Richmond (2-4, 0-2 CAA) fell at in-state rival James Madison (5-2, 2-1 CAA), 38-31, on Saturday, despite quarterback Michael Strauss throwing for 423 yards and two touchdowns.
Strauss set school records for completions (41) and pass attempts (64) in a single game.
“As a quarterback you love that,” Strauss said. “You love throwing the ball. You love putting the game in your hands.”
Richmond coach Danny Rocco said Richmond’s reliance on the pass came from the team’s inability to run the ball. The Spiders, which made four out of five attempted field goals, became too predictable as they approached the end zone because they could not run the ball, Rocco said.
“We didn’t feel we had the ability to run with any consistency,” Rocco said.
Richmond, who was last in the league in rushing yards per game entering Saturday, rushed for 64 yards against the Dukes.
“Most reams aren’t going to run against us,” said JMU linebacker Stephon Robertson, who led the CAA in tackles per game.
JMU quarterback Michael Birdsong carried JMU’s offense, as Richmond’s defense focused on stopping JMU running back Dae’Quan Scott, who was seventh in the FCS in rushing yards per game. Richmond held Scott to 42 rushing yards, 78 yards below his season average, but Birdsong threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns.
“We did what we wanted to do with the ball,” Birdsong said.
Richmond linebacker Walt Sparks said: “I thought we were able to stop the run pretty well. But overall, when we had the opportunity to make the big play, we didn’t make it.”
Richmond wide receiver Stephen Barnette, who led the Spiders in receiving yards and touchdowns before Saturday, left the game in the first quarter with a lower-back injury and did not return. Reggie Diggs, who had a career game, did his best to replace Barnette, making 8 receptions for 136 yards. Ben Edwards had 83 yards and one touchdown on 13 receptions.
Richmond trailed JMU at the half, 7-6, but JMU broke the game open in the third quarter, outscoring the Spiders 21-3 and taking a 28-9 lead into the fourth quarter. JMU opened the third quarter with a 100-yard kick return by Dejor Simmons for a touchdown, which Rocco called the most significant play of the game.
Richmond scored its first touchdown on a five-yard pass to Seth Fisher with 14:13 remaining in the fourth quarter, but JMU went on to score the next 10 points, which included a 39-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Brown, to take a 38-16 lead.
Richmond scored two consecutive touchdowns (with failed two-point conversions) and made a field goal to cut the Duke’s lead to 38-31 with 1:32 remaining. The Spiders failed to recover the ensuing onside kick and JMU took a few knees to run out the clock, which included some late pushing and shoving between the two rivals.
Richmond travels to Rhode Island next Saturday looking for its first conference win and its first road win since last November.