James Madison coach Mickey Matthews celebrated the Dukes' 21-16 win over Virginia Tech in 2010 at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va.
LANDOVER, Md. - While Mickey Matthews would love to be able to walk away from FedEx Field tonight with another monumental FBS feather in his cap, he knows that's a long shot.Sure, he figures it's possible. Why not? It's happened before, perhaps under even more daunting circumstances.It was only two years ago, after all, that he coached James Madison to a huge upset over Virginia Tech. That was not only a win by his FCS team over a ranked FBS opponent, it was at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va.At least when the Dukes (2-0) face No. 9 West Virginia (1-0) at 4:30 p.m. today (Root Sports will televise), it won't be in the Mountaineers' own back yard. In fact, the neutral-site game is closer to JMU's campus than to West Virginia's by about 65 miles.Still, there were circumstances surrounding James Madison's 21-16 win over the Hokies in 2010 that aren't present today, and ironically they involve FedEx Field."Well, we wish y'all had played Boise State Monday night like Virginia Tech had,'' Matthews said.Indeed, when JMU pulled off that upset of Virginia Tech, it was five days after the Hokies had left their game on the turf at FedEx Field. Tech had fallen behind Boise State 17-0, fought back to take the lead and then lost 33-30 on a Monday night.
That Saturday, in the rain in Blacksburg, a letdown was almost to be expected."Virginia Tech was a tired football team when we played them that day,'' Matthews said. "During the game their kids got very tired. They did not prepare for us until Wednesday and I said after the game that we beat them, but I'm sure we were better than Virginia Tech wanted us to be, even if they had beaten us.''Meaning that after the emotionally and physically draining Boise State game, a lesser foe on a short week would have been nice.
Now, fast-forward two years and the situation is not like that one, save for James Madison facing a ranked FBS team.But the Mountaineers didn't play Monday night. In fact, they haven't played in two weeks.West Virginia isn't coming off of an emotional game, either. Sure, the Marshall series had its elements of a rivalry, but a 69-34 win didn't exactly drain the Mountaineers emotionally or physically."So I wish WVU had played Monday night against Boise,'' Matthews said. "But they didn't. They're very well rested. They had an open date, so they're a football team that's very well rested coming into this game. That's the biggest difference.''Oh, and there's the rather ironic fact that JMU's upset of Virginia Tech in 2010 might actually prove detrimental to the Dukes now. After all, they aren't likely to sneak up on a team that has been preached to about that game for two weeks.
"We don't want the same thing to happen to us,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Our guys know the history and they don't want to become another statistic.''James Madison could, however, provide a test. The Dukes are about as good an FCS team as there is out there, ranked No. 4 in the country. A year ago, West Virginia played a rather average FCS opponent in Norfolk State at home and trailed at the half before winning 55-12. The Dukes are far from average at their level.Still, James Madison hasn't even broken a sweat in winning its first two games against Saint Francis (Pa.) and Alcorn State by a combined score of 97-10, and that concerns Matthews."We're very untested,'' Matthews said. "The first two opponents we've had we dominated them. We're about to get tested I think.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.