The cards were in James Madison's favor. First, the weather. Anytime, there's a game played in the driving rain it favors the underdog team. It forces a slower game, typically lower scoring than a dry game. Second, the extremely short week coming off a very disappointing loss on Monday. Third, it's becoming more and more evident that the injuries on both sides of the ball are really hurting the Hokies. I thought that Andrew Lanier had a good game playing for Nick Becton, who's out with turf-toe, but he did get burned a few times. Chris Drager was out for the game and two drives into the game, Kwamaine Battle went down with what we learned yesterday is a season ending ACL injury. This makes the defense extremely thin on the defensive line.
JMU came out fired up. The Dukes came to Bleaksburg and right away they came out with a huge run. The Hokies eventually calmed them down for a few plays and were able to hold the Dukes to just one first down in the first half (not counting a very long touchdown run.)
The first thing that I remember while rewatching this game is how nervous I felt Saturday. The Hokies steadily drove down the field from deep in their own territory. It was an impressive drive. In fact, they were able to drive down field most of the game. The offensive line held well, especially Lanier who was doing well in pass protection. The Hokies scored, but I remember thinking that it took too long. Sure it was raining and that slows the game down, but 8:48 to score seemed too long.
The second drive was moving well with success on the ground with Evans and Williams. However, it stalled with an unlucky dropped ball and turnover by Taylor while he made a good athletic move to avoid a sack. The Hokies would commit three very costly turnovers. Two of which were on drives that had scoring potential.
The Hokies had a third drive in the half that resulted in a field goal. It was another drive that went long down field in 10 plays for 55 yards.
Another thing that is disturbing me: How could Taylor not find open receivers against a slower, weaker, smaller James Madison backfield? How can these very fast, okay except for Danny Coale, receivers not be finding and/or opening up holes in the secondary? Why are we seeing Taylor scrambling and then having to make it happen, or not happen, with his feet? I'm not pointing any fingers, but you know what I'm thinking. Speed, talent, size, strength mean nothing if you're not being taught how to find the openings or if you're being told to run a route that's obvious and predictable.
The first half ended with some discussion on whether the Hokies should have gone for it on 4th and two at the JMU 25-yard line with two time outs and :25 left on the clock. I think, going for the field goal was the right call for many reasons:
- You're supposed to dominate this team and you're confident you will. No sense in not getting any points by turning the ball over on downs.
- You have a very inexperienced kicker in Chris Hazley. What better way to get him some good situational experience than a 42-yard angled kick in the rain?
Defensively, the Hokies looked okay up until late in the first half. It's amazing how many times Bill Roth said things like "[Jamal] Sullivan bounces off one tackle." The defensive injuries are obviously affecting the play. Chris Drager was out of the game to begin with. Kwamaine Battle came out on the second JMU drive with an injury which the Hokies announced yesterday was a torn ACL. Battle is now out for the season.
With out Drager and Battle the Hokies initially appeared to still be able to dominate on defense. With a 3rd and 18, JMU was in trouble of another three and out. However, let me count the missed tackles: on a quick screen dump off in quick succession Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, Steven Friday, and Bruce Taylor missed make-able open-field tackles. The screen play results in a Sullivan 78-yard touchdown pass play.
Then, JMU took the ball down field 15 plays to score again on an option run by Drew Dudzig into the end zone. This brought the Dukes within two points late in the third and you feel the nervousness in Lane Stadium. That nervousness was exacerbated by Taylor's throw directly to a purple shirt on the very first play of the Hokies drive and an immediate personal foul by the defense. The Dukes marched down field methodically only to watch Dudzig run the exact same play into the end zone. Dukes would take and hold the lead. The Hokies drove to the 17-yard line but, down five with 10 minutes to go questionably went for it on 4th and 2. A straight line 34-yard field goal would have brought the Hokies to within two points. I don't understand the logic of this call. Again, it's a question of very suspect coaching decisions.
The Hokies worked the ground only due to the extreme talent on the field. They moved into the red zone and were looking like they'd score. But the most devastating play of the game came as Evans cut and had the ball popped from his hands only to have the Dukes fall on it. The Dukes were able to take that and drive down field to run the clock down. The Hokies would lose 21-16 to JMU for the first time in seven meetings. It is also the first time the Hokies have lost a non-conference home game since 1995 (Look Familiar?).