WVU Football Series History: James Madison Dukes
This Saturday will mark the first game of Neal Brown’s tenure as the head coach of the Mountaineers but it will be the third time that WVU squares off with the James Madison Dukes, and the second time at Milan Puskar Stadium.
In the first two installments of this series, a pair of highly touted West Virginia times picked up forty point wins over overmatched JMU teams, but history and results go a little bit deeper beyond the surface. The previous games that have come between the Mountaineers and Dukes have seen impressive performances, high hopes, and misrepresented results that have impacted the rest of the season for both teams.
The first time that James Madison’s football team traveled to Morgantown was in 2004 where by the time the two teams kicked off in Week 4, the Mountaineers had climbed four spots from the preseason AP poll to sit sixth in the nation. Meanwhile, James Madison was in the polls for the first time that season in what was then Division I-AA at number 25.
WVU was led on offense by a senior Rasheed Marshall and sophomore Chris Henry while a junior Adam “Pacman” Jones keyed the defense and return units. This team would serve as a sort of precursor to the Pat White and Steve Slaton era teams that dominated because of multiple options on the ground and speedy, hard-hitting defense. It was also the first Rich Rodriguez team to get true hype in the BCS race and were the prohibitive favorites in the old Big East Conference for the 2004 season.
In this meeting, WVU was dominant, running out to a 28-0 lead early in the third quarter behind rushing touchdowns from Jason Colson and Kay-Jay Harris, a score through the air from Marshall to Henry, and an Adam Lehnortt fumble recovery for a TD. The Mountaineer defense would hold JMU without an offensive touchdown as their ten points came in the second half on a field goal and fumble recovery. Mountaineer kicker Brad Cooper would punch a 48 yarder through late in the third while Marshall and Henry linked up for another short TD. Veteran backup QB Charles Hales would run the Mountaineer total out to 45 with a scoring throw to Brandon Myles as WVU picked up an impressive 35 point win over the Dukes.
Following this game, the two teams would go on wildly different journeys through the rest of the season. WVU stayed at number 6 the following week but were upset by a then unranked Virginia Tech team that would go on to finish tenth in the AP Poll. The Mountaineers rattled off four straight wins in the following weeks, reaching as high as number 13 but would hit the skids down the stretch. Back to back losses to number 21 Boston College and unranked Pitt in a Thanksgiving Backyard Brawl dropped WVU out of the Top 25. This left the Gold and Blue to play in the Gator Bowl for the second year in a row while the Panthers were blown out by an Urban Meyer-led Utah team. WVU would drop a 30-18 decision to Florida State and finished 8-4.
James Madison’s season only went upward after their drubbing in Morgantown. They would rise slowly into the Top 10 in I-AA, finishing the regular season with a stout record of 9-2. This granted them a berth in the Division I-AA playoffs and a first round matchup with Lehigh who they knocked off 14-13. They would defeat Furman by the same score on the road and then defeated William & Mary 48-34 in the semifinals to advance to the National Championship. Matched up with Montana, they would win a tightly competitive game 31-21 to capture their first national championship in school history.
The WVU-JMU series lay dormant for eight years before a neutral site game was scheduled at FedEx Field in Landover, MD. Taking place during the 2012 season, excitement was in the air with WVU coming off the iconic 70-33 demolition of Clemson in the Orange Bowl and JMU flying high after an FCS quarterfinal appearance.
WVU was deadly through the air with Geno Smith racking 411 yards with 3 touchdowns to Stedman Bailey and 1 apiece to Tavon Austin and Dante Campbell. Bailey and Austin each hit double figures in catches and triple digits in receiving yards as the Mountaineers ran up 42 points in just over three quarters. The defense was stifling, holding the Dukes to just 12 points with two coming on a safety in addition to a field goal and garbage time touchdown.
The Mountaineers came out flaming hot that season, starting out 5-0 before it all went sideways. Blowout losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State snowballed into five defeats in a row as the defense gave up 49.6 points per game over that stretch. Wins over Iowa State and Kansas closed the year at 7-5 before a loss to Syracuse in a miserable Pinstripe Bowl left a sour taste over the entire season. What started out as one of the most promising seasons in school history, ended up as one of the most disappointing.
That JMU team would not replicate the success of their predecessors who had first faced the Mountaineers in 2004, closing out 7-4 and missing the FCS playoffs.
WVU has an outstanding history against FCS opponents, going 19-0 all time with two of those being forty point victories over the James Madison Dukes. One of those came against a JMU team that went on to win a national championship. To be fair, that was a very different WVU team but history says, the Mountaineers should be confident this Saturday.
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