Nov 4 / Rob

Three Thoughts on New Hampshire 35 – JMU 24

The Dukes made the long trip up to Durham, NH with fans looking for a breakout performance from the offense. Instead, JMU fell behind early and never recovered. New Hampshire won 35-24, but it was worse than the score indicates. The loss dropped JMU to 6-3 overall and just 4-2 in the CAA. With a pair of games remaining, the Dukes playoff chances are still alive, but that top 4 seed fans have been counting on all season is gone, gone, gone. And to make things even more interesting, JMU has a QB controversy. Ben Dinucci was pulled after opening the game with a pick six and a fumble. Cole Johnson came on in relief and showed the arm strength that has made some fans call for him all season. He also showed why he probably failed to win the starting job, turning the ball over 4 times. Here are three quick thoughts on the disappointing loss. 

Just Blah

I don’t even know what to say about this one. It was really terrible overall. All of the things that we’ve worried about came to pass. A couple costly turnovers put the Dukes in a 14-0 hole early, and that was it for a team that seems to have been constructed to only win defensive shootouts. New Hampshire looked ready to play and pounced on JMU mistakes to put it out of reach almost before it started. The game was never close. The Dukes made a “run” in what was essentially garbage time to make the game look closer than it was. Don’t kid yourself though. The Wildcats stomped JMU. Thankfully, we only have a handful of losses in the Houston era to compare this to, but right now it stands out the worst one. The Dukes got beat in all phases. It reminded us of the bad version of Mickey Ball.

QB Controversy 

According to post game comments from Coach Houston, he was thinking of inserting CoJo at QB during the week to spark the offense. After back to back turnovers by Nooch to open the game, the decision practically made itself. As one would expect, there was an immediate surge and the players intensity picked up right after the change at QB was made…and then CoJo threw a pick six.

Johnson did the sort of things that you’d expect a QB with an arm as strong as his to do. He hit medium and deep throws that we haven’t seen Nooch make in weeks. He also made the sort of mistakes you’d expect an inexperienced QB to do, turning the ball over 4 times. There’s a reason he didn’t win the job coming out of camp.

Yesterday’s performance probably boosts the arguments for both sides of the debate. CoJo fans will enthusiastically point out that he threw for nearly 400 yards. Others will warn them to pump the breaks and point out that the yards came primarily against what was essentially a prevent D sitting on a big lead. Likewise, people will argue about whether or not the turnovers (all 4 of them) were his fault. And many of you will completely dismiss anything we say on the topic, because we’ve been painted as Nooch apologists for some reason. To us though, yesterday’s game proved the point we’ve been trying to make for weeks, which is that the offense’s problems go far deeper than QB.

At this point in the season, I’m in favor of handing it over to CoJo. Mostly because it’s far easier to switch QBs, than to switch an entire offensive line. Nooch has skills that could have been leveraged, but they weren’t the past few games. Whether that was due to playcalling, to Nooch not making the plays in front of him, or something else, is up for debate. But if Nooch isn’t going to use his legs when the line breaks down, JMU might as well give CoJo a shot and see if his quicker release will work. Whoever gets the nod, is going to need better line play in front of him. And a running game. And receivers who don’t drop passes. Because this offense, both when it succeeds and when it struggles, is about much more than the QB.

Moving Forward

We’re scoreboard watching. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but JMU fans now need to keep an eye on the out of town scoreboard to see how other contenders for at large playoff bids do. A few days ago, the Dukes were the #2 overall seed for the playoffs. Now they need to win and maybe even get some help, to get a bid. JMU has a couple of huge games to close the season. Next week the Dukes welcome Rhode Island to Bridgeforth, before going to Towson for the regular season finale. Win both, and the Dukes are probably dancing. Drop one, and they can still get in with some help. Lose both and they’re staying home for the holidays.

Rhody is much improved, but if JMU can’t beat the Rams at home, they don’t deserve to go the playoffs. Towson has a QB (who may or may not be elite) and an offense that can light up the scoreboard. The Dukes defense will need to come ready to play, or the offense will find itself in a shootout. We always say that we want JMU to play more regular season games that matter. Wish granted. These next two are huge. Right the ship and get some momentum heading into the playoffs, and maybe the Dukes will make some noise. Stumble though, and the season could come to an end far earlier than anyone anticipated a few months ago.

 

8 Comments

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  1. Rob K / Nov 4 2018

    If it was up to me, I would go back to Nooch and tell him to go back to his original style of play. His first instinct when the pocket breaks down is to run – so what? He had huge runs against NC State that almost won us the game. He’s trying to reign in that instinct, and it’s leading to sacks instead of big runs.

    Not to be overly critical, but towards the end of the 1st half, the announcers said something to the effect of: “I’m really surprised Houston isn’t calling a timeout here.” That means you have not been watching many JMU games. We have not read the advanced analytics articles about when to call timeouts.

  2. Jay Deck / Nov 5 2018

    I agree Nooch was better when the coaches allowed him to run. Asking him not to just hurts an already bad offense. The offensive line has not done the job at any point this season. The offensive line has lots of work to do to just be good. Receivers can’t afford to drop passes. We need to realize this team is not the last two years teams.

  3. Oz / Nov 5 2018

    Well said, Rob. It ain’t all on the QB. The line needs to open holes. Somebody needs to pick up blitzes. Did Jahee make that much of a difference?

  4. CJ / Nov 5 2018

    Wow. Almost surreal to watch a Mike Houston JMU team get thoroughly out-performed in a game right from the get-go. But not a complete surprise from an objective standpoint. Other teams are figuring us out. Elon started the blueprint for success against JMU, Stony Brook gave it a pretty good shot, and then UNH re-wrote the script entirely.

    At this point in the season, I think we have a pretty good idea of what kind of a team we are. it’s obvious that we’re not a championship-caliber team, but I’d say we’re barely a playoff-caliber team. We’ve been on a downward trend since that Elon game. If a 2-6 UNH team with nothing to play for can own us, what chance do we have against a winning team fighting for the championship?

    To me, the biggest factor is QB. DiNucci and Johnson are decent players, but they just don’t seem to have that magic that can change a game. Vad Lee had that extra step to evade that certain sack and turn a loss into a gain. Bryan Schor could extend a play a few crucial seconds longer and thread the needle to Alls downfield. I’ve seen talent from DiNucci, but not that extra magic that makes an opposing coach drop his clipboard and abandon all hope.

    Still…the worst loss from JMU football is still a better showing than the best win I’ve seen by JMU men’s Basketball over the past couple
    Seasons.

  5. RB / Nov 5 2018

    well said, a terrible performance with blame to be shared by all. this team is simply over-rated based on the last two years. can’t go deep in the conference or playoffs without good quarterback play, and we don’t have that.

    After we lose to Rhode Island, maybe it’s time to begin the Gage Maloney era at Towson.

  6. Chris / Nov 5 2018

    I gotta say that I’m as disappointed as anybody. Still, our Dukes kept on fighting until the bitter end. They deserve some credit for hanging in there despite being down 28-3 at one point. To call the most of the second half ‘garbage time’ is a bit cynical. Anyway, GO DUKES! We’ll all see what happens. Put me down in the f it, let’s play Gage and see what happens camp.

  7. Tidewater Duke / Nov 5 2018

    Don’t know why everyone is bailing out. Have to understand that this is a relatively young team. No, we are not as good as we were last two years, but how many seniors are we losing? I would save CoJo’s redshirt and put Maloney behind DeNucci. Almost 60 per cent completion rate, led them to 6-2 record. However I think that int really pissed Houston off. You learn at JV high school you never throw late over the middle. Hell I learned that in youth footbsll. I expect this weekend that the D will come out looking for blood, and the O will be better. UNH played their best game. Their receivers caught everything in the air that didn’t sting, and their defense was great. Backs against the wall guys. Show us what you are made of of. Oh, by the way root for Randolph Macon over Humpty Dumpty in “The Game”, 125 year tradition, GO JACKETS!!!

  8. Richmond Duke / Nov 5 2018

    Some of the rhetoric around Dinucci and Johnson has been head scratching. The thought that a vote for one is an indictment of the other is sad. For one, both are student athletes representing the Dukes! Also the QB play alone has not been the problem.

    That said, I’m a Cole guy – he deserves a chance to run with the 1s for the rest of the season. Dinucci has played well, but has shown a ceiling that is not championship calibur. I recognize Cole may have a lower floor but if we are chasing ‘ships, we need to see if Johnson has a higher ceiling. In my opinion, you saw hints that he does @ UNH.

    Lastly, I don’t buy the hypothesis that Dinucci’s running is somehow being limited by scheme. He has simply encountered much tougher defenses than Norfolk St and Robert Morris. Without any vertical game there is no chance for our current running game to succeed.

    Yeah, back up QBs coming in and saving the season are rare – but it does happen… give Cole a chance!

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