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Matthews: 'The biggest win in my professional career'

Mickey Matthews spent close to 10 minutes in his hour-long meeting with reporters at JMU Football Media Day in August complaining about the second game on his 2010 schedule, Virginia Tech, before a reporter interjected with a probably obvious question: Are you saying you don’t think you can win the game?

Fast forward from there to late Saturday afternoon in Blacksburg. Matthews’ Dukes had just pulled off the biggest upset in I-AA football history, a 21-16 win at Virginia Tech that nobody outside the coaching staff at James Madison and the 53 kids who made the trip to Southwest had seen as even being possible.

And that’s all that Matthews would concede afterward – that it was something that he’d seen as being possible.

“I thought we had a great chance to be in the game. I don’t think you could ever say I thought we had a great chance to win with what their personnel is and our personnel is,” Matthews said.

Leading to the next obvious question: Was his downplaying his team’s chances a smokescreen?

“Maybe,” Matthews said, after a pause. “I knew it would be a gutcheck for Tech. I knew we’d play well on defense. I didn’t think that they would move the ball real well against us. The big thing when you play those guys is, can you tackle those backs? That’s what we were worried about.

“The offense was the question. I was concerned when we had the ball. But they’re awful young on defense. And I thought after we started moving the ball that we gained some confidence offensively,” Matthews said.

A key to the success of the JMU offense was a move two weeks ago in advance of the Dukes’ season opener against Morehead State to throw out the new offensive playbook that the coaching staff had been installing since the spring.

Offensive coordinator Jeff Durden convinced Matthews to scrap the pistol – which puts the quarterback in the shotgun and lines a tailback up behind him – for the Morehead State game so as not to tip their hand for the Tech game.

“The plays we ran against Morehead, we’d only practiced for three days, the formations. So I don’t know if Tech knew we were going to be in the pistol. Several of the big plays there in the second half were all off the pistol option,” Matthews said.

To the final obvious question: Where does this win rank in Matthews’ career?

“This is the biggest win of my professional career,” said Matthews, whose resume includes the 2004 I-AA national championship.

But that was another win over a I-AA team, and this was beating I-A power Virginia Tech, ranked 13th in I-A, coming off a narrow 33-30 loss on national TV on Labor Day to #3 Boise State, still seen by some observers as having an outside shot at playing its way back into the I-A national-title mix in 2010.

“I told the guys after the game, God doesn’t give you many of these successes in your career, whether you’re a player or you’re a coach, when you do what we did today,” Matthews said.

Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at

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