Coach Terry Bowden is a bit leery of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA teams), especially after last weekend when it seemed as if there was a bloodletting of Football Bowl Subdivision squads by their alleged little brothers.
James Madison (1-0) could very well fall into that category if the University of Akron (0-1) isn’t careful in tonight’s 6 o’clock home opener for the Zips at InfoCision Stadium.
The Dukes, who play in the Colonial Athletic Association, are ranked No. 15 in the FCS poll, and are coming off an impressive debut against Central Connecticut State, winning 38-14.
The Dukes have some playmakers and the Zips cannot take them lightly.
It begins with sophomore quarterback Michael Birdsong, who played well in the Dukes’ opener. Birdsong, a dual-threat quarterback, completed 10-of-18 passes for 115 yards and one touchdown, but he proved more impressive on the ground, running nine times for 55 yards with two touchdowns.
In addition, senior running back Dae’Quan Scott rushed for 120 yards on 15 carries.
Junior linebacker Stephon Robertson was his conference’s defensive player of the year in 2012 and has shown the ability to find the football.
However, this should be a game the Zips control if they are able to do a number of things, mostly on offense.
Against Central Florida, Bowden and his staff played conservatively on offense. Considering sophomore quarterback Kyle Pohl started his first game, that was probably wise. He completed 16-of-21 passes for a terrific 76 percent. It’s the 98 yards that didn’t exactly get the blood racing.
“We probably had him too cautious, taking the short throw, taking the underneath throw, because of our discussions before the game that we’re not going to turn this ball over,” Bowden said during Tuesday’s news conference. “It was a good, solid performance but it would look too cautious in the future. We need to go out there and throw the ball downfield and not be so cautious.”
That should begin against the Dukes. Bowden and offensive coordinator A.J. Milwee need to begin to loosen the reins so Pohl can find his receivers for more significant gains. When you have a 6-foot-5 receiver like Jerrod Dillard, you get him the ball. Ditto for freshmen Fransohn Bickley and Mykel Traylor-Bennett, who both appear to possess big-play capabilities.
Additionally, running back Jawon Chisholm needs to hit holes available to him in the spread offense and run north-south as opposed to east-west. On 11 attempts against UCF, Chisholm picked up 27 yards.
Defensively, the Zips need to only continue what they started against UCF with a significant difference.
The line, led by senior defensive tackle Nico Caponi’s two sacks, pressured UCF’s quarterbacks regularly, but they need to make minor adjustments to run defense.
The glaring hole was giving up the big play. That cannot be overlooked. The UA defensive staff came into the fall camp looking to eliminate big plays. They were a big problem last season and they were in the opener against the Knights.
Against UCF, the Zips gave up five plays of 25 yards or more. Two of those plays — one of 91 yards, the other of 39 — went for touchdowns.
With Michigan looming next week, there’s no better time than now to start correcting that particular problem.
Senior starting wide receiver Keith Sconiers will miss the game. He is scheduled for surgery on a torn meniscus in his left knee. How long he will be out is unknown. … Kick returner/wide receiver Drew Phillips is day-to-day with a sore groin. … This will be the first meeting between the Dukes and the Zips. The Dukes last played a Mid-American Conference school in 1997, losing to Ball State. … Chisholm is 76 yards away from becoming the 12th UA player to rush for 2,000 career yards.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.