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Game Breakdown: James Madison at Lehigh, 9/6/2014

JMU S Dean Marlowe (AP)
We break down the James Madison game and we give our fearless prediction below the flip.

The Dukes have only met Lehigh twice in their history.  One time was the "7th-and-goal" game in the I-AA playoffs.

The other was back in 1980, during one of the more stellar Engineer football seasons under head coach John Whitehead.

The Brown and White played a tough schedule, including Colgate, Army, and five teams that would, at one point, end up in the CAA: Delaware, Maine, Rhode Island, Northeastern, and, of course, JMU.

Lehigh went 9-0-2 that regular season, thanks to the efforts of WR Mark Yeager, one of the best wideouts in the small-college circuit.  The ties came against Colgate and Army, which meant the Engineers would win the Lambert Cup with ease.  They'd lose in the I-AA playoffs to Eastern Kentucky, coached by hall-of-famer Roy Kidd.

Breaking down James Madison
Offense

Nearly a decade ago, James Madison came to Lehigh with a mobile, athletic quarterback and a punishing offensive line, and tried to beat the Mountain Hawks into submission.

In 2014, they bring an athletic quarterback and a punishing offensive line, but the similarities end there.

JMU head coach Everett Withers has taken the talent Mickey Matthews left for him, and added an element of speed to the offense in an effort to add to the overall number of offensive plays.  The Dukes play quicker than they did, though judging by last week, they still may be adjusting somewhat to the new offense.

Junior QB Vad Lee (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
The triggerman is junior QB Vad Lee, the transfer from Georgia Tech.  He's definitely a dual-threat quarterback, who took off 8 times last week and did have a 34 yard run.  But against Maryland he struggled mightily with accuracy, going 16-for-37 with 2 interceptions.

It's fair to say that Lee can be expected to have a better day than he hid last week, because, how could he not?  That said, Lee didn't react well to Maryland's pressure, which leads to a logical game plan for this weekend.

Sophomore RB Khalid Abdullah, a 5'10, 206 lb power rusher that saw time last season on JMU, will be the workhorse that takes most of the pressure off of Lee.  He mostly plays as the single setback in JMU's three-receiver set, with freshman RB John Miller and sophomore RB Alden Hill spelling him.

It seems like JMU will spread the ball around to a lot of different receivers, if and when the offense gets going.  Senior WR Sean Tapley, last week's top receiver with 3 catches for 62 yards, seems to be the main target, with sophomore WR Brandon Ravenel (4 catches, 31 yards) not far behind.  Senior WR Daniel Brown and and junior TE Deane Cheaatem  rounds out this tall, athletic unit designed to create matchup problems.

James Madison may boast the biggest offensive line Lehigh may face all season.  6'6 senior OL Austen Lane is but one of four 300 pound linemen the Mountain Hawks will be facing this afternoon, and it's a line that seems designed to wear down the opposition.

Defense

Senior DE Brandon Lee (CAA)
Withers got some flak in the offseason by switching to a 3-4 defense when Matthews' cupboard was filled with people suited for a 4-3 defense and had competed with a 4-3 defense.  The explanation that it would help recruiting down the line might be the right direction for James Madison, but it does mean that the Dukes are still adjusting to a new way of doing defense, too.

Fortunately it helps if you have great athletes to fill these positions, like 311 lb junior NG Xavier Gates stuffing the middle of the defensive line. Freshman DE Evans Osuji is 270 lbs, and junior DE Alex Mosley tips the scales at 290, a mammoth-sized front three.  Senior DE Brandon Lee will also get a lot of time in JMU's rotating front.

The Mountain Hawks may have caught a break if JMU's best young defensive player from last year, sophomore LB Gage Steele, is still out with an injury.  There is word that he may return for the game, but he's not listed on the Dukes' two deep.  Freshman ILB Kyre Hawkins had 6 tackles last week, with senior OLB Sage Harold also with a decent day tackling as well.  At linebacker, the premium is on speed more than size, like it is on the defensive line.

If Steele is not availble, JMU's best defensive player will most likely be senior FS Dean Marlowe (9 tackles, 2 pass break-ups last week).  Marlowe was probably the MVP of the team last week in a fairly strong effort by the secondary overall.  Senior CB Jermiah Wilson (4 tackles) is also a very solid corner.

Special Teams

Special Teams for JMU last weekend weren't exactly very special, with two huge receiver interference calls on punts that truly seemed to stick in Withers' craw after the game.  This fact means that JMU will probably be much more crisp in this area this week.

Junior PK Connor Arnone is now only on kicking duties after handling both punting and kicking last season, where he was fairly average.  He hit on his only kick last weekend, an extra point, and none of his kickoffs were touchbacks.  Freshman P Gunnar Kane got a lot of practice punting last week, netting 10 for a 39.5 yard average.

Junior WR Rashad Davis and senior WR Sean Tapley handled ickoff and punt duties last weekend, andn neither had any returns of note.  That's not to say these guys are not threats, though, as in years past they've always seemed to have had stellar return men.

LFN's Keys to the Game

1. Youth can't mean stupid.  With a young team, JMU's struggles against Maryland are the perfect object lesson for Lehigh's new starters, of which 12 new faces on both sides of the ball will be starting in their first game.  In order to win, Lehigh will need to minimize the penalties that plagued the Dukes' effort last week vs. Maryland.  A penalty-free, turnover-free game might be too much to ask, but a clean game puts Lehigh in a position to win - especially on the units where there will be lots of underclassmen, like special teams.

2. Strength vs. Strength.  The battle I'll be watching the most closely is the one in the trench between Lehigh's offensive line, led by senior OL Ned Daryoush, and the mammoth front three of the Dukes.  Especially in the 3rd and 4th quarters, the result of this battle might be the story of the game.  If Lehigh has  alead and can grind out rushing yards, the Mountain Hawks have a real chance.
3. Kitchen Sinks.  Pressuring Lee into making bad throws needs to be priority 1, 2, 3, and probably 4 of Lehigh's defense on Saturday.  The Hawk defense will need to blitz early and get lots of pressure on Lee.  If they bring about three kitchen sinks' worth of pressure, and they can force some big mistakes, Lehigh's chances of winning go up significantly.

Fearless Prediction

Through the Andy Coen years, Lehigh has generally played well against CAA teams or full scholarship teams early in the season.  But they haven't generally been the first game of the year, either, at a time when athletes are settling into their new roles in games that "count".

You can't understate how huge it is that JMU have a game under their belts, even if it was a blowout loss to Maryland.  Their players all have a very good idea of what they're being asked to do, and shouldn't make the same number of mistakes they did last weekend.

To win, Lehigh will have to be in Game 4 form.  They might be.  I hope they are.  But I think it's a lot more likely that the Mountain Hawks won't be crisp enough to make enough plays to come out with the victory.  Coach Coen has been calling this a "yardstick game" - my words - to show how far Lehigh has come since last season.  I think the answer is "pretty far, but not far enough yet".  I just hope I'm wrong about that.

Lehigh 32, James Madison 35

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