Dec 14 / Rob

JMUSB 2017 Playoff Preview #3: JMU vs. South Dakota State

The JMU Dukes are in the FCS semi-finals for the second year in a row. This year, instead of going on the road to Fargo, the Dukes will play host to the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State University. The winner moves on to Frisco to play for the National Championship. We’re pretty sure you don’t need us to tell you how big this one is. Let’s get to it.

The Basics

Match-up: #1 JMU Dukes 13-0  vs. #5 South Dakota State Jackrabbits 11-2
Kick-off: 4:30 PM on Saturday, December 16 in Bridgeforth Stadium
Weather: Highs in the 40s during the day and dropping into the 20s
Broadcast: ESPNU or streaming via ESPN3

How We Got Here

The Dukes had a win for the ages over Weber State. If you don’t know about that come from behind victory, we assume you ended up here accidentally and will be hitting the back button before you get this far. So we don’t need to rehash the game great detail. Let’s just say it was one of the most exciting JMU games we’ve ever seen. In it, the defense was lights out for the first half, made two costly mistakes to let Weber take the lead, and then returned to its dominant self for one of our personal favorite three and outs in recent history. The offense was solid most of the night, despite struggling in the red zone. Then with the game on the line, they were unstoppable. And Ratke. He made a decent kick.

South Dakota State on the other hand, had a bit of an easier time. The Jackrabbits jumped all over New Hampshire early and coasted to a comfortable 56-14 victory. Jake Wieneke had one of the most impressive receiving performances of the 2017 playoffs (yet second best of the weekend) going for 140 yards and 2 TDs. He also had a 48 yard run. QB Taryn Christion threw for 190 yards and ran for 48 more. It wasn’t a coming out party, because SDSU isn’t sneaking up on anyone. But it removed all doubt (if there ever was any) that SDSU is a legit contender for the title.

Has the Demise of the JMU Defense Been Exaggerated?

We say yes. Look, much has been made of the fact that the mighty JMU defense gave up 28 points to Weber State at home. For the first time in weeks (all season?) they made multiple costly mistakes. In particular, there were two errors in coverage that Weber exploited for huge gains. Maybe our judgment is impaired from the Purple Kool Aid we’re drinking, but we’re not in panic mode. Not ever close really.

The D completely shut down Weber for the entire first half. Go watch the tape. Weber wasn’t able to get anything going. Things got a little bit squirrelly after Curtis Oliver went down and the Dukes made two big errors in coverage. The first one resulted in an 81 yard passing play. The second one in the go ahead score. But they were just mistakes. Costly ones for sure, but it’s not like Weber found a weakness and perfectly executed a strategy to take advantage of it. Unless of course the strategy was to throw a deep one down the sidelines and count on the safety having good coverage, but over-running it. And the last play was decent coverage and a nice grab by the receiver. It happens. There’s no reason to think that the book is out on this D based on those two plays though. None at all.

Why Is Everyone So High on South Dakota State?

Because they should be. The Jackrabbits are excellent and absolutely good enough to win the whole damn thing. But you know what? So is JMU. And so is Sam Houston State. And so is North Dakota State. It’s the friggin’ semi-finals. Teams that make it this far and by and large, playing great football and deserving of respect.

But (there’s always a but), there’s no reason to take things too far and start with the doom and gloom. SDSU is the best team that JMU has played all season. That’s what happens this deep in the playoffs. We have a heck of a lot of respect for what SDSU is doing this year. We thought they were a legit contender heading into the playoffs, and their play the last three weeks has proved that they are just that. But folks need to dial things down a bit.

SDSU has a great offense with some truly dynamic playmakers in Wieneke and TE Dallas Goedert (that’s a very tight end sort of name btw). And they’ve run for over 200 yards a game. It’s a great offense that will provide quite a test the JMU defense. But the SDSU defense is far less dominant. To us, it looks like a pretty even match-up.

But some folks are saying that the pressure is all on the Dukes and that they’re bound to crack. Really? We mean, yeah, there’s a ton of pressure on JMU this weekend. But more than going down 8 in the fourth quarter of a quarter-final game? Probably not. For a brief second there last Friday, it did look like the pressure was getting the best of the Dukes. Then like magic, they snapped into focus and stormed back for the win. Pressure can be a good thing. And it’s not like SDSU isn’t feeling some pressure trying to advance to its first final in school history.

The X (Deciding?) Factor

I’m not going to tell you how the Dukes will win or what the gameplan is. As you might recall, I said JMU was going to commit to the run from the start and eventually wear Stony Brook out. What did they do? Throw, throw, throw, and throw some more while they marched down the field to score on the opening drive. The lesson, as always, is that I know nothing.

So rather than attempt to project what each team will do, or tell you how each can win, let’s talk about one great big X factor hanging out there. The injuries.

This deep into the season, teams have plenty of injuries to deal with. JMU is flat out banged up right now though. After losing starting o-linemen in the preseason, Jahee Jackson went down last weekend. Curtis Oliver got hurt. Kloo is out. We could go on. And as terrific as Marcus Marshall was last week, what Dukes fan wouldn’t want Cardon Johnson in the lineup?

The injury storyline looms large for SDSU as well. All-everything tight end and NFL prospect Dallas Goedert left the UNH game and didn’t return. His status is still up in the air for Saturday. And they’ve got other guys out and banged up too.

Last year, JMU overcame injuries and suspensions all season, especially in the semi-finals and final. It was a textbook “next man up” case study. Can they do it again? Can Goedert be a game changer at less than 100%? Will he even play?

So here’s what we know. These are two great teams, lead by two great coaching staffs. We know what to expect from the Schors, Hienekes, Christions, and Ankrahs of the world. But it’s mid-December and the rosters are a bit thinner then they were in October. The game might come down to whichever team’s backups and fill-ins can do their jobs better.

JMUSB Beer of the Week

It’s December. Stout season. Let’s go with a Virginia beer for Virginia’s finest college football team. The JMUSB BOTW is Hardywood Gingerbread Stout. Do the bourbon barrel aged one if you’d prefer. This is a delicious winter warmer. And I generally don’t even like spiced beers of any sort. This one is awesome though. It’s got real ginger, so it’s more like a bit of zest, than any sort of cake like spice crap. Good stuff.

Official JMUSB Prediction

Pick against a just-extended Coach Houston? Against Bryan Schor in his final home game? Against this JMU Defense? We don’t think so. Dukes win and march on to Frisco. JMU 24 – SDSU 14.


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  1. Drake / Dec 15 2017

    I don’t think students showing up will be a problem. Clearly, they’ve showed up in numbers the last 2 weeks. I just don’t understand the other side of the stadium not filling up. It’s a Saturday, and I know it’s the holiday season and it’s busy, but it’s gotta be filled. The 4:30 kickoff should make it easier for people to make it. It’s not like tickets are expensive, and I say that as someone who survives on a teacher salary. If I hadn’t already made an 8 hour trip for the Stony Brook game, I’d be there.

  2. M@ / Dec 15 2017

    Personally I think the SDSU coaches are playing games with Dallas Goedert’s status. I think he’s fine and they are just trying to lull JMU into not preparing for him.

  3. Mark / Dec 15 2017

    Re: Dallas Goedert’s health status: An on-field upper extremity amputation might be the only thing to keep our staff from preparing for his play. Everything else is smoke and mirrors. Very tight-lipped about injuries on both sides this week.
    Go Dukes.

  4. wexcelsior / Dec 15 2017

    The way SDSU’s coach is talking about Goedert as if he’s in the ICU means he’s fine and will be playing.

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