While everyone expects a full-out offensive assault Saturday when West Virginia “hosts” James Madison University at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C., Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen isn’t taking the Dukes lightly.
He summed that up with one simple sentence.
“We’re anticipating this being a bigger challenge than what we faced a week ago,” the coach said.
That would be a 69-34 win over Marshall in the season opener Sept. 1 at Milan Puskar Stadium.
There is method to the madness of a Football Championship Subdivision team beating the likes of a Top 10 FBS team.
Then again, James Madison did take out Virginia Tech 21-16 two years ago at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va. They fell to Maryland 38-35 in 2009.
In fact, Holgorsen has used that Virginia Tech game as motivation beginning Sunday.
“We talked about that (Sunday) quite a bit,” Holgorsen said. “That’s one of the games we told them about. The tree-point loss to Maryland three years ago is something we talked about. We also talked about the fact that already this year there’s been six FCS conference teams that have beaten FBS conference teams. It’s gonna happen again and we need to do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen to us.
“They’re used to being in these games and they’re going to come in expecting to win.”
James Madison, No. 3 in the FCS, is 2-0 after wins over Alcorn State (42-3) and St. Francis (55-7).
And they are capable of being FBS beaters behind the one-two punch of quarterback Justin Thorpe and running back Dae’Quan Scott.
“Both (Thorpe and Scott) have had two tremendous games here to start the season,” Holgorsen said. “They want them two guys to touch the ball quite a bit. The quarterback is a threat to both throw it and run it.”
Thorpe, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound senior from Richmond, has completed 29 of 45 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns. He also has 20 carries for 177 yards and three touchdowns.
Scott, a 5-9, 205 pound junior, has 20 carries for 180 yards and three scores.
James Madison coach Mickey Matthews, a former assistant head coach at Marshall (1990-95) said Monday on his conference call that Scott may not play. Holgorsen said he figured Scott would not only play, but contribute.
Another thing that caught Holgorsen’s eye was the play of James Madison’s defense, which has allowed just 10 points in two games.
“They are sound in what they do and they tackle well,” Holgorsen said. “They’ve only missed 10 tackles in two games. I wish we could say that about our defense but we can’t at this point.
“They were a top 10 team last year and led their conference in every single defensive category. I’m impressed with what they do technique-wise defensively. I’m impressed with their effort that they play with. They tackle tremendously well.”
The Mountaineers will honor college and NFL Hall of Famer Sam Huff, A Farmington native and a former Mountaineer great who still does color commentary for the Washington Redskins.
“I was at an event with him over in Washington D.C. this past summer and got to know him a little bit there and hung out with him one night,” Holgorsen said. “Great guy, tremendous legend here in West Virginia.
“His name and number is up in the stadium. A lot of our players, it’s been so long ago they don’t remember the footage of it, but understand who he is and how much he means to the program here at West Virginia.”
Holgorsen also said no decision has been made, or will likely be made anytime soon, on whether or not to redshirt running back Dustin Garrison, last year’s leading rusher who suffered a knee injury prior to the Orange Bowl.
“He’s still trying to get his strength back up,” Holgorsen said. “We gauge him each day as far as what the strength in the knee is. Again, it might get to a point where we’re only going to play him if we need him. We feel like we’ve got two quality backs in Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie. And Ryan Clarke is playing pretty good, too. We’re going to continue being smart with it and continue to get his knee as healthy as we can. It’s going to come down to a point where if we need him we’ll play him and if we don’t we won’t.”
Holgorsen said the decision could stretch into October or November, based on that need.