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I had assumed that Drew Dudzik was the guy to beat in the race to replace Walter Payton Award runnerup Rodney Landers at quarterback at JMU this fall based on the fact that the redshirt junior was Landers’ understudy in 2009 and that he had played well in the Dukes’ 35-27 loss to Montana in the national semifinals last December in relief of an injured Landers.

But Dudzik is locked in a battle with redshirt freshman Justin Thorpe for the starting QB job, and coach Mickey Matthews isn’t convinced that he’ll enter the season with a definite answer on who his guy will be.

“I’m not married to the idea that we’ve got to have just one guy. You’d like to have one guy,” Matthews said. “But we tell our players, They decide who plays, we just announce it. And I think that’s true at any position, whether it’s the quarterback position or right guard.”

The only thing for sure, Matthews is saying right now, is that “both kids will play against Maryland. We’ll just have to wait and see who starts the game. We’ll have it predetermined how many series they’re going to play,” the coach said.

I caught up with Dudzik at JMU’s Media Day last week to ask him how he views the battle with Thorpe is going. “You’ve got to work hard every day,” Dudzik said. “It’s college football. You’ve got to go in there ready to play every day, or somebody’s going to take your job. If you’re not getting better, someone else is. That forces us to push ourselves every day and definitely makes us better.”

Running the intricate JMU offense, which requires that its quarterback is at once a supreme ball-handler, a top-flight runner, able to read defensive fronts like a lineman and, oh, yeah, that he can throw the ball with precision, isn’t something for the faint of heart. “We kind of act like the point guard of the offense. It’s our job to get the ball in the playmakers’ hands and make plays ourselves. We do a lot of option, passing, we run the ball a lot. Pretty much every play, we have to make a decision because we’re either going to hand off, run it or throw it,” Dudzik said.

“Everyone is running out there. We’ve got a lot of great running backs, a lot of great receivers, the O line is doing a great job. We’re competing at quarterback, and there’s just so many playmakers that we need to get the ball to. And everyone’s a year older now. We only lost one receiver, and we’ve got a lot of backs back. So there’s no doubt in my mind that we can have a better offense than last year,” Dudzik said.

Back to the noncommital Matthews, who is reduced to seeing the silver lining in his situation. “The good thing is they’re both very talented. They’re both basically the same athlete. It’s not like we have a tall, skinny guy, that all he can do is throw it, and a short guy that all he can do is run with it. We can run the same offense with both guys. That’s a huge advantage with our players,” Matthews said.

 

– Story by Chris Graham

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