Oct 7 / Rob

A Few Thoughts on Elon 27 – JMU 24

The Elon Phoenix marched into Bridgeforth and did what no other team had ever done in the Mike Houston era. They defeated the JMU Dukes. The 27-24 defeat was JMU’s first at home since all the way back in October of 2015. It was the Dukes’ first CAA loss under Coach Houston. And it wasn’t a fluke. Elon simply outplayed, outmuscled, and outcoached JMU. Quibble all you want about officiating, silly mistakes, or what might have been. Credit to Elon though. The Phoenix came into Bridgeforth and won the ballgame. We’re gonna temporarily suspend the Good, Bad, and Ugly format (too much ugly) and just riff on a few thoughts after the loss instead.

Big Plays

In our eyes, this was the biggest difference in the game. Elon succeeded on a number of big plays throughout the game. The Phoenix had 7 different plays from scrimmage go for 30 yards plus. JMU only had 3 such plays. They also had a few on defense or special teams, but they were called back due to careless penalties. For the second week in a row, JMU’s pass defense let receivers go over the top and nail completions for big yards. It concerned us when it happened against Richmond, despite the fact that the game was so lopsided. Now that we’ve seen Elon do it, we’re officially worried.

Line Play

The Dukes were flat out beat in the trenches. Elon’s three man front gave the Dukes trouble all day. The Nooch was running for his life most of the afternoon. Yes, at times he holds onto the ball longer than fans would like, but a JMU QB shouldn’t need a Dan Marino-like quick release to succeed. But the pass blocking was better than the run blocking. JMU’s rushing game was mostly a series of backs getting hit at the line of scrimmage or running into a wall. Elon’s run defense is solid, but not that good. Trai Sharp was the most effective back, going for 33 yards on 9 carries. Cardon Johnson nearly equaled him with 32 on 9 carries, while Marcus Marshall managed only 24 on 10 attempts. And JMU’s defensive line got gashed all day giving Marcus Summers huge holes to run through. He averaged over 9 yards a carry. And they were only able to sack Elon’s QB a single time.

It Wasn’t the Refs

Just stop. Yes, the officials were awful. But that’s not why the Dukes lost. It wasn’t a day of highlights for the officials all around. But as bad as the they were, the Dukes still had plenty of chances to win. Instead they committed costly mistakes, repeatedly settled for field goals instead of touchdowns in the red zone, fumbled the ball on a potentially game clinching drive, and then let Elon run right by them for the winning score. That’s why they lost. Not because the refs made a number of questionable calls.

QB Play

They say that the most popular guy in any football town is the backup QB. We believe it after hearing so many people call for Cole Johnson in the past 24 hours. We respectfully disagree. The Nooch isn’t perfect, but people need to stop comparing him to Bryan Schor, Vad Lee, Rodney Landeers, and the other all time JMU greats. There are things he can do to improve for sure. But we’re absolutely baffled how anyone could watch that game, and come away thinking QB play was the glaring problem. Nooch extended plays, made throws, and was on his way to leading a third (and game clinching) scoring drive of the fourth quarter. He threw for over 300 yards on a day when JMU could not getting anything going running the ball. By my count his receivers dropped 5 balls. Neither he nor Cole Johnson was going to stop Marcus Summers, prevent Elon’s receivers from going over the top, or fix the running game. He can, and probably will, get better. He ain’t the problem though.

Moving On

Safe to say, we as Dukes fans need to recalibrate things a bit after this one. A week ago, fans were anticipating a rematch in Frisco with NDSU to decide the National Championship. That seems silly now. Perhaps it always was. The Dukes have plenty of talent. There’s no reason to panic. But adjustments need to be made and they need to made in a hurry. The playoffs are no lock. That’s not to say we’re throwing in the towel on the season. We’re not. We think the Dukes have plenty of talent and coaches that can make the proper adjustments to right the ship. But if the Dukes played like they did yesterday, every team left on the schedule can beat them. The CAA is too good, for JMU to roll it’s B or C game out there from now on. Not playing a full 60 minutes against the Ticks or Tribe was one thing. It’s an entirely different thing against the top teams in the league.


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  1. Mike in ohio / Oct 7 2018

    Back from a weekend at home in Harrisonburgb and the game. One could tell from from the beginning that it was going to be a struggle. Really poor line play from JMU on offense and defense and as you wrote the secondary gave up many big plays. There were a few times when Elon’s receivers were wide open even on short pass plays. Not much running game to speak of and the lack of discipline on some of the big penalties reminded me of the Mickey Mathews defenses. I get what you wrote about the QB and he did lead them back but I came away thinking that he’ll be “serviceable” but we won’t go real far with him either. He has a kind of ” Laissez-faire” throwing motion…almost like he’s slinging the ball out there instead of a traditional passing motion. And there seemed to have been several times when he could have run and picked up first downs but chose instead to scramble around and then throw an incompletion. But in spite of all that was bad about the game, JMzu would have probably won it if the dude had not fumbled the ball after his reception when it was 24-2o…they did not deserve to win as Elon just totally took it to them, but they probably would have won without that fumble. But offense looks shaky with no real sustained drives and defense now looks vulnerable. A few more losses would not be surprising. Back in the ‘Burg again for homecoming in a few weeks.

  2. 83 Duke / Oct 7 2018

    The reality of this game seems quite simple; any team including the Dukes will lose when pentalties take back two TD’s, lose the turnover battle 3-0 and drop as many balls as the receivers did yesterday. I think it’s actually a testament to how good they are that in spite of all that, but for the last fumble, they likely beat a top 10 team while playing poorly by any standard. NDSU lost a conference game last November and the season turned out well for them. They will get these issues corrected and I’d expect a solid performance on the road this coming Saturday.

  3. Danno / Oct 7 2018

    I agree with this analysis. JMU believed their own press. If the FCS were settled in the press, JMU would be playing NDSU for the championship. That’s why they play the games. Elon came to play. JMU just played dress up. Didn’t they look good! One, Elon played like they had nothing to lose, and they didn’t. Two, JMU played like they were anoited king and could not falter. Three, the one thing you don’t do with a one possession lead is turn over the ball. Great coaching point- don’t fumble with a 4 point lead at the closing of the game. The kid is a freshman I think, so a good learning point. Refs always suck. Especially CAA refs. Not biased, just make questionable calls. Shouldn’t have cost JMU the game. Oh well, it’s just football and these young men are providing us with a great team to watch. Enjoy our run, and as a WVU fan as well, trust me, these good seasons should be savored like fine wine. This is likely not everlasting. Go Dukes.

  4. JMUDRU / Oct 7 2018

    Agree with everything you guys have said. Playing poorly AND being unlucky in a game against a good football team is always a recipe for disaster. Elon earned every bit of that win. That we were even in it towards the end was a blessing…but that win would have felt way more like snatching victory from the jaws of defeat than anything to be super happy about. Let’s just hope the team bounces back and we see a renewed sense of urgency now that they have to prove they are actually as good as we hope they are.

  5. JrB / Oct 7 2018

    So, watching this game was painful and I must admit I was surprised by the Dukes lackluster performance not just in they’re physical play but the emotion and spirit simply wasn’t there.. for whatever reason… I agree with everything said about the game and the disappointing outcome but anyone watching that game realized by the ending that the Phoenix (at least for that game) was simply the better team. Perhaps as mentioned the media hype got into there heads and now comes the realization that anything short of 100% will not be enough when playing a good team to win. Dukes I’m sure will bounce back and I’m pretty sure each and every player knows that they did not play Inspired JMU football on this Sat however this game can be a wake up call and hopefully catapult them into another long winstreak and subsequent championship. Go Dukes!!

  6. Terry B / Oct 8 2018

    Step away from being a Duke and read this blog and comments. By and large for the past 2 years the class and integrity displayed by Duke nation is outstanding. It’s a game and in the bigger scheme of things your group knows that. The young men your program turns out is more important to all of us than the win loss total…and you seem to recognize that. Most programs don’t. I am not a Duke, but I follow and respect how you represent your school and the people involved. Houston is a class act and I fully expect to see the Dukes well represented in the FCS playoff. Frisco is still more likely than not. Best wishes and continue to treat all people and opponents with respect and dignity. You will win many more than you lose…and more importantly improve the world we live in because of the people JMU puts into it.

  7. Scotty / Oct 8 2018

    Although you make a lot of good points, I believe you’re missing the bigger picture. In pulling off the biggest upset in terms of point spread in FCS history, Elon showed the blueprint for how to beat JMU.
    Elon basically put so many in the box that they were always going to have a mismatch in terms of blocking and dared us to beat them over the top. They could see from the prior films the Nooch generally looks to his first read and then starts to scramble if it’s not there. With a lot of pressure, they would be able to limit his opportunities to run or look downfield.
    On the defensive side, they knew that our press coverage would eventually give them good one-on-one matchups deep, and they took advantage of them. Their QB’s completion percentage was only 50% but he made us pay when he did complete them. As our D began to tire, they rolled out their power running back and closed us out.
    Their pressure and tighter initial coverage forced Nooch into a much lower completion percentage. Their plan was first and foremost to deny us the run. We had 300 yards passing, but much of that came late when we finally started to throw over the top and Stapleton has some great yac’s. When Nooch throws in warmups and on the one deep ball he had, he throws over the top, but as soon as he gets under pressure, he goes into shortstop mode and throws three-quarters off of his back foot. The ball has little juice on it and floats high as it gets over 10 yards. There’s a ball that Stapleton dropped very early in the game when he’s wide open in the flat; watch how long that ball takes to get to him. He still should have caught the ball but part of the issue is also the delivery.
    Even with all that, everything had to go wrong for us to still lose. On the other hand, come playoff time, we’ve had games, even with our great teams of the past couple of years, where we had to have everything go right for us to win. In other words, Elon out JMU’d us in our own building.
    That being said, I’d be surprised if we lose again during the regular season. It will take a team that is able to pull off this strategy on both sides of the ball to beat us. Villanova may have the defense but will wear down due to their inept offense. Towson? New Hampshire with their QB back? Possibly but unlikely. However, when it comes to the playoffs, if we don’t show the ability to make teams pay for putting eight men in the box, we are going to get stomped. A team like would NDSU would beat us easily right now. The solution is to be able to make quick throws off your read progressions as a QB and find those opportunities when you have one-on-one matchups with our strongest receivers to allow them to go up and make a play deep. The defense is going to have to be able to consistently contain and get to the QB so that they don’t leave their DB’s in coverage long enough to allow separation. I’m confident that Houston and company will figure it out before December.

  8. Chuck Lionberger / Oct 8 2018

    While I agree that the refs aren’t the sole reason JMU lost (secondary and run defenses need work), the refs inexcusable bad calls had a significant and demoralizing impact on the game. We can’t ignore this. Two TD’s called back for questionable calls and many, many, many no calls on Elon. Yes, we have to focus on what we can control and that doesn’t include the refs, but we have to keep in mind that the Dukes were playing in an unfair (dare I say possibly biased… who knows) referee environment, and that had to add to the slump in the shoulders. Elon seemed to get every break, especially from whoever was running the replay booth.

    Dukes, let’s keep moving forward. We had a tough test and we have to learn from it. We now know that we have to not only beat the opposing team but the zebras as well!!!

  9. ShadyP / Oct 8 2018

    Overall I think that is a pretty good assessment and wrap-up for a lackluster performance on Saturday.

    First let me say Elon totally deserved to win, the played better and outcoached JMU. In fact I think the coaching staff for JMU maybe more responsible than the players for this loss. The offensive play-calling by Donnie Kirkpatrick was awful and absolutely pedestrian. It was as if for 3 quarters the play-calling was playing not too lose rather than to win. This JMU team has a lot of offensive weapons, so let them play and attack the defense and put your foot on the gas. That is what happened in the 4th quarter when only then Kirkpatrick was forced to open things up. From my seats it was crystal clear that we were not gonna be able to run very effectively on first down when Elon had every defensive player within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. It is NOT DiNucci’s fault that passing plays were not called on 1st down for 3/4 of the game. I am kind of over hearing from the coaches about the odd man front, 3-3-5 defense and all the issues it causes. Let’s get real we see this defense every year from Villanova and now twice a season since Elon runs the same defense. It is not like we only see the 3-3-5 once every 3 years with their exotic blitz packages. Well it sorta looked like the offensive line had never seen it or were not very prepared for it, b/c their lack of pass blocking was only outdone by their lack of run blocking. This game was lost at the line of scrimmage plain and simple. While re-watching the game yesterday on every big run, Summers either broke tackles (poor tackling) or it was a stretch-cut back run and the back side support was simply NOT there and he had nothing but daylight. One reason the QB had some success with deep balls was b/c the dline had issues getting pressure to the QB most of the day. I was surprised Bob Trott never seemed to adjust and start bringing more pressure —– but that was probably b/c we were having issues with Summers as he averaged 9 yards/carry.

    I don’t really get the criticism of DiNucci based on his play yesterday. Without his mobility and athleticism we would not have had any chance to win that game. This kid was running for his life quite frequently throughout the game (see poor pass blocking above). DiNucci cannot pass/run block, catch passes, cover WRs, tackle RBs. It is often said the QB gets more credit than deserved when you win and more blame when you lose. If we are being generous and say the WRs dropped 4 balls in the game the numbers go to 28/41 (68%) which I think is fair. The funny thing is folks complained early in the season that DiNucci ran too much and even the coaches wanted him to run less and throw more using scramble drill and now that he is doing that folks want him to run more, geez make up your mind already. Also, I think DiNucci completed 3 deep balls (@30-40 yards)….2 of which were perfectly thrown and 1 was more of a jump ball to Stapleton.

    And oh the officiating……while JMU should have still won the game the officiating level in the CAA is worse than most HS level officiating and seems very dubious at times. These kids (all teams in the CAA) deserve better than this. It seems pretty clear that Elon does not strap their helmets up very good (is that an equipment and safety issue)….helmets should not come off like that repeatedly. I think their coaches use that looking to ‘goat’ one of those calls a game from the CAA refs. And that knee down reversal call really……I thought you needed clear visual evidence to overturn an on the field call….I guess not in the CAA version of replay, it is just a ‘gut’ thing.

    It is sad to say this about our in conference CAA officiating and this goes back to the Mickey Matthews era, I feel like CAA officials have an axe to grind with regard to JMU. This is the best thing about the playoffs, we get non-CAA refs…..I don’t care where they are from as long as they are not CAA refs I feel like both teams get a much better officiated game.

  10. OBXDuke11 / Oct 8 2018

    Everyone is saying the season isn’t over, don’t lose hope..We just might as well have lost a CAA title, home field advantage late in the playoffs too (b/c I guarantee we will lose another game) Not to mention now every other team knows how to beat this team now. The ugliest part of this game is the post game when Houston laid ALL blame on the players. “maybe now they will listen.” No dude, you and your staff got your a**es handed to you in the coaching dept, as well. You cannot look at the playcalling (especially in the redzone) and tell me Kirkpatrick is playing to his team’s strengths. I also have to say this, who did Houston win with? This staff’s recruits? Nope. They were Withers’ and I want to say a couple of MM’s were there, as well. I do not think 2016 was a fluke. We were the #1 team in the country, but that was one year..We will always play second fiddle to NDSU. Get used to being #2 at best. The only 2 good things out of this were Ethan Ratke (incredible game he had, did everything that was asked of him) and I am going to save some money on travel. Call me a fair weather fan all you want, I as well as most every other fan suffered through some awful years and will continue to be there, but Saturday proved we are not the team we were 2 years ago. Doesn’t mean we never will be again, but for now……

  11. OBXDuke11 / Oct 8 2018

    ShadyP – Spot on analysis

  12. Jay Deck / Oct 8 2018

    Pure and simple Elon outplayed us. I agree with Shady P. We just need to focus on getting better. You n can make mistakes and beat bad teams but the good ones you have to be spot on. WE have strides to make if we are going to get back to the playoffs. I am going to continue to root on the Dukes and hope they choose to play better and we stop being conservative.

  13. Deacon Danny / Oct 8 2018

    Seems about right ShadyP. That was a team loss where most everyone contributed! On a positive note, there is no need to mail-in the season just yet. This is still a very good football team. This may just be the wake-up call/gut check that is needed for the stretch run. I really hope that JMU gets another opportunity to play Elon in the playoffs. Go Dukes!

  14. ShadyP / Oct 8 2018

    I expect an extremely focused and prepared team effort (players and coaches) at Villanova this weekend. I expect a much better and opened up gameplan that gives DiNucci option to check out of runs when the line is stacked.

    If they do not play a lot better this weekend and do not put this game away…….we will have a problem.

  15. Drake / Oct 8 2018

    I agree with what most of you are saying. I’ll add that I also think the players got complacent. It’s bound to happen over a streak lasting that long. They are young and human. I think this is what they’ll need to push them to make it past the next stretch of tough games, luckily with a bye in there. This game was a roller coaster and also just a perfect storm. It took Elon having a perfect game plan, terrible calls, 2 TDs being called back, dropped interception, fumble on the drive that should’ve iced it, and penalties. If we are to lose again in the regular season, I think it would have to be a game like this. Elon also has a tough schedule so I don’t think this keeps us out of the CAA title, if we handle our business. NDSU and a long list of championship teams have lost games on their path to a championship. Some of those teams didn’t even win their conference and made it. I’ll stay positive.

  16. JMUDukeForLife / Oct 8 2018

    OBXDuke11 – I agree with most of what you said. I personally think this team is overrated based on the last 2 seasons… I say that because I am far from impressed with the red zone offense and inability to score touchdowns (it started last year, and was exposed against ndsu). I have to say I was surprised with how poorly the defense played, normally they have masked to the issue of poor execution (play calling?) on offense (i.e. given more possessions and of course points).

    I do not think this is a national championship team, at least not from what I’ve seen. At this point I don’t even think the playoffs are a lock. Imo that game vs Elon was for the conference championship.

    The offense is not Ben’s fault, I think he played quite good for the lack of blocking the o-line provided.

    Let me just say though, Elon deserves a lot of credit. They came to play and controlled the game from start to finish. They are the real deal.

  17. OBXDuke11 / Oct 8 2018

    JMUDukeForLife – Agree, Elon is good and deserves the credit. I am sure they will get a playoff win or more (after their first round bye of course).

  18. M@ / Oct 8 2018

    I just find it fascinating that there are more comments here (for a loss) than there almost ever is for a win. I have a lot of thoughts on this game but most have been said; I won’t add to the voices.

  19. Rob K / Oct 8 2018

    M@ – I had the same thought! Although it’s a good discussion and good perspectives.

    I guess I’m of the view that we CAN blame at least some of this on the officiating. Either the punt return or the interception return for a TD would have drastically changed the course of the game. The hands-to-the-face penalty would not have been called if the guys’ helmet had stayed on his head. That is a weird thing to say (because it normally is evidence of a legit penalty), but that same guy had lost his helmet twice before in the game. It was clearly an equipment issue on his part, which ultimately worked in their favor.

    But looking at the big picture, yes, Elon was able to get a lot of big plays. That is not surprising when you think about it – we don’t have Raven Greene and Jordan Brown patrolling the backfield anymore. And we don’t have Simeon putting pressure up the middle. I think we got a little spoiled over the past few years (I know I did) with the dominating excellence of the graduating seniors from last year. We knew that there would be some transition with the new kids. But stepping back, now is the time in the season by these kinds of issues. I think we’ll see a return to form next week.

  20. RB / Oct 8 2018

    this is what happens when a program is more focused on what color uniforms they are wearing than on their opponent. Uniform fiasco has reached ludicrous speed. We used to lock the damn gates, now we’re walking the damn runway. It’s truly disappointing, and the uniforms are laughable.

    Oh, and the Dukes just aren’t that good this year. Another CAA loss or two are likely on the horizon, maybe an at large bid and an early round playoff exit. Need to recruit some big uglies on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. No way these lines could compete with the valley conferences teams

  21. CJ / Oct 9 2018

    Love the Dukes and always proud of this program, but I regret to admit a lack of optimism about this season. In 2016 and 2017, where a perceptible rhythm and dominance was evident almost all season long, the Dukes were looking like programs like Alabama and NDSU — unstoppable and bound for the championship. This years Dukes, however, don’t quite seem to be firing on all cylinders. It almost reminds me of the 2010 season, when after beating #13 Va Tech expectations and confidence were sky high, only to give way to a 6-5 finish without even making the playoffs.

    Nevertheless, this is still a team with a ton of talent and among the FCS elite. But they’ve got a meat grinder of a schedule in front of them with every team gunning for them on game day, so another CAA loss is a very real possibility at this rate. I think they’ll still manage a playoff appearance this year, but unless they up their game a level I don’t seem them advancing past the first or second round.

    Agreed with RB about the uniforms…In fact, one of the first comments I had at the beginning of the Elon game was how about we forget about the new uniform line and instead use the funds towards something like another scholarship.

    My two cents for improvement…Defense needs to pressure those QBs, allow any decent QB as much time as the Dukes did Elon and I guarantee they’ll make us pay. Mix up the first down calls a little more, I know our talented backs can cook defenses but be less predictable with consistent first down runs. Seems like we’re still waiting for somebody in the receiving corps to really emerge like a Ravenel or Alls. And we can’t be giving up onside kicks like that either.

    It’s going to be interesting to see where the team goes from here.

  22. T2008 / Oct 9 2018

    Alright so I’m a huge pessimist and even I’m surprised at how many people posting here that the season is over and we aren’t that good after one loss. It was one loss, against a good team, where a LOT of bad breaks happened at crucial times against us. I am pretty confident if we played them again this weekend we would win. I thinks odds are good we will see them again in the playoffs and I think we can beat them then. If any one of the pretty lucky events that transpired hadn’t happened (two touchdown negating penalties, the onside kick, the drive ending call that was changed by zero evidence or the one that kept their drive alive when evidence could have ended it, the fumble at the end, etc) we’d have likely won even this game.

    I’m not saying we didn’t find some holes in our play, we did, but I trust the staff (theyve earned it!) to get it corrected. And its cliche, but sometimes a loss is the best thing for a team with such high expectations, to help remind them that winning isn’t ever easy and certainly isn’t a given.

    We will found out soon enough if I’m right, as we enter a (surprisingly) tough part of our schedule. But lets not panic or anything, this is still an incredibly talented team with a real shot at the national championship this year. Have some faith in them, they deserve it.

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