James Madison brings confidence, No. 25 rating to Georgia Southern

James Madison climbed into the AP rankings at No. 25 this week in its first season of FBS football. However, the Dukes can’t afford to celebrate for long, knowing they face a trip to Statesboro, Ga., to play a dangerous Georgia Southern team on Saturday.

James Madison (5-0, 3-0 Sun Belt) is coming off a 42-20 win at Arkansas State. Georgia Southern (3-3, 0-2) took a 41-33 loss to rival Georgia State last week. Georgia Southern leads the all-time series with the Dukes 7-1, winning the past seven matchups, but the teams haven’t met since 1992.

The Dukes became only the third team transitioning from FCS to FBS to begin their first season with a 5-0 record, joining UTSA in 2012 and Florida Atlantic in 2004. James Madison could be the first to go 6-0 with a win this week.

“It’s sort of another barrier. Took another step,” James Madison coach Curt Cignetti said. “It’s not a final destination and obviously it doesn’t affect anything that’s going to on between the lines, and our guys understand that.”

James Madison continues to put up big numbers. The Dukes average a conference-best 44.2 points per game while averaging 488.6 yards of total offense. They rolled up 598 yards of total offense against Arkansas State last week.

Quarterback Todd Centeio threw for 394 yards and four touchdowns and was named Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season. The graduate student has thrown for 1,312 yards and 15 TDs against just one interception and is also the team’s No. 2 rusher with 289 yards and two scores.

Kris Thornton caught nine passes for a career-high 173 yards against the Red Wolves to surpass the 2,000-yard mark for his career, moving him into sixth place on the school’s all-time receiving list. Thornton has 32 receptions for 516 yards and five touchdowns this season.

James Madison running back Percy Agyei-Obese is also coming off an impressive effort, as he produced a career-high 158 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.

On defense, the Dukes hold the best marks in the conference for both points allowed (15.0) and total yards allowed (228.4). Last week, linebacker Taurus Jones had a career-high 13 tackles and one of the team’s five sacks.

“They have a tremendous run game and they’ve played tremendous defense, one of the best defenses in the country, especially run defense,” Georgia Southern coach Clay Helton said. “They play really sound football and don’t beat themselves. It’s no surprise that they’re undefeated and a Top 25 team.”

Georgia Southern quarterback Kyle Vantrease will try to recover from a disappointing day.

He threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns against Georgia State, but he was picked off four times. His receivers didn’t help him, either, and they will need to be better with James Madison coming to town.

There were four dropped passes — one of which came in the end zone, while another was intercepted — and one pass was completed but stripped away. That fumble allowed Georgia State to run out the clock. Vantrease, a grad transfer from Buffalo, has thrown a touchdown pass in a school-record six straight games.

“We had too many self-inflicted errors,” Helton said. “Any time you turn the ball over five times in one game, it’s going to be really hard to win in this league. (Georgia State) made more plays than us down the stretch.”

–Field Level Media