BTP: James Madison has been one of the most dominant teams at the FCS level over the past two seasons under Mike Houston, amassing a nearly unblemished 28-2 record and an FCS title during that time. How has he been so successful in such a short period of time?
GM: James Madison’s climb to become one of the premier programs in FCS is largely a product of third-year coach Mike Houston demanding his staff of experienced assistants and group of talented players stay on the same page at all times. Houston preaches team togetherness and it’s evident in his approach to the game. Him and his staff believe offense, defense or special teams aren’t more important than the other, and that three units have to work together to achieve success. It’s the foundation of his program and his players have bought in, which has pushed JMU to play in back-to-back FCS national championship games – winning it all in 2016. Of course, the roster is loaded with 10 transfers from the FBS level and a number of others who were recruited and offered by FBS schools, but elected to play at JMU.
BTP: Who do you think will have the most impact offensively for JMU? How about defensively?
GM: On offense, JMU deploys a run-focused system even though it’s operated out of the spread and utilizes tempo. The Dukes have five running backs to pick from, but the one to watch is senior Marcus Marshall, who spent the first two seasons of his college career at Georgia Tech. N.C. State recruited Marshall, a Raleigh native, out of high school before he decided on the Yellow Jackets. Marshall has only gained confidence in JMU’s offense with a full offseason to work in it after rushing for 850 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. On defense, senior cornerback Rashad Robinson is a potential NFL Draft pick come April as scouts have rolled through Harrisonburg to check on him throughout preseason camp. Robinson was an AFCA FCS First Team All-American last year for his 51 tackles, seven interceptions and nine pass breakups.
BTP: Which player on N.C. State’s offense gives you the most concern?
GM: This is any easy answer. James Madison’s biggest concern is slowing down N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley and his crop of wide receivers. Last week, Dukes junior linebacker Dimitri Holloway said from watching he can tell that Finley is a smart quarterback and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.
BTP: How will the Dukes look to stop Ryan Finley?
GM: To stop Finley, JMU will stick to what it does defensively. Under third-year defensive coordinator Bob Trott, the Dukes play single coverage on the perimeter and attack the quarterback with different pressures in order to rattle the signal-caller. At corner, Robinson, senior Jimmy Moreland and senior Curtis Oliver should be able to hold up even against N.C. State’s tremendous wide receivers, but there’s a big question a safety for JMU. The team graduated two All-American safeties from last year’s team, which puts two first-time starters out on the field against the Wolfpack.
BTP: How do you see this season playing out for JMU?
GM: Until a team in the Colonial Athletic Association proves it can take down JMU, it’s hard to pick against the Dukes running through their league. JMU has won 18 straight conference games. If Houston and company roll through the CAA again, odds are they’ll have one of the top seeds for the FCS postseason and be on a collision course to meet with perennial power North Dakota State again in Frisco, Texas for the national title come January.
(Editor’s note: because Greg is the beat writer for James Madison, he abstained from making a prediction on the outcome of this weekend’s game)