West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen thinks his team's in for a fist fight. James Madison coach Mickey Matthews is thinking more along the lines of a pillow fight when the teams meet at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins.
That's why Matthews suggested - jokingly or not - early in the week that he'd be surprised if West Virginia even bothered to watch any tape of his team and doubted the Mountaineers were overly worried about anything the Dukes do.
Not so, said Holgorsen, who indeed has been pouring over film on JMU.
File photo by John Wickline
West Virginia linebacker Isaiah Bruce (31) will look to build on an outstanding first game Saturday when the Mountaineers tangle with James Madison.
''We anticipate this being a bigger challenge than what we faced a week ago,'' he said, referring to Marshall.
He didn't stop there.
James Madison, which is ranked 5th in the FCS polls, has slayed a dragon or two in its history. Two years ago, the Dukes (2-0) became just the third 1-AA team to beat a ranked 1A team when they beat Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium. In 2009, they lost by only three to Maryland at Byrd Stadium.
''They're used to being in these games,'' Holgorsen said. ''They're going to come in expecting to win. Our guys better be prepared. We're taking them every bit as serious as Marshall; every bit as serious as Maryland next week.''
Unlike 2010, when James Madison beat Virginia Tech, the Hokies had just played Boise State on the Monday night prior to the weekend game. West Virginia, which has won five in a row dating back to last season, won't have played for exactly two weeks when this game kicks off.
Matthews said he's not sure if he has a the type of team that can compete with West Virginia.
''We're untested,'' he said. ''The first two opponents we've had, we've dominated them.''
It's true. The Dukes beat Saint Francis and Alcorn State by combined scores of 97-10. When Holgorsen watched those games, he saw a team that was sound on defense, true to its techniques and full of sure tacklers.
''They've only missed 10 tackles in two games,'' Holgorsen said. ''I wish we could say that about our team, but we can't.''
On offense, the Dukes are led by dual-threat quarterback Justin Thorpe, who has completed 29 of 45 passes for 317 yards and run for 177 yards on 22 carries. The leading rusher is Dae'Quan Scott - the reigning Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Week - who has 180 yards and three touchdowns to go along with one seriously banged up ankle.
Matthews listed Scott, the best football player on the Dukes, he said, as ''very questionable,'' adding, ''I do not think he'll play.''
That would be a significant blow, as Scott also leads the team with eight receptions for 90 yards (11.2 yards per catch) and a pair of scores.
On the other side, Matthews looks at West Virginia's playmakers on offense and his head spins.
''Well, I don't know if you can (stop them),'' he said. ''You are competing against a guy who will probably be invited to New York (WVU quarterback Geno Smith).''
Matthews compared Smith to another player he once coached against in former New Orleans Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks, then the QB at the University of Virginia, because of the sideline-to-sideline arm strength.
''He just plays with a lot of confidence,'' Matthews said. ''As all of their offensive players do. In addition to being talented, they're a very confident group.''
Asked about West Virginia's running game, which got untracked much quicker this season behind Shawne Alston than it did in Holgorsen's first season, Matthews laughed.
''I think when he gets bored making so many yards passing, he calls some running plays so the running backs won't quit,'' Matthews said.
He said against West Virginia, one of the goals is to try and limit the yards after the catch.
''They throw a lot of short stuff. Those guys will take it to the house,'' Matthews noticed.
But that's not the big one.
''Your first objective,'' Matthews said, ''is to make them punt. If you can get them, you feel like you've done something.''
Marshall forced West Virginia into one punt while yielding 69 points two weeks ago.
''They could have scored 100 against Marshall,'' Matthews said.