Christmas is my favorite time of year. The music, the decorations, the parties, I love it all. And while I recognize the true meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with gifts, they can be pretty great too. Especially when they come in the form of a video featuring both Jeff Bourne and Matt Brady getting loose. Loose is a relative term when it comes to Coach Brady by the way. Sure, the hoops team might have suffered a disappointing home loss to High Point over the weekend, but it’s only one game. And we have this video to make us laugh. Curiously, there’s no footage of Everett Withers. Dudes don’t dance I guess.
Nothing is official just yet, but according to reports by the DNR’s Matt Jones JMU’s Drew Mehringer is set to join the coaching staff at the University of Houston. The 27 year old Mehringer served as the Dukes’ co-offensive coordinator along with Brad Davis this past season. If the move to Houston is made official, he’d be joining the staff of new head coach Tom Herman. Drew has a history with Herman, previously serving as one of his graduate assistants at both Iowa State and Ohio State. The move would also allow him to return to his native Texas, where he played QB at Rice. There are no details about what position he’ll have on Herman’s new coaching staff.
JMU’s offense was prolific and shattered several school records under Mehringer and Davis this past season. Davis coached the offensive line and running backs, while Mehringer coached the QBs and receivers. He also called the plays. He’s credited with helping QB Vad Lee adapt to the new offensive system and develop as a passer throughout the season. By all accounts he was well liked by players and is a good recruiter.
If this comes to fruition and Mehringer does leave, it will be disappointing, but not the end of the world. When Withers assembled such a young staff the hope was that at least a few stars would emerge and guys would get poached. We’d be lying if we said we thought it would happen after just one season, but it did. And it’s not the worst thing in the world for a program to develop a reputation as a place where guys can come in and get noticed. Mehringer will leave big shoes to fill, but Brad Davis will provide some consistency on the offensive side. Ideally, Withers will bring in another bright offensive mind ready to build on the success Mehringer, Davis, Vad Lee and the offense had this year and either run the same system or some variation of it. There’s really no need to push the panic button.
Finally, if worse comes to worst, I think Withers should just figure out some way to let the fans call plays on gameday. It’s clearly not that difficult. At least it must not be the way that so many fans (including yours truly) are so ready to question every play call on blogs, Twitter, or from the stands week in and week out. OK, so it might be slightly harder than some of us think, but I’m confident Withers, Davis, and the rest of the staff can welcome someone new and build on this year’s success.
Ron Curry filled up the stat sheet with 15 points, 7 boards, and 5 assists and led four Dukes that made it into double figures as the Dukes cruised to a rare blowout road win over MAC opponent Ball State in Muncie, Indiana last night. JMU improved to 7-3 on the year and continued an expectation-fulfilling out of conference slate. So hopefully the bandwagon’s little trip to the garage after the ECU game is over and we’re all gassed up again. The Dukes host a very solid High Point team (seriously, they’re 7-3 too and lost to Clemson by 3 and beat W&M) this Saturday in the back end of a women’s/men’s doubleheader at the Convo. Kenny’s Death Star tips off at 2 p.m. against a sneaky-good Hampton team (55ish RPI) with the men expected to get going around 5 p.m.
In this game, Satkaus, Grays, and Hall each joined the team’s unquestioned leader Curry in double figures and even with some warts and Andre Nation still playing his way back into shape, this team continued to demonstrate that its improved depth is its most important weapon.
One other quick note: this week marked 10 years since Chattanooga. Two comments: 1) Time flies, 2) Time to get back. But we did enjoy this flashback interview with QB Justin Rascati on JMU Sports.
JMUSB officially turned five years old last week on December 11. And every single one of you forgot, didn’t you? Well, that’s not technically true, since the fact that it was our birthday, anniversary, or whatever you call it had to brought to our attention by our friend. So we completely forgot too. But we expect more from you people.
It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since we got this little project off the ground. We started with a post about a basketball team led by a guy named Denzel Bowles and a link to video (because we didn’t know how to embed clips) about a flash mob in a library that didn’t exist when we were students. Things were a little rough around the edges at first, but have evolved to the point where the blog is now
pretty well written and highly respected five years older.
A lot has happened since the blog started. The hoops team finally made it back to March Madness, the new Bridgeforth opened, coaches were hired and fired, and the CAA added and dropped and added teams. We got to write about it all. And we also got under the skin of other team’s fans and got to write about silly stuff like JMU athletes marrying boy band stars (which seemed to trump everything else traffic wise). That’s all been fun. What’s really been neat is the fact that we’ve been able to connect and make friends with a lot of people through the blog. That’s been great. What’s been even better is that the blog has made the two of us even closer than we already were. And for two guys who were pretty good friends already, that’s saying something.
So thank to everyone for putting up with us for the past five years. We’ll keep going if you keep reading. Go Dukes.
So in case you missed it, Conference USA’s UAB dropped football last week and is most likely going to be kicked out of CUSA for all sports come January per CUSA’s completely rational and reasonable and filled-with-foresight-the-CAA-can-only-imagine decision to be an “all sports or nothing” conference. And in case you needed a reminder, ANY conference at ANY level that has football and non-football members has been crumbling from within for the better part of two decades and the CAA is no different. In related news, the Big12’s split champions, Baylor and TCU, both managed to miss out on the new FBS playoff, thus prompting the Big12 to at least petition the NCAA for permission to have a conference championship game in a conference with less than 12 teams (which is currently the minimum number of conference members required to hold such a game) and possibly go so far as to look to add members that would likely come from the AAC, who would in turn be likely to raid CUSA to backfill. In any case, the “end of realignment” is clearly the unicorn of college athletics and it seems increasingly likely that one if not more slots will be opening in the very near future in the conferences JMU would actually like to join (CUSA and MAC).
Our JMUSB institutional position has certainly changed in the last year from “leave the CAA at any cost” to “it’s still likely anything is better than the CAA” but it would be dishonest to say that isn’t a significant shift. Not sure whether it’s the warm feelings from a team to be proud of with a modern offense, the new Withers era, the playoff berth, or simply the fact that the gap at the FBS level between the P5 and the G5 seems to be widening everyday, but we’re not quite as bullish on a move as we were a year ago. That said, the door has been cracked again and all indications are that for the first time JMU is trying to snake their way into the discussion. And it has to be said that Withers, BFS, the playoff bid, UPark, and a potential new-Convo announcement all seem to indicate JMU continues to resemble a CUSA team a hell of a lot more than CAA pennypinching shitshows like Drexel or Hofstra.
We don’t know what the future holds, we don’t think JMU is any higher than 3rd or 4th on CUSA’s wishlist to begin with thanks to our FCS status (that could’ve been avoided), we have zippy clue what influence or level of control the do-nothings in the Virginia General Assembly have over the decision, we honestly don’t know what Alger’s position on the situation is, and hell – we can’t even come up with a consistent position among our staff of two, but we do know this may be now-or-never time for JMU. It’s not that opportunities won’t continue to present themselves in the future, it’s just that the winds seem to be shifting nationally on the supposed value of such moves and what it means to “provide big-time athletics” in the new NCAA and our guess is one way or another this year will turn out to be the one that defines JMU Athletics for decades to come.
JMU quarterback Vad Lee was awarded the Dudley Award for 2014 this evening. The award recognizes the best Division 1 (sorry Richmond) college football player in the commonwealth of Virginia and was presented to Lee by the Richmond Touchdown Club and Richmond Times Dispatch. Along with Lee, this year’s finalists for the award included ODU quarterback and 2012 Dudley Award winning Taylor Heinicke, and Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller. Previous winners include Tiki Barber of UVA, Virginia Tech’s Lee Suggs and David Wilson, and the great Rodney Landers of JMU. This is the second year in a row that a JMU player has won after former Dukes linebacker Stephon Robertson took the after honor last season.
In his first year as the JMU QB after transferring from Georgia Tech, Lee earned second team All CAA honors and set multiple school records. He threw for 3,462 yards, tossed 30 touchdowns, and had 4,288 yards of total offense. All three marks established single season records for JMU football. He also became the first JMU passer to throw for over 400 yards in a game, doing it both against Villanova and Richmond.
This was a well deserved honor for Lee. He’s the most dangerous weapon JMU has had on offense in years and the clear leader of the team. Plus, he’s still got one more year of eligibility left, so he’s got a chance to win the Dudley again. And maybe throw in a Payton Award for good measure.
Both The Breeze and the Daily News Record submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to view the details of JMU’s bid to host a playoff game submitted to the NCAA. Jeff Bourne and the JMU administration went big. Very big. As detailed in Bourne’s open letter to the JMU community, the school bid a whopping $200,677.50 for the right to host an FCS playoff bid. Combined with the projected gameday operating expenses of $152,330 and it shows that JMU and it’s clear that JMU was dedicating some serious resources to securing a home game.
There’s really not much to say here, other than nice job and thank you to Jeff Bourne. The man has took some lumps from the JMU fanbase a few years back when JMU failed to secure a playoff home game. While that blame might have been misdirected, Bourne clearly heard the message JMU fans were sending: we want playoff home games. Everett Withers and the team earned the playoff invitation with their play on the field. Bourne and the admin made sure to get them (and us fans) a home game. The final accounting isn’t done, but with only around 12K fans attending the game, JMU probably lost money on this. Bourne and the admin prepared for that and took steps to ensure that a deficit could be covered with private donations.
As Bourne states in his letter, his job is to put JMU teams in the best position to win. Playing at home in the playoffs does that. It also rewards the fans, shows commitment to success, and keeps the momentum Withers and the players are building going forward. It’s an expense, but a worthy one in our opinion. You’ve heard the expression bringing a knife to a gun fight. Equipped with the knowledge that JMU could very well find itself matched up against the a deep pocketed Liberty, Bourne and company brought not only a gun, but a tank and left no doubt with a monster bid of over $200K.
Obviously, the game didn’t turn out like we wanted with JMU losing a heart-breaker to Liberty. And it would have been great to have more fans show up. But the bid was still worth it. Despite the fact that JMU didn’t break even, it used private donations to cover the loss. It was money well spent if JMU wants to position itself as a winning program and create some enthusiasm amongst the fans. Home playoff games energize and fanbase and can help get things back to where they were a few years ago (or exceed that bar). Well done Mr. Bourne.
How about that? Men’s hoops completed the football, women’s hoops, men’s hoops trifecta of Spatter Stomping today with a tight, offense-free victory at the Convo 51-46. This was the first “good win” of the season and at 6-2, with the losses coming to UVA and OSU I think we can safely crank up the bandwagon. After beating an A-10 team, the Dukes will have a shot at another perceived “better” conference opponent when they travel to take on ECU later out of the AAC.
Today’s game was an offensive morass, and that’s being kind. But it speaks volumes that Brady’s squad this year can beat a team like RU when they have only FIVE points outside of the paint or the free throw line. This team defends well, works hard on the glass, appears to listen to the coach, and has a decent amount of depth we haven’t seen in a while. That’s a formula for success anywhere, and if they ever do get their shots straightened out, this team looks highly capable of competing throughout the CAA schedule. It will also help if Andre Nation plays his way into shape as you gotta think his lack of conditioning, which Brady’s been quick to point out, is effecting his legs on jumpers and foul shots. The good thing is, for the second game in a row, he found a way to make the play the Dukes absolutely had to have, this time rising and sticking a top-of-the-key jumper to put the Dukes up four late and atone for his two missed FT’s on the previous trip.
Jackson Kent, Winston Grays, and Hari Hall are really giving the Dukes better offensive depth even on rough days like today too behind Curry and Nation. RU has already beaten one of the CAA favorites in W&M and while the transitive property doesn’t hold here, it does bode well for the Dukes in our opinion.
We’re not completely sold, but again, at 6-2 it’s probably time to start investing in this group, at least on a small level. Five games they were favored they won. Two games they were huge dogs they lost, and today, for the first time, they won a truly challenging game. With Kenny Brooks’ team up to their usual badassed ways, if this team can keep rolling too it sure will help give us an on-court distraction from what looks sure to be another winter of realignment craziness in the wake of the UAB slot opening and the Big12 looking like they may need to poach teams in order to get a Conference Championship Game, and the playoff slot such a game would’ve been likely to have earned them.
Lastly, congrats to former Duke TE Mike Caussin on his weekend engagement to up and coming country star Jana Kramer!
The University of New Hampshire has one of the top football programs in the FCS this year. The Wildcats also using an innovative practice program in an attempt to reduce head injuries. They’re doing tackling drills without helmets and pads. It might sound counterintuitive at first, but it actually makes sense. The theory is that helmets protect the head and face enough that players feel safe enough to increase their risk and lead with the head while tackling. Removing the helmets for tackling drills will reduce that protection factor and help reinforce proper technique. At least that’s the theory.
As Jenny Vrentas explained in an interesting article on MMBQ, the drills are just one aspect of a program called Helmetless Trackling Training, or HUTT. In addition to removing helmets, the program also fits 50 players with head sensors and measures the impact to their heads throughout the season. Half the players form the treatment group and participate in the helmetless tackling drills. The other half serve as the control group and don’t go helmetless. The data from each group will be analyzed throughout the course of the two year study.
The drills themselves are pretty simple and are intended to help players develop the muscle memory to use good form and stop leading with the head.
Players in the treatment group complete two tackling drills without helmets and pads. In one, they start in a standing position, shuffling side to side, then speed up and enter a narrow corridor between two step-over pads, and wrap up a live runner protected by a blocking shield. The objective is to keep good form as they transition from moving laterally to entering a tight space. In the other drill the players begin face-down on the ground. When they jump up, an assistant coach cues one of two teammates, on either the left or right side, to advance toward the tackler. This emphasizes rising into contact in the correct position and maintaining it while reacting to action on the field.
It’s a thought provoking article and certainly a program worth tracking. The safety measures instituted by the NCAA, mainly the targeting penalty, seem to do more to frustrate fans than actually improve player safety. Teaching proper technique through programs like HUTT strikes me as a smarter way to address the problem. It will be interesting to see if the program itself or the fundamental tackling techniques it utilizes, spread throughout college football. The JMU defense improved throughout the season, but as we all saw against Liberty the Dukes missed a lot of tackles by trying to clobber someone instead of wrapping up. Programs like this one at UNH could help prevent all those missed tackles and make the game safer at the same time. Seems like a win-win.
The Dukes saved the best highlight for last tonight. With just 2.3 seconds remaining in a tie ball game, Andre Nation slammed home an alley-oop off a perfect pass from Ron Curry. The bucket gave JMU a 63-61 win over the Campbell Camels. The victory gets JMU to 5-2 on the season. The Camels fall to 1-5. In his 2014 home debut, Andre Nation led JMU with 15 points off the bench. JMU shot a solid 51% overall from the field and a respectable 38% from behind the arc. Here are three quick thoughts on the win.
Closer Than We Would Have Liked, But
JMU is a better team than Campbell. There’s a reason the Camels are only 1-5. Unfortunately, JMU played rather sloppy ball coming out of the gates, before Nation came off the bench to spark a run and propel his team to a lead. Despite finding themselves down by as many as 11 points, the Dukes took a 30-22 into the half. They appeared to be ready to cruise home to a comfortable win. Instead, the sloppy play returned after the break and Campbell stormed back. JMU couldn’t break free and the game came down to the wire.
From a glass half-full perspective, this might have been a blessing in disguise. instead of coasting, JMU had to battle to the end. And maybe rallying to close out a close win in the games’ final seconds will pay dividends down the road. At the very least, an alley-oop dunk to win in the closing seconds is exciting for the fans, right?
Andre Nation is a very exciting basketball player. We know this. Like any other fan, I love the alley-oop slams and seeing Curry and Nation break guys down with their athleticism. This JMU team also displays a number of qualities that grumpier old basketball fans will love. And I say that as one of those grumpier old basketball fans. The team wasn’t flashy tonight, but was very balanced. Along with Nation, Ron Curry, Yohanny Dalembert, Jackson Kent, and Winston Grays all scored in double-figures. They played very deliberately and showed a lot of patience working for good shots. They still need to cut down on the turnovers, but they assisted on 17 of 23 field goals tonight. And with the game on the line in the closing minutes, they attacked the rim and tried to draw fouls. That’s all very encouraging.
Upside, High Ceilings, and Other Cliches
Campbell isn’t a great team and most of the Dukes’ wins haven’t come against stellar competition. But the Dukes are gaining confidence and improving. We all knew that Curry and Nation would be the leaders of this team and talented enough to compete with any players in the CAA. We’re now seeing signs that some of the young players could be vastly improved from last year. In particular, Jackson Kent and Yohanny Dalembert seem to have taken some big steps forward.
Kent didn’t have his best night shooting the ball, hitting only 3 of 11 shots. He’s got a high basketball IQ and has added some muscle to his frame though. He had a number of strong moves to the hoop tonight, but couldn’t the buckets to fall. We’ll need to wait and see what he does in CAA play, but he’s got the look of a guy who could easily have a season or two averaging in the mid-teens scoring wise during his time at JMU.
Readers of the blog probably already know that I’m a charter member of the Yohanny Dalembert bandwagon. In limited action last year, he showed real flashes of potential. He’s incredibly raw, but has taken big steps to improve his game. He’s starting to develop better post moves and had a few beautiful dishes tonight. His efforts resulted in his first double-double of the season. While last year, I thought he might develop into a serviceable big body down low, I’m not starting to believe his ceiling is much higher. He’s only a sophomore, but seeing him eventually become a consistent double-digit scorer pulling down 8+ boards doesn’t seem unreasonable.