GAME NOTES: In two home games this season, the James Madison Dukes have outscored their opponents by a combined 97-10, but the team gets its first real test of the 2012 campaign this weekend when it tangles with ninth-ranked West Virginia at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.
Recognized as the fourth-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision at the moment, the Dukes have had their way with Saint Francis (PA), 55-7, and Alcorn State, 42-3, but going up against one of the top teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision is a completely different set of circumstances, especially when that team is as explosive at the Mountaineers.
West Virginia caught an early break in the schedule last weekend, but considering how much damage the team did in the opener, maybe they needed to take a breather and regroup before moving forward. Against in-state rival Marshall at home, the Mountaineers hit hard and hit heavy as they celebrated a 69-34 victory versus the Thundering Herd.
One of the top scoring teams in the country last season with 37.6 ppg, the Mountaineers demonstrated against Marshall that their 70-33 thrashing of Clemson in the Orange Bowl at the end of last season was no fluke. Dana Holgorsen, who became the first WVU head coach to win at least 10 games in his first year with the program in 2011, is no stranger to high-octane offenses having coordinated passing attacks that have generated at least 4,200 yards through the air in each of the last seven campaigns.
The only other meeting between these two teams took place in 2004 when WVU, then ranked sixth in the country, crushed the Dukes in a 45-10 final in Morgantown.
West Virginia, which has won 12 straight games against programs from the FCS, is playing a member of that division away from Milan Puskar Stadium for the first time ever with this trip to Landover.
"I think our guys are excited about playing this game," Holgorsen said at his weekly press conference. "I worried about that from the standpoint of having an off-week this early in the year and then losing routine which concerned me, but I like our team's mentality as far as wanting to get back out there, wanting to practice...looking forward to playing another game."
Off to a 2-0 start for just the second time since 2005, the Dukes have managed to score at least 40 points in consecutive outings for the first time since 2008, thanks in large part to running back Dae'Quan Scott who was named the Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Week on Monday. Scott, who gained 73 yards and scored once on the ground in the win over St. Francis in the opener, registered the ninth 100-yard rushing game of his career and scored a pair of TDs in only 27 minutes of action versus Alcorn State. Scott also reeled in a 10-yard TD reception to help build the JMU halftime lead to 28-0.
Quarterback Justin Thorpe added 101 yards rushing of his own and also converted 14-of-18 passes for an additional 140 yards.
"I can always scramble out of the pocket and get yards, that's the easy part," Thorpe said after the game. "Sometimes its difficult just sitting in the pocket and delivering the pass, but I felt pretty good."
The defense for the Dukes clamped down on Alcorn State, limiting the visitors to just 250 yards on 77 plays, but at the same time JMU surrendered 70 yards on penalties, so that's something they'll have to clean up before they hit the field this weekend in Maryland.
After two games the Dukes rank eighth in the FCS in total defense, giving up only 207.5 ypg, and third in points allowed (5.0 ppg), but one has to consider the level of competition before anointing James Madison the team to beat at that level.
Offensively, Scott and Thorpe have been the driving forces with a combined 357 rushing yards and six touchdowns, both of which are easily more than both of the team's opponents combined. Scott is also the top receiver with eight catches for 90 yards and two more TDs, so the Mountaineers would be smart to key on the running back every time he steps on the field.
Speaking of West Virginia, the team hit the ground running in the season opener against Marshall as senior signal-caller Geno Smith missed just four of his 36 pass attempts, en route to 323 yards and four touchdowns through the air, adding a 28-yard TD run for good measure. As a group, the Mountaineers rambled for 331 yards on 35 rushing attempts.
For Smith, who is a dual threat whenever he steps onto the field, his 89.9 percent accuracy in the opener tied for the second-highest percentage with more than 30 attempts since 2000, taking into account every team in the country. For his efforts, Smith was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week, Davey OBrien Player of the Week and Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week.
Shawne Alston also played a major role in the win as he posted a game-high 123 yards rushing, leading to a pair of touchdowns, while Stedman Bailey caught nine balls for 104 yards and two TDs as well.
Smith can be a one-man wrecking crew when he gets into gear, owning the top three offensive games in WVU history. In fact, of the top 14 offensive outputs in a single contest by a Mountaineer over the years, Smith holds a total of eight of those spots so as the quarterback goes, so goes West Virginia football.
There isn't much analysis to be done after just one game, but if that single game is any indication of how potent the Mountaineers could be, this James Madison group will have its hands full on Saturday afternoon.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: West Virginia 42, James Madison 23