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JMU football veterans know how to handle pressure of Gameday

October 13, 2017 GMT

With all the national attention “College Gameday” brings, it can be somewhat overwhelming for FCS players. Not that the JMU faithful don’t always show up to support their Dukes, but there’s something different about being under the microscope that GameDay creates. The first time GameDay came to Harrisonburg in 2015, some of those pressures may have gotten to JMU, resulting in its first loss of the season to Richmond, 59-49. This time around, JMU will look to block out the noise and attention in hopes of continuing its journey to another national championship.

Although this team is just two years removed from its disappointing GameDay debut, it’s certainly different. For one, Mike Houston replaced former head coach Everett Withers in 2016, and installed a winning culture that’s led to JMU’s second national championship, and a shiny 19-1 record.

A key to JMU’s success this season has been its defense. The Dukes currently rank third in the FCS in total defense and have stepped up in games where the offense hasn’t been at its best. A leader of that defense –redshirt senior linebacker Kyre Hawkin – knows just what his team needs to be concentrated on this week.

“I think that as a team we’re all of the same focus,” Hawkins said. “With or without GameDay, Villanova is going to show up here at 3:30 in Bridgeforth coming to play us and giving us their all. We are focused on the competition and what they’re going to bring to the table and how we’re going to respond.”

Senior quarterback Bryan Schor played his first meaningful snaps the last time the Dukes hosted GameDay. After starter Vad Lee went down with an injury in the second half, Schor stepped up and performed admirably. He threw for 76 yards and one passing touchdown and he ran for another score. Schor also didn’t have a turnover in the stressful situation he was put in, giving an early tell to his composure. Given his track record, he’s a man who knows how to block out the noise.

“We focus on what we can control,” Schor said. “Each and every week we focus on what’s going on within the team. The outside stuff doesn’t matter to us.”

JMU has an advantage this GameDay as most of the Dukes’ starters have been through this ordeal before. Many players experienced the disappointment of losing to Richmond in 2015 and want to make sure they don’t get through that again. Their experience in this situation can help the younger guys know what to expect when the big game arrives.

“We want to show them through our actions,” redshirt senior defensive lineman Andrew Ankrah said. “We’re not going to get to sucked up into the hype. We want them to follow our lead in that aspect.”

The Dukes have their work cut out for them when they finally do take on Villanova. The Wildcats have the country’s second-ranked rushing defense, which will oppose JMU’s seventh-ranked rushing offense. All JMU can do is prepare for when its time in the spotlight arrives.

Contact Connor McCarthy at mccartcs@dukes.jmu.edu. For more College GameDay coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter at @TheBreezeSports.