#25 James Madison FCS Football 2014 Preview

George Hammond

James Madison Dukes

Overall Rank: #25
#7 Colonial

James Madison Team Page#25 James Madison FCS Football 2014 PreviewBuy James Madison Football Tickets

After 15 years, James Madison will take the field this fall without Mickey Matthews on the sidelines. The longtime coach who led the Dukes to the 2004 national championship was let go after a 6-6 season in 2013. It marked the fourth time in the last five years that JMU had missed the playoffs. In his tenure, Matthews was 109-71 at JMU but the program, which could be headed to FBS status in the not too-distant future, has perhaps underachieved in recent years. Taking over in Harrisonburg, Virginia, is Everett Withers, a defensive-minded coach who was Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator and assistant head coach under Urban Meyer. Withers’ lone head coaching stint came in 2011 when he posted a 7-6 record at North Carolina after Butch Davis was fired in the summer of 2011. Withers’ priority will be to tighten up the Dukes’ pass defense. Although JMU was one of the top teams nationally in rushing defense last year, it was one of the worse (103rd in the nation) in pass defense. The new coach also will have a few interesting transfers to work with, including Vad Lee, an option-style quarterback who started all 13 games at Georgia Tech last year.

2013 Record: 6-6, 3-5
2013 Postseason: None
Coach: Everett Withers (1st year at JMU, 7-6 overall)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Brad Davis, Drew Mehringer
Defensive Coordinator: Brandon Staley

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Khalid Abdullah, RB, 347 yards
Passing: Vad Lee, QB, 1,561 yards (at Georgia Tech)
Receiving: Daniel Brown, WR, 665 yards
Tackles: Gage Steele, LB, 106
Sacks: Brandon Lee, DE, 6.5
Interceptions: Kwe’shon Williams, CB, 3

Other Key Returnees: OL Matt Cunningham, OL Matt Williams, H/TE Deane Cheatham, DE Brandon Lee, LB Titus Till, S Dean Marlowe, S Jeremiah Wilson, CB DeAndre’ Smith, CB Taylor Reynolds, K Conner Arnone.

Key Losses: QB Michael Birdsong, WR Quintin Hunter, WR Arlandis Harvey, RB Dae’Quan Scott, OT Josh Wells, OG Scott Jones, OL A.J. Scott, PK Cameron Starke, LB Stephon Robertson, DT Bingham Tojia, DT Jordan Stanton, DE Tyler Snow.

The Dukes are counting on Lee to make their offense go. He is the default starter now that Michael Birdsong has transferred. Lee showed promise in the Dukes’ spring game when he completed 11 of 18 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns (one rushing). Another transfer who figures to play a prominent role is running back Alden Hill who played at Tennessee last season. After redshirting in 2012, Hill saw limited action as a Volunteer in 2013. He rushed for 58 yards and a touchdown on just ten carries. Withers hopes the pair can boost an offense that was seventh in the CAA in total offense last year. Another offensive weapon could be wide receiver Daniel Brown who had 42 receptions for 665 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Along with returning tight end Deane Cheatham (19 receptions, 204 yards), Lee should have two potent targets. Another transfer to watch is wideout Sean Tapley from North Carolina. The return of tackle Austin Lane should help, too. Lane got hurt in spring drills last year and missed the entire 2013 season. Although there are concerns with the defense, several starters do return. Sophomore linebacker Gage Steele and senior safety Dean Marlowe received all-CAA recognition last season and head up the defense.

One of the biggest losses from last year is linebacker Stephon Robertson, who was a two-time all-CAA Defensive Player of the Year. He finished his senior season with 141 total tackles – that will be difficult to replace. The defensive front also was hit hard as three-fourths of that unit must be replaced from last year, and kicker Cameron Starke also is gone. Starke made 7-of-7 field goals inside 30 yards and was 3-of-4 from 40 yards and longer last season. Although a healthy Lane should help, JMU did lose three starters from the offensive line: Josh Wells (6-5, 300), Scott Jones (6-5, 295) and A.J. Scott (6-5, 295).

The Bottom Line:
Who knows? If the transfers work out and Withers tightens the defense, JMU could be among the CAA’s elite teams. There’s certainly talent on the roster. But one of the Dukes’ downfalls in recent years has been their inconsistent play. You never know which Dukes’ team is going to show up. And the schedule is tough ... JMU opens at Maryland and follows that contest with a road trip to Lehigh. After the home opener against St. Francis (PA), the Dukes play at Villanova and then host Delaware. It wouldn’t be a shock if JMU was 1-4 or 2-3 at that point, but it could be much better. One thing in its favor, the Dukes don’t play Maine or New Hampshire this season. Although there are just too many questions at this point to consider JMU a top team in the CAA, if Withers can re-energize this group, look out.

2013 Team Stats:

Rushing Offense: 172.6 (51st in nation, 6th in conference)
Passing Offense: 234.4 (44, 5)
Total Offense: 407.0 (45, 7)
Scoring Offense: 28.3 (49, 6)
Rushing Defense: 98.6 (7, 1)
Pass Defense: 251.3 (103, 9)
Total Defense: 349.8 (30, 4)
Scoring Defense: 24.1 (43, 8)
Turnover Margin: -0.5 (94, 11)
Sacks: 3.25 (6, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 2.58 (88, 10)


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