The Collegian
Sunday, July 12, 2020

Richmond vs. James Madison Football Game Preview

Storylines:

1) Time for Strauss to step up- The UVA transfer quarterback has been sitting behind starting senior John Laub. Strauss has played only sparingly in the Spiders' first seven games, mostly when the game was already in hand one way or the other. Laub and Strauss were in a tight battle during training camp, but Laub came out on top, and he's made large strides as a passer and game manager. But with Laub's injury late in last Saturday's game against UNH, Strauss will see his first action as the starter. Richmond may not see much of a drop-off in terms of skill level from the quarterback position, but Laub was also a team captain and leader of the offense. How well the Spiders do moving forward could depend on how quickly Strauss can command respect from and lead his teammates.

2) Top notch- James Madison comes into this game ranked second in the FCS rankings (behind Eastern Washington). At 5-1 with their only loss coming to FBS powerhouse West Virginia, the Dukes are a force right now atop the CAA rankings, somewhere Richmond aspires to be. This could be Danny Rocco's last chance at a signature win in his first season as Spiders head coach, and this game appears to be a must-win if Richmond wants to remain in the discussion of possible playoff contenders. JMU has had some close games recently with CAA opponents similar to Richmond, so the Spiders should be able to keep the game competitive.

3) Coming home- After three straight games on the road, Richmond will begin its longest home stand of the season with three straight in Robins Stadium. After this contest with JMU, the team will have a week off before two more CAA home games against Rhode Island and Delaware. The Spiders are 1-1 at home so far this season and 7-7 at home in their storied rivalry with the Dukes.

What to Look for:

1) Quarterback on the run- JMU's quarterback Justin Thorpe is the team's leading rusher this season with almost 400 yards on the ground. Richmond's defense showed it was vulnerable to mobile quarterbacks, giving up more than 100 yards to Villanova's John Robertson a couple weeks ago. The Dukes run the spread, and they run it well thanks to Thorpe makes good decisions with the ball in his hands. If Thorpe breaks off a few big runs early, this game could get away from the Spiders.

2) Quarterback not on the run- Richmond will be forced to alter its offensive game plan this week with Strauss at the helm instead of Laub. Strauss can run it when he has space, but he's not the runner Laub is, and Rocco will want to limit the hits Strauss takes because he's not as big as Laub, and the team doesn't want to lose another quarterback to injury. As for when he's in the pocket, Strauss needs to hope the offensive line continues the solid play it has had so far this season. It will be interesting to see if Laub's mobility made the offensive line look better than it has been, especially against a defense that made the line look bad during last season's matchup, picking up seven sacks in the 31-7 JMU victory.

3) Familiar face on the JMU sideline- The Dukes hired Latrell Scott as their tight ends coach during the offseason. Scott, of course, served most recently as Richmond's head coach. He resigned before the start of last season after receiving a DWI. Many of the players on the Spiders were recruited by and played for Scott. Scott's departure was likely a main reason for last season's disappointing 3-8 campaign, but in talking to Richmond players, there doesn't appear to be a lot of harbored feelings against their former coach. Look for some happy reunions between Scott and his former players before and after the game on Saturday.

Bold Predictions:

1) Edwards gets shut down- Richmond's leading receiver Ben Edwards has consistently been Richmond quarterbacks' go-to target this season. Even in limited playing time, Strauss often keyed in on Edwards during last Saturday's loss. Edwards is a great player, but JMU head coach Mickey Matthews knows that. And Matthews is a great coach. Look for the JMU defense to blanket Edwards all day, just as it did last season to Tre Gray, limiting the star senior wideout to just four catches for 38 yards.

2) Barnette does not- As the saying goes with one door closing and another opening, this will be the case on Saturday. With JMU focusing its coverage on Edwards, that will leave Stephen Barnette in plenty of single-coverage opportunities. Barnette had his best game of the season last week with 7 receptions for 73 yards and a score. Look for him to eclipse the century mark in yards on Saturday.

3) "Wynn"-ing- Expectations heading into the season were high for Richmond defensive lineman Kerry Wynn, and he's starting to produce as he was expected the last couple games. Saturday, though, will be his true breakout game. It won't be easy, coming against the mobile Thorpe, but if Wynn and the rest of the Spider defense can keep him in the pocket and uncomfortable, this game could turn into a big upset and the highlight of the Richmond 2012 season.

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Final Score Prediction: UR- 21, JMU- 18

Contact staff writer David Weissman at david.weissman@richmond.edu

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