Matthews, like Marshall's Doc Holliday, took the first opportunity possible to list Smith, WVU's quarterback, as among the favorites to win the Heisman. It might be coach-speak, it might be pandering to motivational and preparational tactics for his team. But Matthews, a 14-year veteran of the JMU sidelines, said he hasn't seen many better than Smith.
"I don't really know if you can even get ready for those guys. You have to try to get ready. I mean, you're probably, well, not probably, you are competing against the guy that is probably going to win the Heisman Trophy," Matthews said. "I don't know if he'll win it, but he'll certainly get invited to New York. … He has a big arm. He plays with a lot of confidence. They all do. They're confident. … Then you have two guys who will be carrying his suitcases catching passes from him. You have three great players on that offense.
"The rest of those guys are pretty good. But when you first watch tape, that's pretty much all you watch from last season and the Marshall game. Your first objective is to get them to punt. If you get them to punt, you feel like you're doing well. They don't like to punt, and they don't have to punt much."
Smith completed 32 of 36 passes last week for 323 yards and four touchdowns. He was seldom pressured, never sacked, and turned the only significant busted play into a 28-yard touchdown run off a scramble. Add in Tavon Austin's 70-yard rush, one score and 53 yards receiving and Stedman Bailey's 104 yards with two TDs, and the trio had a direct hand in about more than half the yardage amassed.
"They have tremendous speed," Matthews said. "They are about as athletic as you ever watch when you watch them on film. The biggest thing you have to do, is you have to limit the yards after the catch. They throw a lot of short stuff and those guys will take it to the house. They make a lot of people miss in the open field."
Smith, Bailey and Austin had a direct hand in half the 10 scores in the 69-34 win over Marshall. That's a telling statistic, the 50-percent responsible for. Because last season, that number was typically greater. Of West Virginia's first six scores in the opener, three were scored by players other than the Big Three. Shawne Alston had scoring runs of three and 21 yards while Andrew Buie added a 24-yard score. And J.D. Woods recorded one touchdown grab in the first six scores. So it's not all Austin, Bailey and Smith.
"They didn't run it a lot last year," Matthews said. "I don't know how much (WVU head coach Dana Hogorsen) is going to run it. He'll throw it some. … We count that one play where they pitch the ball, that jet sweep that they hurt Clemson with really bad, as a run. It's a toss sweep that gets on the edge. … I think when he gets bored making so many yards passing, Dana calls some runs so the running backs won't quit."
Matthews has tailback issues of his own. Second team-All Colonial Athletic Association selection Dae'Quan Scott (1,304 yards and 12 TDs in 2011) suffered an ankle sprain against Alcorn State last week and is "very questionable" to play, according to Matthews. Scott, a preseason All-CAA selection as a kick return specialist, rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries in the game. He led all Dukes' receivers with five catches for 39 yards and a score and was named the CAA Offensive Player of the Week. Scott turned his ankle on the touchdown catch late in the first half. His loss would be a huge blow to an already outmanned James Madison team ranked fifth in the FCS standings.
"If I had to guess, I'd guess he won't play," Matthews said. "It's not going out on a limb to say he's the best football player we have. He was swollen pretty good. Ankles don't get well (quickly). It doesn't look very good right now. When you lose a great player, whether it's us or WVU, you don't have too many of those. He is so versatile, catches the ball, we have to replace him with three guys."
The Dukes, 2-0 on the season, have won their first pair of games for just the third time in nine years. One of those other seasons was 2004, when JMU lost to then-No. 6 West Virginia 45-10 before winning the 1-AA national title. But, as Matthews said prior to that game, this match-up is a far superior task to anything James Madison faces on its respective level.
"I doubt they have even watched film. I'd be very surprised if they are worried about anything we do," Matthews said. "They could have scored 100 on Marshall if they wanted to. I'd be surprised if anything we do concerns them. We are going to show up and do the best we can. We'll see. We are untested right now. The first two opponents we have had we dominated them. We are about to get tested I think."
Matthews noted despite the on-paper match-up, he was more concerned about the build-up for the fan base, than his own team as far as the game's significance.
"I'm worried about the JMU nation," he said. "You'd think this was Super Bowl V that we're playing. When I came to work in July they had a billboard around here saying how many days it was to the WVU game. We had to talk to our players back in August that we had two games to play prior to the WVU game. The other side of the coin, it's a good opportunity for our people, our fans, it will be a lot of fun. We do have a lot of big games after this. … I thought we'd sneak up there, play'em and come home. We're going to be on television. I didn't know that. I don't know if it's good or bad, but its news now."