It’s week 2 of the CAA Football Coaches Teleconference, and head coach Mike Houston faced questions from the media following JMU’s loss to NC State. From the loss of a key player to the contributions in the running backs and quarterback, here are the key takeaways from the call:
No. 1: Rashad Robinson will play a role in the team’s play, even from the sideline
Just hours before the game between JMU and NC State was scheduled to get underway, JMU nation learned that the Dukes would have to go through the season without one of their stars. Senior cornerback Rashad Robinson underwent season-ending surgery right before the season started, sidelining him for the 2018 campaign.
The Preseason CAA Defensive Player of the Year will redshirt this season and return to the Dukes’ roster in 2019. In the meantime, Houston expects Robinson to contribute significantly to the team throughout this season.
“Rashad was talking to me Friday and Saturday leading up to the game and I’m positive he was talking to the other guys in the secondary there Saturday morning,” Houston said. “He’s back in our meeting rooms yesterday, same Rashad: ultra-positive, big smile.”
The secondary struggled early in the game without Robinson leading the way. While the Dukes managed to keep graduate student quarterback Ryan Finley under control in the second half, NC State still notched 309 passing yards and two touchdowns. Heading into the remainder of the season, Houston sees JMU using Robinson as an assistant coach when it comes to helping the cornerbacks — hoping his experience will help the others improve.
“Although it’s difficult to do from the sideline, Rashad will always try to do whatever he can to help this team be productive on gameday and help this team be productive off the field,” Houston said. “He’s going to remain an important part of our program.”
No. 2: Expect every running back to be used throughout the season
JMU has three running backs in its arsenal that could easily be the No. 1 guy at another Division-I program. Throughout the game Saturday, graduate student Cardon Johnson and seniors Marcus Marshall and Trai Sharp all saw time in the backfield for the Dukes.
“Certainly we want to keep them fresh,” Houston said. “So, you’re going to see them rotate a good bit.”
The trio of backs for JMU combined for 89 yards on 23 rushes in Saturday’s loss to NC State. While the biggest production out of the backs came from Marshall, each running back saw relatively the same amount of time in the backfield.
Moving forward, Houston expects the three to continue to share the responsibility of carrying the football. However, there may come times when one is more heavily relied on than the other two.
“If we have a particular game where one guy is maybe playing a little bit better than the others then we may use him a little more,” Houston said. “But certainly all three are capable of being starters, so we’re going to treat them that way.”
No. 3: Ben DiNucci will play a big part in the run game this season
If having three running backs with the ability to be a starter wasn’t enough, the Dukes also have redshirt junior quarterback Ben DiNucci who can contribute to the run game. Against NC State, DiNucci led all Dukes with 79 rushing yards on 14 attempts.
“You have to account for the quarterback in the run game with Ben,” Houston said. “Also, you’ve got to be careful with your pass rush and how much you pressure him because, what happened Saturday, he got heavy pressure in the pocket and he was able to make some plays with his legs.”
DiNucci’s ability to not only throw the ball well, but run it, too, makes him a dangerous player to the defenses on JMU’s schedule. After his success running the ball on Saturday, Houston believes it’s something he will carry into this weekend’s game against Norfolk State.
“He adds that dimension to our offense and I thought he played really well within the scheme on Saturday,” Houston said. “So, hopefully, he can continue to do that this week.”
Contact Catie Harper at email@example.com. For more football coverage follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.