I was pretty pumped to find out there was a blog that covered JMU out there. Usually when we play an FCS opponent there's very little information available on them and no one that really cares about them (I'm looking at you, Furman). Fortunately, JMU Sports Blog's Rob and Todd are here to enlighten us on their beloved James Madison Dukes prior to Saturday's game. Here are my answers to their questions.
Talk a little bit about what we can expect out of James Madison's spread option. Is there an FBS team that you could compare it to?
This is a funny question this year. For the last few years, we would have said WVU/Michigan and the Rich Rodriguez run-heavy versions. With Rodney Landers at QB in '07 and '08 and then Thorpe last year, JMU had great runners who were only adequate passers so it made sense to run more. This year, with Dudzik at the controls and some of our best playmakers on the outside, we'd expect it to lean more toward a Utah/Florida Urban Meyer mix with more passing and lots of receivers involved in the running game on end-arounds and shifts (probably won't see much of that against VT's speed though).
How will the loss of Justin Thorpe affect you guys? Drew Dudzik isn't immobile, but doesn't have the same toolbox that Thorpe has when it comes to the option.
It could be devastating, which is ironic because fans killed Thorpe for his play at QB last season. It was unjust in our opinion. It was his first year and while he did get off to a rough start, he helped the team finish strong with 4 straight wins including victories on the road at UMass and Delaware (places the Dukes almost never win). His play earned him the CAA Offensive rookie of the year award and a whole lot of "he's no Rodney Landers" comments from disgruntled JMU fans. With that being said, Dudzik is a better QB and deserves to start. Thorpe's real value is as a wildcat QB and a WR. He is great with the ball in his hands in the open field and he would have been a great weapon for the Dukes all season. His loss takes away a key weapon and also makes JMU very vulnerable if Dudzik goes down with an injury.
How has the defense look after losing key players from 2009 in Arthur Moats and Scotty McGee? How tough will it be to replace Moats this year?
Toughest thing to replace is the incredible D-line play, especially the pass rushing, JMU got from Moats and Sam Daniels the last four years. DJ Bryant (#13) and Ronnell Brown (#93) are both strong on the D-line, but they have big shoes to fill for sure. Also, Bryant is an all-out effort type who was winded even last week, so we're certainly concerned about him holding up against Tech's big boys.
The threat of McGee as a returner is the big loss there. He finally developed into a solid DB last year and was always a good tackler, but I'd say overall our back seven is probably better this year with some guys (Jamie Veney) fully healthy again. What was a very young group last year is starting to mature.
Since the CAA went to a divisional format in 2004, you guys have won your division in every even numbered year. Is there good reason to believe that will be the case again this season?
JMU does seem to do well in even years and that is at least partially related to the fact that in those years, JMU gets W&M and Delaware at home, and ironically enough Richmond on the road (the road team has won every game since 2005). The CAA actually returned to a single division format this year, with the losses of Hofstra and Northeastern. Regardless of the format, it's set to be another tough year. The CAA is the powerhouse FCS conference in the land, with one of its teams winning 4 National Championships since 2003 and having a representative in the championship game for 4 years running. In most years it's not a stretch to say that any of the top 3 or 4 CAA teams can be considered true contenders for the FCS championship and this year should be no different. Plus with the FCS playoffs expanding to 20 teams, the CAA could be looking at 4 or 5 bids. If the team stays healthy, we think JMU will finish top 3 in the CAA and earn a playoff spot.
How do JMU fans view an in-state FBS program like Virginia Tech? Is it more of a friendly rivalry or is there a real burning desire to knock off the program from the higher subdivision?
We'd say hardcore JMU fans view this as an opportunity to enjoy the atmosphere, but most are realistic about the game. There are tons of JMU alums (especially the pre-2000 folks who never had anything close to the JMU football program of today to cheer for when they were in school) who would consider themselves Tech fans first and JMU fans second. Lots of reasons (family ties, grew up with them, typical bandwagon, etc), but to us this is probably the most frustrating thing about being amongst the more heavily invested and more passionate JMU fans. The largest obstacle (and definitely the one many don't want to talk about) to the continued growth of the program is getting people to fully buy in to JMU athletics, especially if it comes at the expense of a more assured winner they root for at the FBS/BCS level. Everyone loves the school, but the sports are a different story. In our experience exposing our friends to what's been going on with JMU football, it's not a tough sell if they come to games. For those of them who haven't been back in a while however, some of them would rather just go on rooting for VT, UNC, ND, Syracuse, etc.
One funny point is that in a lot of ways JMU is more like an FCS version of Tech in the Commonwealth, with Richmond and Bill & Gary much more comparable to UVA. Needless to say, we think a match-up with UVA would bring out more of the "burning desire" both because JMU would have a realistic shot at winning and because I think we can all agree that there is something about those arrogant fox-hunting folks that brings out the best in us. But on the whole, everyone is really just relishing the chance to be a part of Lane Stadium experience and play against a team with a fanbase that is knowledgeable enough to realize what this game means. And of course if the Dukes pulled off the upset, it would be epic.