Travel & Leisure published its list of America’s Best College Towns and Harrisonburg was judged to be one of the best. Because of course it was. The Friendly City officially ranked 5th on the list. As alums, we don’t need anyone to tell us that Harrisonburg is a great college town. While we could go on and on about the many things that make it so, Travel & Leisure gave the ‘burg high marks due to the high quality of its biking and beer. Can’t argue with that.
Harrisonburg was one of five Virginia towns on the list. This of course proves what I’ve always said, that the Commonwealth is the most college-towniest state in the Union. Or something like that.
Finishing in the top five is definitely an accomplishment though. Presumably Harrisonburg would have secured an even higher spot, had it scored better on the “degree to which it smells like dog food after even moderate precipitation” portion of the rankings. Regardless, it’s nice to see our favorite college town get the recognition it deserves.
JMU hoops is struggling at putting the ball in the basket. Yes, it’s a rebuilding year and yes, the Dukes are missing Semenov and Nation. They’ve lost four straight though and currently shooting 21.6% from three point range. That’s good for 350th best in the country. Out of 351 teams (LOL Miami). They shot 30% from the field and went 0-16 from behind the arc in Saturday’s loss to Richmond.
Kenny Brooks and the ladies saw their dreams for a perfect season come to an end with a loss to Mississippi State. They then dropped another one to Wright State courtesy of a three pointer at the buzzer. (Mental note: see if girl from Wright State can be the three point threat the guys need in Semenov’s absence.)
The Marching Royal Dukes and Dukettes made all of JMU proud with their performance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Plenty of coverage here, here, and here (with video). JMU was even trending on Twitter.
Curt Newsome isn’t taking any chances now that his boss, Mickey Matthews has been let go. He reached out to Emory & Henry to express his interest in the school’s head coaching position.
Jeff Bourne explains it pretty clearly. Mickey Matthews was let go because JMU expected more wins. He also plays the cards close to his vest regarding the FBS elephant in the room.
Matt Brady offered a scholarship to a 6’8″ scorer who’s mom is a Duke. Bring it home for your alma mater mom.
And finally, there was some sad news. JMU alum, member of the 2004 National Championship team, and World’s Strongest Man competitor Mike Jenkins passed away in his sleep last week. R.I.P. Mike.
For the second time in as many years, Stephon Robertson has been selected as the CAA Defensive Player of the Year. It’s just the latest in a series of well deserved CAA honors for the redshirt-senior linebacker. Robertson ends his career with 3 All CAA First Team selections, one All CAA Third Team and a CAA Defensive Rookie of the Year award. And he’s one of the leading candidates for the Buck Buchanan Award, an honor given to the top defensive player in the FCS. And he’s one of my personal favorite players to ever put on the purple and gold. He doesn’t get an actual physical award for that last one, but I’m sure it’s something he’ll treasure always nonetheless.
Robertson started every single one of the 46 games the Dukes have played since 2010. He had 445 career tackles, more than any other active FCS player and the fourth most in JMU history. And his break out performance came in only his second career game. A game in which he had 13 tackles and one forced fumble. A game JMU won 21-16 over Virginia Tech. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.
Defensive lineman Jordan Stanton joined Robertson on the All CAA First Team defense and Dae’Quan Scott was selected on offense. Offensive lineman Josh Wells, safety Dean Marlowe, and defensive lineman Tyler Snow all made the second team. Marlowe was also recognized as a punt returner, earning a third team selection along with redshirt freshmen linebacker Gage Steele. And Stephon himself has hinted that Gage has the potential to be every bit as good as he was. It’d be a real treat if he was right.
This morning Athletic Director Jeff Bourne announced that Head Football Coach Mickey Matthews would not be retained by JMU and a “national search for a replacement” would begin “immediately.” While the staunchest old-boys club MM defenders may quibble about the tone of the announcement given all that Mickey has meant to JMU, we were stunningly impressed by the decisiveness and direction of this move from JMU’s administration.
First, a reminder: The decade and a half with Mickey have brought JMU football to its highest peaks ever. A National Championship, six playoff appearances, BFS, 21-16, and pretty much everything from ’08 (Landers, Scottie at UR, hail mary at ‘Nova). We’ve recruited better, been a conference and national player, and raised expectations to a level that ultimately, and correctly in our opinion, cost Mickey his job. It should be stated without equivocation that whatever happens from here on out, with apologies to McMillan, MM is the godfather of this program and we’ll be absolutely looking forward to that day five or ten years from now when JMU brings him back for induction into the JMU Hall of Fame and unveils a visor-throwing statute of the man.
Second, another reminder: A man lost his job today, his son may have lost his job today, and it’s entirely possible that most of the staff may have lost their jobs today. When any town has a few dozen people, including extended friends and family, put out of work, it’s not exactly time to rejoice. But when it happens in a small college town like Harrisonburg, even the most cynical and rabble-rousing of bloggers need to keep in mind this isn’t completely a Hallelujah moment.
But…we can’t stress enough how impressed we were by the apparent gameplan and execution that seemed to go down on this from the administration. With Bourne off chairing the FCS playoff selection committee this weekend we never thought we hear this quickly. And best of all, given JMU’s penny-pinching history, we really weren’t sure we’d see this go down with MM having one year at $231k left on his deal. This signals a big change at the highest levels. Rose wouldn’t have signed off on this, Alger clearly did, and that’s very exciting! Also, if you’re into tea leaves, this of course looks more like the move of a school in need of fresh energy that’s about to make a big move as opposed to a school continuing to monitor and maintaining the status quo. Same with the fact that Carr Sports Consulting, of the FBS report fame, will be assisting with the search for a new OBC. Gotta think they cast a wider net and are able to pass along info (like conference plans) more privately than JMU can on their own.
The only thing we’ll say about the conference situation today is that we confess we were overreacting, ok I was overreacting, to Bourne’s comments that “at this time, we’re looking for an FCS coach” and that “this is the best job in FCS.” Those comments came long after the “we expect to be involved in ‘post-season play’” instead of of ‘playoffs’ and after we’d seen JMU carry out a flawless and no-wasted-time plan they clearly had made contingencies for in advance. Overall, as much as we’ll miss the MM era, today couldn’t have been executed more perfectly from an overall JMU perspective. After all, it’s seriously hard to believe that 48 hours after that Towson game and 8 days after missing the playoffs again that we’re completely excited again about JMU Football?! That’s gotta be a good sign.
Look, we don’t know anything, and other than maybe the Daily-News Record’s intrepid beat writer @MatthewStoss, we’re not sure anyone else does either. But we do know a few things. First, generally we’d MUCH, MUCH rather have a hungry, possibly younger, FBS coordinator type than ANY of the more local, obvious JMU targets, most of whom are retreads. In most cases, we don’t want these guys because they have already proven incapable of adapting to the modern innovative game, much like the man we just let go. For example, beginning with names we least want to hear about that have already been mentioned and moving down, we don’t want to ever mention the following names on here again: Stinespring (ask any VT fan about that offense), London (proven twice he can only win with other players while proving nothing else), Lazor (nice guy been on lots of incompetent staffs in college and pros), and Ambrose (Towson coach, good coach, seems to be a huge asshole that players don’t like). e
On the other hand, Stoss’ confirmation of interest from University of Arizona Offensive Coordinator Rod Smith, a Franklin, West Virginia native make us happy. Same with current Oakland Raiders QB coach and former Duke Jon DeFillipo, though we’re not sure his resume is quite polished enough.
In general, even if we can’t quite “dream big” on what conference the Dukes may end up in, there’s no reason not to do so on the coaching search. Yes, budget is always an issue, but more than anything we just don’t want something that sounds like it’s just Bourne and “folks he knows” in the discussions or just an old, regional name of note. For that reason, we love the news from Stoss that Carr Sports Consulting is assisting with the search and hope it truly will take a look at LOTS of factors with a progressive viewpoint.
JMU lost to Towson 28-17 yesterday. It was the final game of a disappointing 2013 season for JMU. The Dukes finished 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the CAA. If you’re a glass half-full sort of person, you could rationalize the loss by saying that it came down to just a few plays. That’s pretty much true of every football game ever (except UNC-ODU, because ouch). The Tigers made the plays when they had to. The Dukes did not. And that’s your season in a nutshell. Over and over again, JMU made mistakes instead of big plays. Thus, they’ll be sitting at home watching the playoffs instead of playing in them. Again. read more…
Here we are. It’s the final football game of the 2013 season for the JMU Dukes. We can look back on the highs and lows some other time. For now, let’s focus on beating Towson and keep rootin. The game will be televised from coast to coast on NBC Sports Network. Consider this your open thread for all of the pre-game, in-game, and post-game chatter. And if you want to throw in some hoops talk while the Dukes take on Valpo, that’s alright too. Enjoy the games today folks and root fer Dukes!
Well, this is the end of a rather short, frustrating season from JMU football. There may be big changes on the horizon this offseason in the conference and coaching departments, but given JMU’s past actions, it’s probably equally possible we’ll see the administration continue monitoring and Coach Matthews back on the sidelines next year. But before we fully turn our attention to exciting hoops seasons on the men’s and women’s sides, we at least get one more chance to Root fer Dukes as JMU travels to (very likely) playoff-bound Towson riding a long winning streak over the Tigers.
These aren’t your daddy’s Towson Tigers. But oddly, there also not the juggernaut from last year either (that the Dukes somehow managed to defeat 13-10 with a last-second comeback spearheaded by Justin Thorpe – man that feels like it was ages ago). That loss to JMU is probably the horrible loss that Towson looks back on as having cost them a playoff berth and we expect they’ll be primed to try and come out with a springboard performance ahead of Selection Sunday. The Tigers still have excellent, do-everything RB Terrance West. But this year he’s fully the focal point of their offense and they’ve struggled at times throwing the ball following the graduation of QB Grant Enders.
On the JMU side, we have absolutely zero idea what to expect. But we truly hope that there’s something better than the garbage we all threw up watching last week. Maybe the boys really have packed it in for the season. But it also seems entirely possible they’ll want to show last week wasn’t them and now that the pressure’s off, maybe they’ll play loose and up to their considerable potential. We’d also like to think in Stephon Robertson and DaeQuan Scott’s last games, among others, their teammates wouldn’t let them go out like that, but seriously there’s just no way to know right now. In addition to the seniors, keep in mind that it’s also not out of the realm of possibility that this could be JMU’s last football game in the short-lived world of CAA Football!
This one is back on the national stage on NBC Sports Network at 3:30 Saturday.
Beer of the Week
This road trip has historically been one of our favorites. Many years this season-ender has been a big hit with our fellow Dukes fanatics as in the past it’s been a game where we’re looking to see the Dukes destroy Towson on our way to the playoffs. We’ve always enjoyed Towson’s VERY hospitable pro-tailgating policy. We’ve frequently brought along some Sierra Celebration this time of year as it’s always seemed fitting. This year, however, that’s just not gonna do it. This game calls for something more appropriate to the dumpster fire this season has become. You’ll need something strong and stout to get you through what could be a long, bittersweet afternoon and we’re going with Highlands’ Thunderstruck Porter. This NC brewery has a number of quality offerings, but nothing will get you through a sad day in sweeter fashion than this rich (think Mocha), smooth porter.
Dukes 31, Tigers 30 – Cam Starke at the gun for old time’s sake. No, it doesn’t make sense, but neither did much else about this season and wouldn’t it be perfect of the boys to pull off the one stunner they’ve never found after the cause is lost.
Well, at least those banners looked nice. The Dukes dropped a tough one to Detroit in the 2013-2014 home opener. On a night that saw JMU raise its first CAA Championship and NCAA Tournament banners, poor free throw shooting resulted in a 71-67 loss. If you don’t have time to read any further, you can stop right there because that was the story. JMU went 26 for 45 from the line. And as the old saying goes, when you miss 19 free throws you don’t win many 4 point games. So maybe that’s not an old saying, but you get the point.
A Charles Cooke trey got the Dukes within 3 points with under 30 seconds remaining. Unfortunately, JMU turned the ball over before getting a shot on its next possession and Detroit closed it out. Four Dukes reached double figures in scoring. Charles Cooke continues to be one of the sneakiest scoring threats out there. He led the way with 17. Andrey Semenov scored 14, in addition to showing some terrific court vision and passing ability. Freshmen Jackson Kent and Tom Vodanovich chipped in 10 points each. Here are a couple quick thoughts on the loss.
Glass Half Full
Obviously, missing 19 free throws makes the close loss tough to stomach. JMU could, and probably should have won this game. They made a lot of the sort of mistakes you’d expect the second youngest team in the nation to make. But there is just no denying that the leaving 19 points on the foul line was a major factor in the loss. However, the Dukes got to the line 45 times. That was the most attempts from the line JMU has had since attempting 48 against VMI in November of 2006. While it’s unreasonable to think that the Dukes will get 40+ free throw attempts in most games, getting more opportunities for free points is obviously great. And so far in this young season the Dukes have gotten to the line more times each game. If the trend continues, it could be a positive factor for the Dukes this season.
This kid looks like a player. JMU found itself down 48-40 with just over 13 minutes in the game. It was a situation in which A.J. Davis or Devon Moore would have been called upon to step up last year. Last night, Kent stepped up and single-handedly pulled JMU back into the game, scoring 7 straight points. In the second half he showed the ability to hit from long range and score going to the hole. Fellow freshman Tom Vodanovich and Ivan Lukic also looked good, but Kent was the rookie who really stepped up in a critical time for JMU.
The Student Duke Club is making a real push this year to get students back into the Convo and bring back the “Electric Zoo” atmosphere of the past. Job well done on opening night. The students were there and were loud throughout the game. I have no idea what that weird chirping noise is that they were making when Detroit had the ball. It was annoying for fans watching the game via Madizone, and I imagine it was even worse for the Detroit players on the court. Well done students. Hope the support builds all season.
The Dukes home opener is Tuesday against Detroit. And for the first time in nearly two decades, they’ll be raising a CAA Championship banner to the rafters prior to tip off. Yes, we’d have to go all the way back to 1995 to find the last time JMU hoisted a banner. We sort of beat the whole #lasttimeJMUwentdancing thing to death last March, but trust us, it’s been a long time since JMU had a banner to raise. So tomorrow night is definitely a time to celebrate. And without sounding too cheesy, it’s also a chance to show your appreciation for Brady and the guys. Because in case you’ve been caught up worrying about football and forgotten, JMU’s CAA Championship and run to the dance was a damn good time. So pack the Convo, raise the banner, and root fer Dukes.
And where does this team stand thus far? Four games into the 2013-2014 hoops season and JMU currently finds itself at 2-2. After dropping a game on the road against a talented UVA squad opening night, the Dukes played in the Northern Illinois University Invitational over the weekend. The team took a big step forward winning 2 of 3 on the road trip. The young squad knocked off NIU and San Jose State, and dropped a decision to Wisconsin Milwaukee. With a core built around freshmen and sophomores, there are obviously things to work on, but just as many reasons for optimism.
Ron Curry and Taylor Bessick both had new career highs for points during the tournament. Curry led the way with 19 points in Friday night’s win over NIU. Bessick scored 19 of his own in the finale against San Jose State. One of the keys to this season might be Curry’s ability to play the point and command the team. Friday night he showed us signs that he might be up to the task. He’s been up and down through four games, and struggled shooting from long range. He has a positive assist to turnover ratio though and has shown that he can get to the free throw line (and hit free throws once he’s there). He hit double figures in all 3 games over the weekend. Bessick also seemed to find his offensive game and hopefully build some confidence. In the last two games he went a combined 13 for 16 from the field.
In addition to seeing signs of improvement from Bessick and Curry, Charles Cooke has elevated his offensive game. He’s averaging 11 points per contest. Like Curry, he’s been able to get to the line and hit his freebies, going 10 for 11 from the stripe against San Jose State. And freshmen Tom Vodanovich and Jackson Kent look like they could be dangerous scorers. There is a lot of young talent on this roster. Young talent and one older Russian grad student, who hasn’t quite found his touch, but will eventually. And when Semenov and the young guns are all clicking, this team could be a lot of fun to watch.
Well, that wasn’t so fun now was it? From a season that started with middling expectations to one that finally showed a bit of offensive innovation and hope (at least in first halves till someone emasculated O’Cain whenever the Dukes got the tiniest of leads) to a hope-restoring Homecoming performance against what we thought would be a solid Villanova team, to the last two absolute shitshows to kill the season, only one thing really stands out: It’s time for a change at the HC spot.
Yesterday I was hopeful enough to rally for one last trip to the ‘Burg. I wanted to see some friends I don’t get to see that often in the offseason and I wanted to be there for Robertson’s and Scott’s last game. And of course I couldn’t help but think of two years ago when it all seemed lost at this point only for the Dukes to close out the season with two W’s and get all the help they needed in order to earn the chance for the “dynamic” duo of King and Bourne to flub the bidding for a home game. So when I left the gray mist of NoVa and made it to a sunny day in the Valley my spirits were high. Met some friends, made a holiday shopping stop at the bookstore and settled in for one last tailgate. And then what happened? Weeelllll, then a current player happened to be tailgating with his family next to some friends of ours mentioned that the team wanted Mickey out, had practiced horribly and half-assed this week, and had no interest in playing hard. I didn’t recognize the kid, he wasn’t dressing, and his name barely registered, so I assumed he’s a fringe player. In other words, you never know whether to take these things seriously, especially second-hand. (Editor’s Note: this post previously speculated that the player may have been a walk-on and commenters were absolutely correct in pointing out that that was disrespectful and unfair to walk-ons, many of whom are the heart of the program and deserve much better from us fans. For that I apologize. As for the second and third hand rumor reporting, maybe we have become as bad as the boards, but we are not, and never have been, a news source. All you really need to know is that the only posts that get any real traction involve boybands and suntan-lotion spokespeople but that’s never deterred us from doing this for the last four years because we love supporting the Dukes). But…
…Who knows whether the story was legit or the kid just had a personal axe to grind, but that’s sure what it looked like out there. By a wide, wide margin, that’s the worst effort I’ve seen from a Dukes team in a “serious” game (i.e. not Bloomsburg, CCSU, etc.) in many years. There’s really no use breaking down the x’s and o’s in this one (other than more horseshit, fraidy-cat FG’s on 4th and short on the first drive of the game and the fact that Stony Brook’s QB and TE seemed amazing) because the only thing that mattered was this game was clearly lost before it began. No matter how much purple Kool-Aid us fans were drinking (thanks UR by the way!) Mickey appears to have lost the locker room and the players had already packed it in for the offseason. We’ve wondered about the “soft” moniker on this team all season (no wins over teams with winning records, no road wins, etc.) but maybe it’s even deeper than that. Just maybe it really does start at the top.
In any case, it’s time. As we said earlier this week and will always maintain, there’s a difference between advocating for a coaching change (or a conference change for that matter) and acting like an asshat. That said, I didn’t blame the “Fi-re Mickey” chanters yesterday, especially after his embarrassing mismanagement of timeouts, again, and his ridiculous behavior with officials, again. But when you make your signs for the national at Towson next week, maybe a “Thanks for the memories! Now just don’t let the door hit you on your way out” would strike the right tone.
As the season finishes ignominiously next week, we’re left with two ENORMOUS questions for the JMU Administration headed into the winter. The conference question and now “are you willing to buy out Mickey’s last year or will you continue to be penny-wise, pound-foolish on these decisions?” Always the optimists, we’re betting on Alger pulling the trigger on the move and the buy-out, but who knows.
Finally, a few notes unrelated to this most recent debacle. First, Rob may be back with some thoughts on men’s hoops, but we’ll be transitioning to hoops on a more consistent basis very soon. Another game tonight, then travel, then the CAA banner-raising home opener on Tuesday!
Also, thanks for all of the comments on the “End of the MM Era” post this week! It’s so rewarding for Rob and I that JMUSB has become a spot for so many thoughtful and engaged Dukes to share their views. We all may disagree on any number of issues, just as I’m sure the JMU community at-large does, but that doesn’t mean we all don’t want the best for JMU.