#7 James Madison FCS Football 2015 Preview

George Hammond

James Madison Dukes

Overall Rank: #7
#1 CAA

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In his first season, Coach Everett Withers took the Dukes (9-4, 6-2) to the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2011 and a third-place finish in the CAA. Although James Madison lost to Liberty in the first round, there are key players returning from that team, including quarterback Vad Lee, who was the only player in the CAA to gain more than 4,000 yards through the air and on the ground in 2014. Lee helped JMU set school records for total offense and completions, and the Dukes were 10th in the country in total offense.

2014 Record: 9-4, 6-2
2014 Postseason: FCS playoffs
Coach: Everett Withers (9-4 at James Madison and 16-10 overall)
Co-Offensive Coordinator: Brent Elliott and Zak Kuhr
Defensive Coordinator: Steve Sisa

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Vad Lee, QB, 826 yards
Passing: Vad Lee, QB, 3,462 yards
Receiving: Brandon Ravenel, WR, 535 yards
Tackles: Kyre Hawkins, LB, 68
Sacks: Andrew Ankrah, DE, 3.5
Interceptions: Taylor Reynolds, DB, 4

Other Key Returnees: RB Khald Abdullah, WR Rashard Davis, OL Austin Lane, OL Mitchell Kirch, TE Deane Cheatham

Key Losses: WR Daniel Brown, WR DeAndre’ Smith, DB Aaron Peak, DL Sage Harold, S Dean Marlowe, DL Brandon Lee, RB Jauan Latney

The Dukes have one of the top players in all of FCS with quarterback Vad Lee and the Georgia Tech transfer displayed his talents last season. The All-American passed for 3,462 yards and 30 touchdowns, and he added another 826 yards rushing. Lee surpassed the 400-yard mark in two games and topped 300 yards passing in games five times. Although there are key losses in the receiving corps, Lee will have tight end Deane Cheatham (42 receptions and 453 yards) and wideout Brandon Ravenel (535 yards) to work with. Two key members of the offensive line return, too. They are all-CAA selection Mitchell Kirsch and Austin Lane.

James Madison’s defense has holes to fill and it had questions anyway considering the Dukes were 91st nationally in total defense last year. They were 79th nationally in rushing defense and passing defense and near the bottom of the CAA so there is big-time concern with the defense. CAA sack-leader Sage Harold graduated as did fellow lineman Brandon Lee so there is a void on the defensive line. Plus, they lost two potential starters to team dismissals in cornerback Jimmy Moreland and linebacker Rhakeem Stallings (80 tackles last year). The majority of the offensive line is gone, the top two receivers and running back Jauan Latney also are gone.

The Bottom Line:
The schedule is favorable and that’s a good thing with all the questions. JMU opens with Morehead State, Lehigh and Albany. Then it’s games against SMU and Stony Brook that will be key. The Dukes don’t meet New Hampshire and they host Villanova in the regular-season finale. JMU feasted on turnovers last year, and if it doesn’t get those turnovers this season there could be problems. Not many teams have a player as talented as Lee, but he’ll need help if the Dukes want to return to the playoffs and that defense still has questions.

Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 215.5 (21st in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 269.2 (21, 2)
Total Offense: 484.6 (10, 1)
Scoring Offense: 35.7 (17, 3)  
Rushing Defense: 186.2 (79, 9)
Pass Defense: 133.7 (79, 8)
Total Defense: 424.8 (91, 11)
Scoring Defense: 29.0 (80, 10)
Turnover Margin: 1.08 (2, 2)
Sacks: 2.85 (13, 2)
Sacks Allowed: 2.0 (55, 3)

Madness 2015 Recruit Rankings:
#16 Charles Tutt
#32 Robert Branch
#66 Trai Sharp
#150 Kirk Robinette
#170 Jordan Brooks
#193 Quan Welch


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