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Checking In On James Madison

JMU QB Drew Dudzik. Photo provided by <a href="" target="new">CAA communications</a>.
JMU QB Drew Dudzik. Photo provided by CAA communications.

After a tough opener against Boise State, you would think the Hokies would get a chance to catch their breath in Week 2 against an opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision. But while the James Madison Dukes don't play at college football's highest level, recent history says the Hokies should expect a solid effort from the team from Harrisonburg, Va.

The Dukes call the FBS' (I KNEW that would happen) FCS' toughest conference, the CAA, home and nearly pulled off an upset against Maryland last year. The Duke led in the fourth quarter thanks to a strong performance by Drew Dudzik before Maryland tied the game at 35 with a little over five minutes to play and won in overtime, 38-35.

The upset would have been the third by a CAA team over an ACC team in 2009 after Richmond beat Duke and William & Mary beat Virginia in the season's opening week.

Dudzik was an effective runner and passer for the Dukes through five games, passing for 472 yards and rushing for 158 before suffering a foot injury in JMU's fifth game of the season against Richmond. When Dudzik took his last snap against Richmond, the Dukes led the defending FCS champs, 17-14 in the third quarter. However, Richmond came back to win, 21-17.

JMU was without Dudzik for its final six games. The Dukes lost their first two games without him, but went on a four-game winning streak to end the season at 6-5. It was the most losses for head coach Mickey Matthews since 2003 when the Dukes went 6-6. However, the next season they went 13-2 and won the FCS title.

There's plenty of reason for optimism in Harrisonburg entering 2010 as well. Dudzik is back and won the starting job back from the CAA's reigning offensive rookie of the year, Justin Thorpe. Thorpe had taken over for Dudzik and completed an impressive 68 percent of his passes during the last four games of the season.

Dudzik is one of six returning starters on offense for JMU along with three offensive linemen, tailback Scott Noble and wide receiver Marcus Turner.

JMU has seven returning starters on defense, including preseason All-CAA selection defensive tackle Ronnell Brown. Brown had 8.5 tackles for loss last year, including 3.5 sacks. He will have to have an even better year in 2010 to help compensate for the loss of defensive end Arthur Moats.

Moats had 90 tackles, 23.5 for loss and 11 sacks last year and was drafted in the sixth round by the Buffalo Bills this year.

Matthews will be looking for his first win over an FBS/1-A school since taking over as the Dukes' head coach in 1999. He's compiled an impressive record at JMU, including that national title in 2004, but has yet to knock off an opponent from college football's top division. He's had shots at ACC school each of the last three seasons, but has lost to Maryland, Duke and North Carolina.

In his first meeting with the Hokies since 2003, he'll have a chance to catch Frank Beamer's squad on short rest. Tech will have only four full days between its Labor Day meeting with Boise and its Sept. 11 home opener against JMU. The Dukes will have a full week between their season opener with Morehead State and their trip to Blacksburg.

This is a game the Hokies should win and win comfortably. However, I don't think JMU should be taken lightly. It's a very good FCS program and will have two extra days to prepare for the Hokies.

What worries me most about this game is the potential for injury after a short week for Tech. The depth chart is already paper thin and our margin for error is zero when it comes to injuries. If the Dukes hang around and the starters are forced to play well into the second half, the odds of the JMU game becoming a Pyrrhic victory increase exponentially.