I went JMU football practice Monday, planning to do a story on quarterback Michael Birdsong’s rebound from a poor game the week before. I found he got a concussion and played through it, which was surprising in this age of concussion awareness. Birdsong, though, didn’t seem to care, saying he needed to, “Man up.” The story on Nov. 5, 2013.
HARRISONBURG, Va. — After losing a game in which Michael Birdsong played poorly and winning a game in which he played well, James Madison football coach Mickey Matthews is tying the success of his team directly to the play of his quarterback.
“If our quarterback plays well, we’re pretty daggum good right now,” Matthews said. “You watch the last two weeks, and that’s where we are.”
Birdsong is apparently aware of his importance, too.
The sophomore said Monday before practice that he suffered a mild concussion early in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 31-21 win over Villanova — a key Colonial Athletic Association victory that preserved the Dukes’ Division I-AA playoff chances for another week — but didn’t tell anyone until he felt the game was decided.
He played one more series after the concussion.
“I felt like my job was done,” Birdsong said.
Matthews said Birdsong — who sat out practice Monday — will play Saturday at New Hampshire (4-4 overall, 3-2 in the CAA).
Birdsong is expected to return to practice today as JMU (6-3, 3-2), which re-entered The Sports Network’s Division I-AA poll at No. 22 on Monday, continues its quest for a playoff berth.
On Saturday, after Birdsong revealed he had a concussion, Madison promptly benched him.
“I think it was really more of a precautionary thing by our medical staff than anything else,” Matthews said. “He might have been cleared 30 minutes [after he came out Saturday]; I don’t know that. Even one of my neighbors told me after the game, ‘You wanted to get the other kid some work?’ I said, ‘Oh, no. The doctors took Mike out of the game.’ He suffered a mild concussion. I don’t think it was anything significant.”
Birdsong said he passed a concussion test today and that this was his first “diagnosed” concussion, but he was certain he had had them in the past. He said he felt fine Monday.
Playing in a football era defined, to an extent, by a hyper-sensitivity to the long-term effects of concussions doesn’t mean much to Birdsong. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder said he kept the injury to himself because he didn’t think the concussion was that severe and that football is about being tough.
“I was a little dizzy for one play. It went away just like everything does,” Birdsong said. “You just got to man up. It’s the name of the game. It’s a contact sport; it’s a collision sport. You’re going to get dizzy; you’re going to have concussions. If you ain’t willing to take that, then you shouldn’t be playing this sport. That’s the way I look at it — and that’s coming from a quarterback, too.”
At the time, Matthews said, he didn’t know Birdsong played with the concussion.
“He never told me that,” Matthews said.
In the past, Matthews has held players out of practice and games for concussion symptoms. He said Monday that Birdsong should have told him.
“Absolutely,” Matthews said. “He needs to let me know when he gets hit.”
The concussion, Birdsong said, came on a sack at around the 12-minute mark in the fourth quarter that went for a 7-yard loss and left JMU at its 22-yard line. It was one of seven sacks the Dukes allowed against Villanova. JMU has allowed 25 sacks this season, second most in the 11-team CAA. Villanova has allowed the most with 26.
Matthews said he has submitted the play to the CAA for review because it was “head-to-head” and no penalty was assessed.
Birdsong continued to play until cornerback DeAndre’ Smith returned an interception 86 yards for a touchdown that put the Dukes ahead 31-17 with 5:50 to play. True freshman Dan Schiele, who is 0-for-4 passing in four games, replaced him.
“I didn’t tell anybody until after DeAndre’ got that pick-six,” Birdsong said. “And I knew with five minutes we were up by what, three scores? 17 points or something like that? I knew then.”
Actually, the Dukes were up by only two scores: 14 points.
After suffering the concussion, Birdsong went 2-for-2 for 4 yards, first completing a pass to Daniel Brown for 9 yards and then one to Dae’Quan Scott for a 5-yard loss.
Birdsong finished the game 20-for-29 (68.9 percent) for 207 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, rallying after completing just 52.9 percent of 34 passes for 208 yards with a touchdown and a pick in a 17-7 loss to W&M on Oct. 26.
For the season, Birdsong has completed 61.5 percent of 260 passes for 1,989 yards — an average of 221 per game. He has 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and he is on pace to be the Dukes’ first 2,000-yard passer since Justin Rascati threw for 2,045 yards in 2006.