Oct 28 / Rob

Three Thoughts On JMU 13 – Stony Brook 10

A win is a win. Just take a deep breath and keep repeating that. JMU managed to escape with a 13-10 victory over a Stony Brook team that came ready to play. It was an old school defensive battle. And despite the fact that the Dukes came out on top, it left more than a few fans frustrated. Again though, a win is a win and the Dukes now find themselves at 6-2 overall, 4-1 in the CAA, and tied for first. It’s the result that ultimately matters, not the style points. Here are a few brief thoughts on the big win.

Just a Few Plays

As with most every close game, this one came down to just a few plays. Unlike in the Elon game, JMU made the ones that mattered at key moments against Stony Brook. Kyndel Dean had a touchdown for the ages, and did he best to singlehandedly make sure the Dukes didn’t come up short in the red zone again. The Seawolves had multiple chances to bring him down, but he fought off several tacklers and got in for 6. On the defensive side of the ball, Jimmy Moreland knocked down a would be TD pass in the end zone, and Landan Word alertly grabbed a tipped ball out of the air to secure the interception and kill a Stony Brook game. And Tyler Gray was steady all day, making two big field goals and an extra point. Those few plays helped turn a loss into a close win for JMU.

The Defense Is No Joke

Several people (well, me) were second guessing this JMU defense after the loss to Elon. Since getting a few guys back from injuries, the unit has been clicking on all cylinders. The Dukes D was dominant all day. Stony Brook came into the game with two backs averaging about 100 yards/game each. JMU held the Seawolves to 113 yards overall. And they limited Joe Carbone to just 19 of 37 attempts and picked him off twice. The defensive backs when single coverage for much of the game, enabling the safeties and linebackers to gang up on the ball carriers. Just a tremendous performance all around.

And the Elephant in the Room

What happened to JMU’s offense? Credit to Stony Brook for a solid defensive effort, but it sure looked like the Dukes were making it easier for them. Kyndel Dean made the most of his limited chances, and Sharp, Marshall, and Johnson each showed flashes, but were ultimately the running game failed to find its rhythm once again. Overall, it was a miserable day for the offense. The Dukes had no answer for the Seawolves’ blitzes. The receivers struggled to get off the line all day, and were of little help blocking for the running backs. The playcalling was bewildering, flipping between insanely predictable and overly complicated. And while it’s not clear if the coaches don’t have enough faith in the offense to call the game aggressively, or if the conservative playcalling is causing the offense to lose confidence in itself, something is clearly wrong.

People will point to Nooch and say we’re cutting him too much slack. We really don’t think it’s him though. He missed a wide open receiver in the red zone on a play that should have been six. The rest of the game though, we didn’t think he had much of a chance to do anything. The issues run far deeper than QB play. The receivers failed to create separation consistently, and there were no apparent route adjustments for the blitz. We fully admit that he Nooch’s deep ball hasn’t been impressive this year, but he’s had no chance to show improvement with this new horizontal passing game the coaches seem to rely on. Personally, we’d prefer even tossing a few more interceptions on more aggressive pass plays, if the trade-off was keeping the defense guessing and potentially breaking a few big ones.

And don’t even get us started on the poor clock management and lack of a killer instinct on 3rd and 4th downs. The Dukes keep the pedal to the medal against overmatched teams, but seem far more focused on avoiding mistakes than trying to outplay guys when they face top teams. The special teams and defense are outstanding, but time after time the coaches are way too content to play a field position game instead of pushing it on offense. The entire unit needs a refresh. And needs one quickly if the Dukes want to meet expectations. The defense and special teams are plenty good enough. There’s no lack of talent on offense. We’re just waiting for it all to come together.

13 Comments

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  1. ShadyP / Oct 29 2018

    Tough, hard-nosed game against a tough opponent. Carry this momentum forward. I agree with all you stated, it seems that the play-calling is predictable and very conservative. It seems though is small batches where the play-calling is opened-up we move the ball very quickly and efficiently.

    At some point I think we need to settle on 2 primary running backs and let those guys get in a good flow for the game. I really like Sharp to get those tough yards.

    Having said that I think some of our fan base are acting like spoiled children b/c JMU is not beating folks by 4 touchdowns and scoring 35+ points each week. I think the other CAA teams have adjusted to how DK likes to prep and call a game and now it is time for DK to respond as well. This goes in cycles like a chess game between OCs and DCs. Please remember these are 18-23 year old young student athletes out there on that field, this is NOT the NFL. Before folks go to facebook ranting perhaps they should give it at least 24 hours post game to reflect a bit and consider what they are saying about student athletes and folks children.

  2. CJ / Oct 29 2018

    Good assessment. I know people don’t like to hear negativity and nit-picking on this blog, but I think doing so reflects the high standards and expectations that this program has given us.

    Offense is clearly our shortfall this year! Offense wins games. In the past two years, we’ve been solid in all aspects, but what really destroyed our competition was that they simply could not keep pace with an offense that was scoring on virtually every possession. Not so much this year. I actually thought our offense performed fairly well against NC State, but since then they’ve been struggling against decent CAA opponents. Way too many 3-and-outs. DiNucci has not always been getting the protection he needs.

    People won’t like hearing this, but I think a big difference this year is at QB. Not saying DiNucci is a bad QB — he’s skilled and would be a worthy starter on any CAA squad — but he’s not Vad Lee or Bryan Schor. Lee and Schor could often be the difference in the game; they could extend plays and singlehandedly make things happen. I don’t think DiNucci is quite on the same level as Lee or Schor.

    Meanwhile, NDSU is laser-focused on another championship, and looking pretty unstoppable. We’re nowhere near that level. At this rate we’ll be lucky to make it past the first round of the playoffs.

    The tools are there, however, so this team still has potential to do great things. Let’s hope they can find their rhythm sometime soon.

  3. Drake / Oct 29 2018

    I think DiNucci has done some great work with his legs escaping from pressure. The line has let rushers come in untouched at times and he’s done the best he can. His throws on the run need to be more accurate, but a few receivers dropped some passes this week. It seems that he’s more hesitant to run when there aren’t any open receivers. I think he just needs to be let loose and do what he does best. We are getting some big breaks as other teams are losing and don’t seem to want to win the CAA. Can’t wait to be in town for the Rhode Island game!

  4. OBXDuke1983 / Oct 29 2018

    Thank you @ShadyP for reminding folks to keep things in perspective.

  5. Don / Oct 29 2018

    Stony Brook’s defensive plan was clear from the 400 level…they continuously stacked the box stifiling the running game and blitzed on pass plays. Nooch didn’t have time to make many plays. He made a few connections on planned rollouts to the right, and we seemed to have some success running when we split 5 guys out wide. Otherwise, we were fortunate to have scored just enough to win.

    Thank heavens for the defense and Tyler Gray. A wins a win, and this one could have gone the way of Elon. We shouldn’t underestimate the quality of our opponents, but we are a victim of our own success and are spoiled fan base. I hope they figure the offense out so we can remain spoiled 🙂

  6. JMU2K1 / Oct 29 2018

    “Before folks go to facebook ranting perhaps they should give it at least 24 hours post game to reflect a bit and consider what they are saying about student athletes and folks children.”

    What the hell is this? So it’s now it’s considered to be family destroying when one says “I know this is going to be unpopular” or “I’m sorry to being saying this but” before offering a milquetoast opinion about the on field play of a Division I scholarship athlete that plays on television? A guy who can vote, serve in the military, lives on his own, etc. How about we stop the pearl clutching?

    The fact of the matter is that fans aren’t expecting blowouts. We blowout bad teams as we should, particularly with our terrible non-conference schedule. What fans who watch this team are bothered by is an offense that has been anemic for two seasons now. We have struggled to run the ball. We don’t throw the ball downfield. The play calling is disjointed and, as was pointed out in the original post, Houston’s decision making has been suspect.

    No one is saying DiNucci should be hung by a yardarm or that Houston is bad and/or should be fired. But what happens when you screw up at work? You get called on it and get better. It’s not personal, no one is denigrating anyone or taking personal shots. But how about taking an objective look at this team? Special defense, special special teams, and an average offense. This is a team that might win a playoff game. Is that something we are haps with? I should hope not-those were Mickey era expectations. I thought we’ve advanced from that to the elite?

    As for DiNucci, there are really only two explanations for him: 1. He’s great but the scheme is bad. 2. He’s not very good and the scheme is built to expose him the least. On Saturday DiNucci had negative rushing yards and Riley Stapleton had 2 catches for a dozen yards? How both be true? A running QB that doesn’t throw the ball down field very well is understandable, but one who also doesn’t run very well is ironic. Shouldn’t being a running QB open up the passing game? Again, don’t have anything against DiNucci, but is there anything about the Houston/Kirkpatrick/DiNucci this year that leads any of you to believe we’re going to win the conference, let alone compete with NSDU is the playoffs. He’s just not that good. And has anyone really being impressed with the three headed monster at running back? If you have three, you have none. Marshall showed flashes of brilliance in the playoffs last year. Otherwise, they have been average at best against good teams. I supposed we aren’t allowed to talk about that, either.

    I love JMU and am thrilled with everything we’ve done the last few years. But it’s laughable to me that we are spoken in the same breath as NDSU. We aren’t there. For a fleeting moment in 2016, when we played with some moxie, we were. We were outclassed last year and not in the same league this year. The breathless rah rah “we’re 6-2, 4-1” and “can still win the conference” posts are missing the point. We should be well beyond being happy with making the playoffs. The measure, as has been for nearly a decade, is NDSU. The 2018 Dukes aren’t in that conversation. Good, but not great. But we still live in a world where you have to be great to dethrone the king.

    My apologies for offending children, Shady, and OBX with my horribly offensive post.

  7. maddukes98 / Oct 30 2018

    JMU2K1 – I think the general idea of what was said is that don’t go after the student-athletes. This is NOT the NFL where they are paid, grown men. If you want to take shots, take them at HC, OC, and other adults who are running the show.

    I didn’t get to see much of the game being on the West Coast and Madizone was a little (lot) sketchy but my brother was there and said it was just way too vanilla. But I do agree that our expectations, while should still be high, should be realistic when comparing our non-conference games to the CAA. Remember the CAA is still one of the best top to bottom in all FCS so we are going to have close games each week and not going to blow people out by 40+. We are projected to get 4 maybe 5 teams in the playoffs so lets keep it all in perspective folks.

  8. JMU2K1 / Oct 30 2018

    “If you want to take shots, take them at HC, OC, and other adults who are running the show.”

    I think you missed two points I made. One, the players are, in fact, adults, for the reasons I mentioned above-they can vote, serve in the military, serve on a jury, work full time, live on their own, etc. They are Division I scholarship athletes who appear perform in front of large crowds, play on television, and appear in the media. They are public figures, albeit minor ones. They do deserve to be treated fairly and with respect

    Two, offering an opinion, even a negative one, isn’t “taking a shot.” I just don’t think saying “maybe player A isn’t very good because of X, Y, Z” is taking a shot. It’s an observation.

    The frustrating thing about the commenters in this blog is the hypersensitivity to criticism. The red zone offense is not good and has not been good going back to last year. It cost us a national championship a mere 10 months ago! But when you make a comment about that topic, some people view that as blasphemy. It’s comical, especially considering how benign the comments are on this blog.

  9. Mark Stephens / Oct 30 2018

    I don’t think most folks want to “take shots” at Coach Houston or his assistants. My issue and perhaps that of many others is we don’t understand. Particularly with respect to the offensive side of the ball. My group of peers doesn’t understand why we don’t “open up” the offense a bit more. At times if feels as if the offense is stuck in 2nd gear-to the uninformed fan that watches the games from the bleachers (not on the sidelines with a headset.)
    I trust Coach Houston to know better than I regarding how to win at football. And while our fan base would like for him to outline the offensive strategy, shortcoming and tricks for the future, I also trust he is smart enough not to do this in public.
    We have a great defense that is finally healthy and coming around.
    This team is young. Pump the breaks and assume the highly paid professional football coaches with a history of success know what they are doing.
    Enjoy this run, however long it lasts. This is atypical of JMU football history.
    Go Dukes.

  10. Chris / Oct 30 2018

    Speaking for myself; I’m happy we got a win. I don’t really care after that. One game at a time. GO DUKES!!!

  11. RB / Oct 30 2018

    The Good: HELMETS, keep them and don’t change – ever! Big time programs, whether FBS or FCS, don’t have to chase bling they rely on their on-field product to flash.

    The Bad: DiNucci. Play Hunter Johnson and get the passing game going. We are wasting too much talent at wideout with a QB who prefers running Chinese Fire Drills in the pocket. Johnson will take some hits in the pocket because the o-line is average at best, but at least he’ll attempt to involve receivers in the game (and maybe we’ll score a couple offensive touchdowns, crazy thought I know).

    The Ugly: MADIZONE. For the love of Duke Dog, spend some cash and develop a broadcast platform worthy of an elite FCS program. The current broadcast is worse than most high school morning news shows. Feed sucks, production equally bad (camera angles are insanely bad at key moments) and the broadcast team is completely lost. The best part of the show is the repetitively played terrible commercials. About 40% of what comes out of Dudley’s mouth is incorrect, I’m less convinced each week that he actually understands the concept of the game of football. It’s as if he’s calling the game by watching it on a flip phone from the counter at Jess’ Quick Lunch. How do we allow that amateurism to be broadcast on numerous television outlets – it’s an embarrassment. We need a professional broadcast product instead of using football games as a Journalism 101 extra credit assignment.

  12. Rob K / Oct 30 2018

    A few observations from being there in person:

    1) I don’t know if this came through on the broadcast, but Moreland almost had an interception to basically end the game, but the Stony Brook receiver basically tackled him to prevent the interception. Moreland was MAD, and yelled so much at the official for the lack of offensive pass interference that I was afraid he was going to get a penalty. Otherwise dominating performance from him. Stony Brook threw at him a lot, and most of the time he was on the winning end of the battle.

    2) The same cannot be said about the other side of the field. Stony Brook receivers were open several times on long passes, but the pass was not accurate. Similarly, the slot receiver was often open for 6-10 yard slants. That is going to be a problem when we face a better QB.

    3) Give it up for Tyler Gray. His first kick in over a year was for something like 42 yards. And his go-ahead kick was close to the endzone at the far hash. That is a tough kick in college because the hashes are so much farther apart, which creates a tough angle. He nailed that one as well.

    4) Is Jahee Jackson still suspended? If so, that could be a big reason for the issues in the running game and protection. He was a major force at the beginning of the season.

    5) Houston was playing not to lose. That is obviously very different than playing to win. It worked out this time, but there were a couple 50/50 plays that if they went against us in the 4th quarter, we would be looking at a loss. We were stalling out at Stony Brook’s 38-42 yard line and punting. A couple of times we need to go for it and trust the offense.

  13. ShadyP / Oct 31 2018

    Just for comparison sake of 1st 5 CAA games this year vs 1st 5 CAA games last year (borrowed this from someone else that put it together this morning)

    At this point last year vs the CAA (1st 5 CAA games):
    -Vs Maine: Offense scored 28/472 yds. Best yardage output 1st 5 CAA games.
    -@ UD: Offense only put up 13 pts/337 yds vs UD. The other 7 was courtesy of Ankrah’s scoop and score off the backward UD pass.
    -Vs UNH: Offense only put up 14 points/339 yds. The other 7 came via Rashad Robinson’s 82 yd pick 6. That was a 10 to 14 point swing right there..
    -Vs VU offense only put up 23 pts/316 yds. (2 TDs/3 FG). The other 7 were Hereford’s 5 yd pick 6.
    -@ W&M: Offense put up 39 points/389 yds (4 TD/4 FG). That was the best offensive scoring output vs a team that went 0-8 CAA. The other 7 were Moreland’s pick 6.

    This year the offense 1st 5 CAA games:
    Vs W&M 37 pts/444 yds (+ 2 TDs off pick 6).
    @ RU: 49 pts/543 yds (+TD off kick return & TD off pick 6).
    Vs Elon: 24 pts/419 yds
    @ VU: 23 points/302 yds (+ 2 Amos punt return TDs)
    Vs SBU: 13 pts/243 yds

    1st 5 CAA games offensive scoring/yds per game avg (excluding non offensive scoring):
    2017: 19.4 points/371 yds
    2018: 29.2 points/390 yds

    JMUNation loved Schor so the memory/revisionist history wants to recall the offense being so much better last year compared to this year……truth is it ain’t and from these numbers actually appears to be a bit better this year.

    Think what you want but the sky is far from falling and Dinucci is doing a pretty good job leading this offense. Dinucci also about half the number of INTs that Schor had at this point of the season last year (TDs passes are down also by comparison, but I will take fewer turnovers)

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