In August 2003, Utah quarterback Brett Elliott led the Utes to a 40-20 victory over Utah State. He opened the scoring with a 12-yard touchdown pass to receiver Larry Miles on a play called Houston. The moment remains notable as it marked the first touchdown of Urban Meyer’s coaching career at Utah.
Twelve years later, Elliott mentioned the touchdown pass as a fitting mile marker on his circuitous route to becoming one of the hot coordinators in college football. Elliott, 32, is in his first season as co-offensive coordinator at FCS James Madison, which pulled off a 48-45 upset of SMU on Saturday night.
If you’ve never heard of Elliott, that’s because he got hurt a week after that victory at Utah State. An under-recruited back-up named Alex Smith took over the starting job, and in 2004 led Utah to an undefeated season and became the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. Realizing he’d have a hard time beating out Smith, Elliott transferred to Division III Linfield for the 2004 season.
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He hooked back up with his old quarterback coach at Utah, Dan Mullen, and spent the last three years in Starkville in quality control helping with the quarterbacks. He worked closely with Dak Prescott […] “He’s a very sharp and up-and-coming coach,” Mullen said on Sunday night. “He will be a hot name in coaching soon. He paid his dues the right way, worked hard and is taking advantage of his opportunity.”
Elliott’s big break came when JMU offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer left for Houston last year. JMU head coach Everett Withers is a former defensive coordinator under Meyer at Ohio State. He wanted someone with experience in Meyer’s offense. Elliott walked into an ideal situation, as JMU quarterback Vad Lee, a Georgia Tech transfer, may be the best QB in the FCS. Lee ranks No. 5 in the FCS in passing yards and No. 5 in the FCS in rushing yards.
He reminds Elliott of the quarterback he left behind in Starkville. “There are so many similarities between Vad and Dak,” Elliott said. “From everything on the field to what they’re like off the field. They are like clones.”
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It showed in JMU’s signature victory on Saturday, as Lee led the Dukes (4-0) on an eight-play, 75-yard drive for the winning touchdown with 27 seconds left to beat SMU. That leaves JMU as No. 1 in total offense (671.3), No. 2 in scoring offense (50.3) and No. 1 in rushing offense (356.3).
Things are going so well for the Dukes that Lee was selected as ESPN’s Big Man on Campus this week. The SportsCenter segment:
The Duke Dog is a cuddly fuzzball, you see, so much so that my daughter has a toy one somewhere under the mountain of stuffed animals on her bed. But it wasn’t always such a hit with the kids. Here’s how it looked back in 1973, according to JMU’s Duke Dog web page:
AHHHH, KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!
The story behind this demon who probably killed both of those cheerleaders and then ate the royal bulldog for dessert is found on another JMU web page that looks like it was designed by one of my Mass Comm classmates in 1998:
The Duke Dog mascot as we know him today first appeared in the 1982-83 basketball season. There had been an earlier version of the Duke Dog mascot. A wild-eyed – and totally unconvincing – mascot first appeared in the 1972-73 basketball season but failed to generate any support for continued existence.
I wonder why it “failed to generate any support for continued existence”? Probably because co-eds kept disappearing in the Shenandoah Valley.
In any event, let this be a reminder that mascots are frightening and will haunt you forever, even those that are 40 years gone and hardly existed to begin with.
Indiana ran away with the first half (43-22), but JMU kept it even in the second (40-40) before losing in the NCAA Tournament to the top-seeded Hoosiers, 83-62. That was a fun sentence to write, despite the loss.
I hope I get to write something like it again sometime soon. With freshman Andre Nation (above) and Charles Cooke combining for 42 points against Indiana, maybe I will. Maybe it’ll be even better, but this sure was fun.
Not only did JMU get into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 19 years, but now they have their first NCAA Tournament win in 30 years. This is fun.
Freshman Andre Nation was a beast, putting up 14, seven and five (blocks!), and 25-year-old senior A.J. Davis was A.J. Davis, scoring 20 from inside and out as the Dukes mostly led LIU wire-to-wire. Their reward? No. 1-seeded Indiana in Dayton at 4:10 ET on Friday.
But let’s remember this one. The game was on national TV (well, truTV) and called by Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg, which was odd. The opponent was from the same conference as Robert Morris, which knocked off Kentucky in the NIT. And JMU looked superior, with size, athleticism and poise, despite a lot of “jaw-jackin'” going on. Plus, it was fun hearing Nantz award victory to “the Dukes of the Shenandoah Valley.”
You could say, so what, it’s a “First Four” game, whatever that is. Or you could say, JMU WON AN NCAA TOURNAMENT GAME. I choose the latter, and it makes all the difference.
(GIF taken with love from SB Nation, which should be renamed Andre Nation.)