The Collegian
Saturday, June 25, 2022

Richmond offense filled with holes after loss to JMU

HARRISONBURG, Va. — As James Madison University coach Mickey Matthews entered his post-game press conference after his team's 31-7 victory over the University of Richmond, his visor on his head was so low that it nearly covered his eyes and made him look like a villain. After the Spiders put up just 118 yards of offense, there was no other way the Spider offense could look at him.

Saturday, there were no big plays from the Richmond offense. Wide receiver Tre Gray, coming off of a 16-catch, 194-yard performance last week to the University of New Hampshire, was held to four catches for 38 yards. It was not only his limited number of catches and yards that hurt Richmond, it was his inability to break free for a big play against the Dukes 'defense.

His longest catch Saturday went for 12 yards. In each of the first four games of the season, Gray had at least one play for more than 20 yards.

There was none of that though as Richmond dropped its second-straight game. Matthews said that he employed man coverage on Gray while the rest of the field was covered in zone. That made it difficult for Richmond quarterback Aaron Corp to find Gray open as he usually had two players in the area.

"We didn't do a very good job compensating for that" double coverage on Gray, Richmond interim coach Wayne Lineburg said.

But Gray didn't even feel the biggest impact of JMU's defense. Corp completed 16 of his 31 passes -- well under his 62 percent completion percentage heading into Saturday's game -- but it was the number of sacks that stood out. Corp was sacked seven times for a loss of 47 yards. Those lost yards helped bring Richmond's yards gained rushing from 41 to a net of -12 yards.

What was most surprising about the number of sacks was how JMU was able to get pressure on Corp. Only rarely did the Dukes bring a defender on a blitz as the defensive line was able to get enough pressure on Corp. Out of the seven sacks, 5.5 came from members of the defensive line.

The biggest problem for the Richmond offensive line was Sage Harold, a freshman defensive end for the Dukes. He had 2.5 sacks and forced two of Richmond's three fumbles.

To be fair to the Richmond offense, it was missing right guard Mark Speir, who suffered a neck injury last weekend. It was not just Speir's replacement, freshman Nick Ritcher, who struggled with JMU's defensive line. Each member of the offensive line struggled, especially tackles Richard Muldrow (a Rutgers transfer) and Jacob Ruby. Five of the sacks came from a JMU defensive end.

The line also failed to get to open holes for Richmond running backs and it showed in the final statistics. Only freshman Justin Grant had an average better than 2.5 yards a carry. Grant gained 11 yards on two carries.

Richmond's other two backs, fullback Kendall Gaskins and tailback Garrett Turner, were not able to get anything going. Gaskins was held to 22 yards on nine carries (while barely scoring Richmond's only touchdown on a one-yard carry) and Turner was held to a .8 average on his five rushes. No Richmond back had a run longer than six yards.

Lineburg said after the game that he wanted to run the ball more to help out the offensive line, after calling for 18 rushes against 39 passes. He also mentioned running some more screen passes to try to help out the offensive line.

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"We'll go back to the drawing board and work on some things to try to help them out because obviously we have to protect Aaron," Lineburg said.

With an inexperienced line (two freshman and one sophomore started Saturday), it may take more than a new scheme to help out the line. Even earlier this year when Richmond was able to score points, Corp was still getting hit. Against New Hampshire, Corp was sacked four times as the Richmond offense put up 43 points.

Much of the credit given during post-game interviews for Richmond's inability to move the ball was given to the defensive line. Part of the blame for the Spiders' stagnant offense could be given to special teams though.

Kick and punt returner Wayne Pettus has looked like Justin Rogers the past few weeks, threatening to change field position and momentum every time he touches the ball, but he was also limited Saturday. Matthews said that he did not intentionally kick away from Pettus despite kickoffs going short to an up-man after Pettus returned his first opportunity 32 yards.

Although the short kicks put the Spiders in good field position, it did not get any of the electric plays that Pettus is capable of making and exciting the whole team.

But then again, nothing the Spiders offense did Saturday excited anybody on the Richmond side.

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