WVU football: Holgorsen sees James Madison as challenge’
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Mickey Matthews has seen Saturday's game coming for a long time. The James Madison coach had no choice even months before his team would play West Virginia.
"When we came to work in July, we had a billboard here saying how many days it was until the West Virginia game," said Matthews, who is JMU's winningest coach and 98-21 since arriving in 1999. "I don't know what that meant, but we had to talk to the players back in August that we had two games to play to get to the West Virginia game."
The Dukes, ranked No. 5 in the Football Championship Subdivision, navigated the two games with hardly any trouble. They beat St. Francis (Pa.) and Alcorn State by a combined 97-10 and are averaging 511.5 yards per game and 7.2 per play.
Now Matthews hopes the Mountaineers haven't seen the Dukes coming.
"The true statement is I'm sure they haven't even watched our film," Matthews, a former Marshall and Georgia assistant, said. "I'd be very surprised if they were aware of anything we do. They're very good. They beat Marshall. They could have scored 100 against Marshall if they wanted to. I'd just be very surprised if they knew much about us."
The trouble for Matthews - beyond playing up a level against the ninth-ranked team in the Football Bowl Subdivision and a considerable gap in depth and talent - is that the Mountaineers are aware of the Dukes.
"They have as good of players at that level as probably anybody that exists there," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "It'll definitely be a challenge for us."
And how much of a battle can the Mountaineers (1-0) expect in the 4:30 p.m. game at FedEx Field, in Landover, Md?
"We're anticipating a bigger challenge this week than what we faced a week ago," said Holgorsen of the game televised on Root Sports.
The Mountaineers scored 10 touchdowns with eight players in a 69-34 victory against Marshall and managed more yards of offense than in all but one other game in school history. They were also off this past week and that worries Matthews, who has one significant win against a FBS team - in 2010 at No. 13 Virginia Tech.
That came with a special circumstance, though. The Hokies played, and lost, five days earlier against Boise State at FedEx Field. The Dukes ended up with the second win ever by a FCS team against a ranked FBS team, following Appalachian State's memorable win at Michigan three years earlier.
"Virginia Tech was a tired football team when we played them," Matthews said. "During the game, their kids got really tired, and they didn't prepare for us until Wednesday. I said after the game, 'Sure, we beat them and, sure, we were better than Virginia Tech wanted us to be, even if they beat us, because of all that happened to them.'
"That was a big game, but I wish West Virginia played Monday night against Boise State. They're very well rested coming into this game. That's the biggest difference."
JMU returns eight starters on offense, six and defense and all its specialists - including kicker Cameron Starke, who was with the Mountaineers in the spring of 2009. Senior offensive lineman Earl Watford, senior tight end Brian Barlow, senior linebacker Stephon Robertson and junior return specialist Dae'quan Scott were preseason first-team all-CAA picks.
Scott, the team's starting running back and the reigning conference player of the week, is unlikely to play Saturday, though. Matthews said he believes Scott will miss the game after spraining an ankle in Saturday's win.
Despite the talent, the Dukes were picked to finish third in the Colonial Athletic Association preseason poll behind defending conference champion Towson - WVU's FCS opponent in 2014 - and Old Dominion.
"They're sound and they're a good ball club and Mickey Matthews has been there for going on 14 years now and he's built them into one of the top (FCS) programs in the country," Holgorsen said.
"They're sound on all three sides of the ball and their schemes are the same things they've been doing for a long time and the kids believe in what they're doing. I think what stands out more than anything is how much effort they play with."
Matthews won the national title in 2004, the same season the Dukes lost 45-10 at Mountaineer Field. He has led the Dukes to five other playoff appearances - 1999, 2006, 2007, 2008 and last year. The 2008 regular season started with a loss at Duke, but ended with 10 consecutive wins.JMU was the top seed in the FBS playoff and played into the semifinal.
"I don't know about comparing teams, but we had a tremendous quarterback, a running quarterback, in 2008 who carried us a lot," Matthews said. "We were not a very good defensive team in 2008 and we really struggled in the latter part of the season with injuries. We're untested right now and we're very aware that we're very untested. The first two opponents we had, we dominated them, but we're about to be tested, I think."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.