VILLANOVA, Pa. - The James Madison football team was coming off, perhaps, its best game of the season - a dominating win over Maine last week in Orono. And, Saturday against Villanova, you never would have known.
The Dukes, ninth-ranked in Division I-AA, squandered any momentum - if they really had any - in a 35-20 loss coach Mickey Matthews described as humiliating, embarrassing and deplorable. It also may have cost JMU a shot at the Colonial Athletic Association championship.
"We had it all in front of us," Matthews said. "I'm just humiliated and embarrassed by the way we played. For us to come out and give that kind of effort - we didn't play hard. We just kind of showed up. We didn't do anything. So, how will we react? I wish I knew. I'm reminded of Coach [Bear] Bryant. They asked him one time after a bad loss down at Alabama, 'Is there any dissension on your team?' And he said, 'Well, no. If there's not, I'm gonna cause some.' That's kind of the way I feel about the effort we gave 'cause that was absolutely embarrassing to our whole university today."
It was a well-rounded subpar effort by JMU, and Matthews was especially tough on the offensive and defensive lines, calling their performance "deplorable." But listlessness has been an issue for the Dukes (7-3 overall, 5-2 in the CAA) all season, and Matthews said he doesn't know why.
"We never got off the bus," Matthews said. "We just didn't want to play today. I could not tell you guys why. I wish I knew. We really have had this problem all year, playing hard. And, last week, we played with a lot of energy and, today, we played with zero energy. This has been a problem all year. Certainly, we've won seven games, but it's not like we've run over people."
Saturday, Madison wandered blindly through the first half and finished it down 17-0. In the second, the Dukes tried to rally, taking advantage of a fumble by VU quarterback John Robertson and scoring on a 1-yard run by QB Justin Thorpe to make it 17-7 with 12:47 to go in the third quarter, but they couldn't get out of their own way.
On its penultimate possession - its last real chance at a comeback while trailing 33-20 with 6:24 left in the game - JMU got called for two penalties (first a hold, then a chop block) that wiped out a pair of nice gains and Thorpe overthrew two receivers. The series ended with Thorpe getting sacked in the end zone for a safety for the second time in the game. The first came with six minutes left in the third quarter to make it 26-7 VU.
"We couldn't get nothing started out here," said JMU tailback Dae'Quan Scott, who finished with 45 yards on 12 carries. "We didn't run the ball; we didn't pass the ball; we didn't block. We don't do none of those things, you're going to lose."
It was representative of just a generally terrible day for the Dukes, who managed just 231 yards of offense and the defense - which looked so impenetrable last week - gave up 455, including 307 on the ground. Matthews said JMU missed "a million" tackles, and he probably wasn't far off. Entering the game, the Dukes led the CAA in defense and were 12th in Division I-AA in scoring defense.
VU tailback Kevin Monangai rushed for 150 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries to go over 1,000 yards in a season. The 5-foot-8, 200-pound sophomore is just the fourth player in school history to do that, and he helped the No. 21 Wildcats (7-3, 5-2) dominate - as if they did anything else Saturday - time of possession: 37:51 to 22:09.
Madison couldn't even take advantage of Robertson, a Rookie of the Year candidate in I-AA, going out after he got drilled on the end of a 1-yard touchdown run at the 10:08 mark in the third quarter. He didn't return, and Villanova coach Andy Talley said he had concussion symptoms.
"It was just one of those days for us as a team where we just didn't come out and compete at all," said JMU middle linebacker Stephon Robertson, who had 10 tackles and a sack. Free safety Dean Marlowe led the Dukes with 11 tackles. "We left everything in the locker room and we couldn't carry it out on the field at all."
It also was tough day for Thorpe, starting for the first time after being benched in favor of true freshman Michael Birdsong on Oct. 20 at Richmond. The fifth-year junior struggled after earning CAA Offensive Player of the Week honors for his performance off the bench against Maine.
Saturday, Thorpe completed 14 of 26 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns but had two interceptions - one of which led to a touchdown that put VU up 17-0 with 5:18 left in the second quarter.
"If you chart his throws over a season, everything is right from the linebacker scope to the flank, so everything is in front of you," said Talley, whose team went just 2-9 last year. "Nothing really goes vertically deep on you, so you can kind of set your defense in a little closer to the line of scrimmage and know he's going to flick it out there quick
so you can put a lot of people in the box and just run to the flank, and that's what we did."
Thorpe did not come to the post-game press conference because of injury. Matthews said Thorpe hurt his shoulder and ankle in the game, making the quarterback situation fuzzy for the season finale next week against Old Dominion. Matthews said that Birdsong, who hurt his ankle in the last minute against Maine, would have played a lot if he were able.
"He was OK," Matthews said of Thorpe's performance. "Certainly, he turned the ball over, but we did miss Michael very badly. No question. They were stacked up so much on the line of scrimmage, we needed to be able to throw it, and it was hard for us to throw it."
Matthews also said that Lafonte Thourogood, a super-athletic redshirt freshman transfer from Vanderbilt, could play in the ODU game because of injuries. Thourgood has been limited by hamstring problems all season and hasn't played in a game since high school.
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