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James Madison vs. NC State: 3 to watch on Dukes’ defense

JMU lost some big parts of its defense to graduation but has plenty of star power left.

NCAA Football: DI Football Championship Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

James Madison was the FCS version of Alabama on the defensive side last season—it’s absolutely incredible how good the Dukes were at thwarting opposing offenses. Exactly one JMU opponent scored more than 17 points on their 2017 defense. Eight of the Dukes’ 15 opponents were held to 10 points or less.

The Dukes were incredible ball hawks, picking off 31 (!) passes while allowing only 10 touchdowns through the air. They averaged one interception for every 15 pass attempts by opposing quarterbacks. That is insane.

They were complete in every respect, and limited foes to an average of 3.8 yards per play. JMU finished the year with 51 sacks and held opposing running games to 2.6 yards per carry.

While the Dukes lost a lot of production on that side, they have plenty of quality players back, and they’ll represent a good challenge for NC State’s offense. Here are three JMU defensive guys to watch:

Senior CB Rashad Robinson

Robinson was one of the ball hawks in the secondary, picking off seven passes in 2017 while breaking up another nine. That’s a really nice year for a DB, and he’s on a bunch of preseason All-American and All-CAA lists. This is his third season as a starter.

Senior DE Darrious Carter

The veteran defensive end tied for the team lead in 2017 with 8.5 sacks and also tied for second with 14.0 tackles for loss. He led the defense in both quarterback hurries and forced fumbles. NC State’s ability to handle him will have a significant impact on the Wolfpack’s ability to move the ball consistently.

Senior CB Jimmy Moreland

Moreland picked off eight passes last season, which ranked second nationally and also second on his own team. He did lead the way with 14 passes broken up, and was an easy first-team all-conference pick. He’s played in 43 games over the course of his career, and I would not expect Moreland or Robinson to go into Saturday afternoon feeling intimidated.