No. 2 JMU Looks To Spoil Homecoming At William & Mary

HIGHLIGHTS: Villanova vs James Madison

William & Mary gets a visit from second-ranked James Madison this week, as the Tribe — dangerous on a weekly basis — remains in search of its first CAA victory.

Who: No. 2 James Madison (6-1, 3-0) at William & Mary (2-4, 0-2)

When: Saturday, Oct. 19, 3:30 p.m. ET 

Where: Zable Stadium; Williamsburg, Virginia 

Watch: LIVE on FloFootball

Week 8 is a biggie for the William & Mary Tribe. The team returns to action after a bye week, having the opportunity to recover from the grind of football season and go over what’s worked and what needs retooling in the first half-campaign under coach Mike London. It’s also homecoming week on the campus of William & Mary. 

Oh, and the Tribe play the No. 2-ranked team in the nation and winner of six in a row, James Madison. 

Nothing could make Homecoming sweeter for William & Mary than springing the upset, but that’s a tall task as recent Dukes opponents know. James Madison found itself in tough spots Oct. 5 at Stony Brook, going to overtime, then trailing Villanova entering the fourth quarter. 

In both instances, the Dukes did what championship-caliber teams do and made repeated big plays to secure wins. 

William & Mary’s found itself in a couple of to-the-wire tussles in Colonial Athletic Association play, dropping games to UAlbany and Villanova by one score each. 

James Madison coach Curt Cignetti noted the 60-minute headache William & Mary gave Villanova, a team with viable CAA title and national championship hopes. The Tribe drove into Wildcat territory on the final possession before going four-and-out. 

The Tribe are knocking on the door in London’s first season, and it’s only a matter of time before they break through with a marquee win. 

Dukes Running Wild

Thus far, no opposing defense has figured out the James Madison rushing attack. Ranked No. 8 in the FCS, the Dukes are putting up 252.4 yards per game on the ground, and even posted 172 on the Big 12 Conference’s West Virginia Mountaineers. 

The Dukes’ depth at running back is astounding. From versatile freshman Solomon Vanhorse, to talented Jawon Hamilton and dependable veteran Percy Agyei-Obese, and then in Week 7, Latrele Palmer kick-starting things with a long touchdown run vs. Villanova: Defending James Madison’s backfield is an all-hands-on-deck job. 

William & Mary’s strength defensively is in its secondary with Corey Parker, Arman Jones, Isaiah Laster and Latrelle Smith helping to set the tone. The defensive backs may be needed in run support against James Madison, but that sets up the risk of a big-yardage Ben DiNucci passing attack. 

Critical Turnovers

James Madison’s defensive credentials are pretty well established through seven games. Solving an opponent that ranks No. 2 nationally against the run, No. 10 on third downs, and eighth in points allowed is the quandary coming up for a resurgent William & Mary offense. 

Coordinator Brennan Marion’s fresh perspective and the emergence of playmakers has elevated the Tribe from the cellar of the CAA in scoring to an average almost double its output of a year ago. The task this week is maximizing possessions. 

After rolling with a platoon look at quarterback for much of the first month, William & Mary transitioned to using the veteran pocket-passer Kilton Anderson exclusively midway through the UAlbany game. That provides a much different layer to the Tribe offense than with the explosive ball-carrier and freshman Hollis Mathis. 

With Anderson more likely to pass, a James Madison defense adept at creating takeaways – the Dukes have generated 10 turnovers on the season – could be in line for big plays. 

“They’re one of the top defenses in FCS,” London said. “They do a great job with their cover skills. They challenge you. No. 24 does a great job just saying, ‘I’m going to shut you down.’ They’ve got a really good defense, and their pass-rush lends to opportunities to get quarterbacks to throw quicker than they normally would.”  

Coming off a Player of the Week effort from John Daka up front, the James Madison secondary also played a huge role in last week’s defeat of Villanova. M.J. Hampton’s pick-six gave James Madison the lead for good in the fourth quarter. 

On the flip side, the Dukes are only slightly on the positive side of the turnover battle for the year with 9 giveaways. William & Mary’s defense, which has generated 11 turnovers, will need to force some changes of possession to slow the prolific JMU offense. Stony Brook forced overtime against the Dukes earlier this month capitalizing on some key takeaways, which thus far is the nearest path to a win an opponent’s had against JMU. 

Special Teams Play

Turnovers can ignite an upset effort; so, too, do quick scores. Whether those come as a direct result from a takeaway, a trick play on offense or special teams, any means necessary. 

Few teams can claim to be as dangerous as the Tribe on special teams, particularly on kickoffs. William & Mary has 581 kickoff return yards with two touchdowns, both by dynamic freshman Bronson Yoder. Yoder’s been integrated more into the offense to make full use of his playmaking, but his kickoff duties are where he’s been most electric. 

James Madison is allowing just 17.7 yards per kickoff return, No. 22 in FCS, despite having just three kickoffs go for touchbacks. The Dukes are even more aggressive on punt return coverage, allowing just six yards on two opportunities all season.

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