Playoff bye week welcome breather just in time for JMU

Bracket: FCS playoffs

While most of the student body was enjoying the Thanksgiving week away from campus, the bye week for James Madison gave players the opposite benefit of being away from JMU and the practice grind that began in August.

“Our kids [got to] enjoy some normalcy in their lives as far as student-athletes. Any time you can have a bye week, that’s what you want,” said JMU’s coach Everett Withers. “I would imagine the percentages say it’s higher for the national champion to win it, if they’ve had a bye week,” he added.

Prior to the week off, Withers said that the team would use the extra time to focus on getting healthy, fundamentals, and getting a head-start on their opponent. Those fundamentals included more repetitions for sophomore quarterback Bryan Schor. The junior college transfer replaced senior Vad Lee, the CAA’s Offensive Player of the Year, early in the fourth quarter of a Week 8 loss to Richmond. Lee went down with a season-ending foot injury that required surgery.

Although new to a starter’s role at JMU, Schor was a well-regarded if unknown quantity until replacing Lee. In high school the right-hander threw for 6,518 and 56 touchdowns. Schor was headed for Miami (Ohio) before a coaching change at the school led to a last-minute rescission of his scholarship offer. He then spent the first semester of 2014 at Scranton’s Lackawanna College, where he participated in spring practices.

During that time he exchanged emails with the Dukes’ then co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Drew Mehringer (Mehringer is now the wide receivers coach for the 11-1 Houston Cougars). Schor scheduled a visit to Harrisonburg and liked what he saw, as did the Dukes. He enrolled at JMU and was on the team for the 2014 fall season.

Although he received few snaps in his freshman campaign, he captured a spot on the CAA All-Academic team as a finance major in his first semester at JMU, proving himself a quick study in the classroom. He has proven it again on the gridiron. Schor has taken care of the ball, throwing only one interception while delivering five touchdowns through the air.

With Lee at the helm, the Dukes started out the 2015 season with a 7-0 mark before falling to Richmond when he was injured. Schor’s first start came against William & Mary the following week at Williamsburg. He engineered a go-ahead drive late in the game, but the Tribe countered with a score to win, 44-41. They also blocked three JMU extra points, returning one 98 yards for two points of their own. Schor went 17-27 and threw for one score while rushing for a second.

“I thought he did an unbelievable job,” said Withers of the sophomore’s first start.

After the loss to William and Mary, JMU righted itself and won its last two games. They first edged Delaware (4-7), 24-21 on the road, and followed that up with a 38-29 win at home against Villanova (6-5). In the Delaware game, Schor hit wide receiver Brandon Ravenel for a 12-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left in the game for the triumph.

“For him to come up with that last drive was good. It was good for him and good for his confidence,” said Withers.

While not as prolific a runner as Lee, he’s also carried the ball into the end zone three times. If Lee and Schor were viewed as a platoon, they would be an outstanding one with 26 passing touchdowns, 11 rushing scores, and nearly 2,900 aerial yards between them.

The last two wins were important victories that earned them a share of the CAA title, a spot in the FCS postseason, and a second-round opener against the Red Raiders. Colgate advanced to the game by beating New Hampshire — one of four CAA teams to qualify for the postseason — 27-20 on the road at Durham on Saturday. It was their first FCS playoff victory since 2003.

Behind Schor, the Dukes’ backfield is hardly threadbare, despite the absence of their starting quarterback. Running backs Cardon Johnson, also a sophomore, and junior Khalid Abdullah are a dual threat and between them have rushed for 1,924 and 22 touchdowns. When Schor looks wide he’ll find first team All-CAA receiver Brandon Ravenel, just as he did against Delaware.

The sophomore signal-caller and his fellow underclassmen perhaps most benefited from the bye, with time at home and the extra tutelage that will be crucial against Colgate.

“We’ve got a young football team. Hopefully that maturity that they’ve gained throughout the season playing at a high level will give them an opportunity to be big-time players for us down the road,” said Withers.

Above: Sophomore quarterback Bryan Schor, who stepped in for the injured Vad Lee after Week 8, has seen his confidence build as the season progressed to the playoffs. (Courtesy JMU Athletics)

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