Weber State looks to upset No. 2 James Madison in top 10 FCS showdown

Weber State Wildcats wide receiver Rashid Shaheed (22) scores on a kickoff return during the season opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Weber lead 7-3 at the lightning strike delay.

Weber State Wildcats wide receiver Rashid Shaheed (22) scores on a kickoff return during the season opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Weber lead 7-3 at the lightning strike delay. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Following a tough loss in Week 1, the Weber State Wildcats bounced back in commanding fashion and defeated Dixie State 41-3.

Now that the Wildcats are back in the win column with their first victory of the season, they'll prepare to face No. 2 James Madison, who is off to a perfect 2-0 start.

While the University of Utah was a good first test, Saturday's might be the Wildcats' biggest game of the regular season. Both teams enter the matchup ranked in the top 10 of the Football Championship Subdivision.

Scouting the Wildcats

Ranking: No. 8 in the Power Poll Ranking

Record: (1-1, 0-0 Big Sky)

Last Week: W vs Dixie State, 41-3

In their first-ever trip to St. George, the Wildcats rolled the Trailblazers on their home turf, scoring six touchdowns while only conceding a field goal. WIth somewhat of a close game at halftime, Weber State exploded in the second half and scored 27 unanswered points and totaled 497 yards of offense for the night.

While he wasn't perfect and would leave the game with injury, freshman quarterback Bronson Barron went 10-of-20 for 90 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions against Dixie State. With the injury, Barron remains questionable against James Madison. He's previously dealt with an MCL injury and the training staff plans to be extra cautious.

With Barron sidelined Saturday, backup quarterback Randall Johnson took the reins; and while he wasn't overly impressive throwing the ball, he did a great job commanding the offense and fulfilling his role. For the night, Randall finished just 5-of-8 for 89 yards.

As for the receivers, it was a group effort with five Wildcats recording 25+ yards and nine receivers hauling in receptions. Justin Malone led the room with 45 yards on three receptions while Ty Macpherson recorded the only receiving touchdown in addition to 34 yards on two catches.

Despite two-time All-American Josh Davis being held out, the running backs were the primary source of offense as they recorded 280 yards and five touchdowns on 46 attempts (6.1 average). Dontae McMillan led the room as he burned the Trailblazers' defense for 151 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries (9.4 average). Damon Bankston led in touchdowns, finishing with two scores and 51 yards on seven carries (7.3 average).

Defensively, there's not much more the team could have done better. In addition to only allowing 3 points, the Wildcats held Dixie State to only 253 yards on 52 snaps and 10 first downs.

While more than 10 Wildcats recorded multiple tackles, George Tarlas led the defense with eight total tackles, one sack and a forced fumble.

Wildcats to Watch

The running backs

In addition to the confirmed return of Davis, the running backs will have a heavy assignment and will be tasked with leading the offense in terms of production. With Barron questionable, Weber State will no doubt look to attack on the ground and replicate their performance against Dixie State. Between Davis, McMillan and the rest of the backs, fans should expect a plethora of rushing plays; and if executed correctly, 250+ yards on the ground.

The secondary

The Weber State secondary will have their hands full this week as they face James Madison quarterback Cole Johnson. For the season, Johnson has thrown for 677 yards and nine touchdowns on a 75% clip.

Facing such a dangerous passer, defenders like Jakobe Harris and Marque Collins will need to step up and create turnovers just like they did against Dixie State. If the secondary can effectively lock down receivers, they can limit Johnson and have a shot at upsetting the Dukes.

Hear it from Head Coach Jay Hill

"They're the same great James Madison team," head coach Jay Hill said. "I do think we're a much more experienced team than we were in '19. In '19 we went in there with a very immature and inexperienced team, and I think we are much more experienced now, which is good. It's basically the same guys who played against them in '19, so I hope we go in there and handle it the right way.

"But this team poses a lot of problems," Hill said. "They're very good on defense, very good on offense, as you can see by the first two games they had this year, so we've got our work cut out for us, but I love the challenge."

Scouting the Dukes

Ranking: No. 2 in the Power Poll Ranking

Record: (2-0, 1-0 CAA)

Last Week: W vs Maine, 55-7

The Dukes are off to a great start. They've outscored their opponents 123-17 en route to two victories and a perfect record. While their offense wasn't quite as explosive this last week as they were in their first matchup, James Madison still dominated the field in a 55-7 victory over Maine.

Johnson was the weapon of choice as the senior quarterback went 25-of-30 (83%) for 379 yards and four touchdowns.

Johnson's favorite target, Antwane Wells Jr., was unstoppable and recorded 179 yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions (22.4 average). Two other receivers went for 70+ yards, including Scott Bracey, who recorded 71 yards and a touchdown on four receptions (17.75 average), and Kris Thornton, who had 71 yards on six catches (11.8 average).

Defensively, the Dukes gave up very little, allowing only 7 points and 194 yards of total offense. While 17 Dukes players recorded multiple tackles on the night, Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey and Greg Ross led the defense with seven tackles each.

Dukes to Watch

Cole Johnson

Johnson is easily the most dangerous player on the field. H'es accounted for 677 of the team's 1,199 yards of total offense between the Dukes' first two games.

Notably, Johnson has yet to throw an interception and has only been sacked twice, so pressuring the pocket and forcing him to make early throws will be key for the Wildcats.

Antwane Wells Jr.

As Johnson's favorite target through the first two games, Wells Jr. has accounted for 239 yards of Johnson's 677 yards on the season. With his speed and ability to bring down just about anything that's thrown his way, Wells Jr. should be the No. 1 receiver circled by the Weber State defense going into Saturday's matchup.

How to Watch

This week's game will be available to stream via ESPN+ and the ESPN app, with kickoff set for 6 p.m. MT. Fans can also tune into KJZZ TV or listen to 103.1 "The Wave" with Tony Parks and Jerry Graybeal on the call.

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