his own goal line and being flushed to the right, Schor threw off his back foot to find wide receiver David Eldridge to move the chains on a 13-yard gain in the same game.
This Saturday in its Colonial Athletic Association opener, JMU hosts Maine, which recorded 17 tackles for loss and seven sacks in its first two contests.
That kind of pressure this week could force Schor to create something positive for JMU while trying to get free from the Black Bears’ pass rush.
“We work it every week,” Kirkpatrick said. “And what it is is everybody just staying sharp so that the receivers don’t run to the same area.
“If the quarterback runs right, you don’t want the receivers running to the left because what happens then is they’re in the quarterback’s blind spot. He throws it and that’s when a lot of interceptions happen.”
Maine is also fourth nationally with six interceptions this year.
Schor said practicing the drill each week has enabled him to make some difficult throws on the move.
“I think it definitely has helped me,” Schor said. “Because it’s helped us as an offense totally.
“It’s tough when you’re outside the pocket and you’re trying to find guys, but we’ve set up a system to where if I go right, I kind of know where each receiver is going to be and the wide receivers do a great job of continuing to play.”
Schor said Miller’s catch against East Tennessee State is an example of a receiver working to make sure the quarterback has someone to throw to.
Kirkpatrick, who picked up the drill from former Kentucky coach Hal Mumme, said even though JMU continues to practice the quarterback scramble each week, it still takes talented players to pull off some of the throws Schor makes or catches the Dukes’ receivers haul in.
“I think probably the one against Delaware [last year] stands out,” Kirkpatrick said. “[Schor] took off to the left and then took off to the right, then back to the left and threw it across his body and hit Terrence [Alls] for a big score.
“It was one of those ones when you go, ‘Well, I guess that’s what it’s like to have Brett Favre on you’re team.’”