Back for a second season, we'll be previewing each of Maryland's football games by conducting a Q&A with a reporter who covers the Terps' next opponent.
Tracking the Terps: This will be James Madison's first game with somebody other than Mickey Matthews in charge since the turn of the century. What can you tell us about new coach Everett Withers, and how does his style differ from Matthews’?
I wrote in-depth this week about the changes Withers has made, the most obvious being his level of control over the players and media access. Under Mickey Matthews, information flowed freely, but Withers has really put a limit on who can talk and what is being said. Withers is a very determined guy, and he’s talked about “blowing up” the culture and infrastructure that he inherited at JMU. The Dukes are coming off a disappointing 6-6 season and things had gotten a bit sluggish at JMU. Withers’ “New Era” that he talks about has been welcomed with open arms by players and administration.
I’m sure fans on both sides remember Maryland needing overtime to beat the Dukes back in 2009. Is that something that’s been talked about down in Harrisonburg this week?
Honestly no. I think if the previous coaching staff had still been in place it might have been more of a talking point, but with Withers here he’s totally focused on the present and future.
JMU has a familiar name at quarterback in Georgia Tech transfer Vad Lee. How has he looked this summer, and does he have the potential to give Maryland problems?
Lee has looked nothing short of great. Many worried about his transition back to a spread offense (he played in the spread in high school before running the triple option at Georgia Tech), but he’s handled the offense with precision and has quickly become the leader of the unit. He’s sharp throwing the ball, and it’ll help that he has two I-A transfers Sean Tapley (North Carolina) and Ishmael Hyman (Kansas) as well as Daniel Brown, who caught eight TDs last year.
I’ve said all week that Lee will be the key to victory Saturday. If he has a huge game, makes some plays with his feet and can keep Maryland’s high-powered offense off the field, JMU will have a chance to win this game late. If he struggles, has some 3-and-outs and Maryland can keep the ball, it’ll be a long day for the Dukes.
Can you give us another player on the James Madison roster that we should keep an eye on Saturday?
I’ve labeled freshman tailback John Miller as kind of an X-factor for JMU. He’s done nothing but impress coaches and teammates this month with his ability to pick up the playbook and make some plays in practice has me thinking he’ll have a significant role on Saturday. He’s a small guy — listed at just 5-10, 180 pounds — but he’s quick. I think if he can create a few explosive plays for the Dukes, it’ll tilt the field a little in their favor.
And if you had to pick the biggest key for the Dukes to have a shot at an upset, what would it be?
Besides Lee and Miller making plays, I think JMU’s secondary needs to hold its own against Maryland’s passing attack for them to have any sort of chance. Stefon Diggs and Deon Long are unlike any receivers JMU’s defensive backs have ever faced. If they can’t keep up, it’ll be a long day.