Nov 8 / Rob

2018-19 JMUSB Game Preview #10: JMU vs. Rhode Island

My family spends a lot of time in Rhode Island. It is a wonderful place. A tiny little state famous for its beautiful beaches, abundant seafood, luxurious mansions of Newport, coffee milk, white people, and giving ill advised $75 million loans to ex-ballplayers who run companies into the ground. It it not however, known for college football. The state’s flagship university, and JMU’s opponent this weekend, has had only 3 winning seasons in the past 33 years. A tradition of winning it is not. But things might be changing. Head Coach Jim Fleming has the Rams playing better than they have in decades. They’ve proven to be a very tough out for some of the CAA’s top teams this season, and even knocked off current first place squad Delaware on the road. This 2018 Rhode Island team is light years better than the one the Dukes threatened to hang a hundred on two years ago. Let’s get on with it.

The Basics

Match-up: #9 JMU Dukes (6-3, 4-2 CAA) vs. Rhode Island Rams (5-4, 3-3 CAA)
Kick-off: 2:00 PM on Saturday, November 10 in Bridgeforth Stadium
Weather: Sunny and cold with a high of 40
Broadcast: MASN, SNY, and Streaming via Madizone

How They Got Here

Not sure if you heard, but JMU lost to New Hampshire last weekend. It’s true. We went into great depths on the latest episode of pod, but the wheels basically came off. Whether it was a one game blip, or a harbinger of truly dark days remains to be seen. In the loss, the Nooch had 2 turnovers, which the Wildcats took advantage of to jump out to an early lead. Cole Johnson came on in relief and made some very nice throws. He also threw 3 picks and fumbled once. It was ugly folks. All told, it was a rough game. Coach Houston has played his cards close to the vest all week and refused to name a starting QB. Not much more to be said that hasn’t been said about the game already. It was clearly the lowest point of the Mike Houston era. Now the Dukes have an opportunity to rally around each other and show folks what they’re made of.

Rhode Island also lost weekend, but in a much less crushing fashion. The Rams went down to Carolina and fell to Elon 24-21. It was a moral victory. And while Rhode Island is a much improved program, they’re still at the level where moral victories are a thing. Sure, they probably feel like they let a potential upset slip through their grasp. They rallied for 2 touchdowns in the 4th quarter to pull within 3 points, but failed to recover an onside kick with just over a minute left. Talented QB JaJuan Lawson returned from injury to throw for for 349 yards and 3 scores. Naim Jones managed 54 yards running on only 10 carries. All told, the Rams have to be feeling pretty good about the effort and confident that they can hang with the top teams in the CAA.

How Rhode Island Can Win

Let is all hang out and attack. The Rams have absolutely nothing to lose. They’re an improved team, but practically nobody expects them to beat the Dukes in Bridgeforth. Elon and New Hampshire got after the QB all day, and tried to dictate things on offense. Stony Brook tried to play conservative, taking what JMU gave them, and waiting for big mistakes that never came. Guess which approach was more successful?

The Rams are at a disadvantage defensively, needing to prepare for both Nooch and CoJo. Either guy will beat them if he’s allowed to sit back there and make plays. But we saw last week that both guys are susceptible to pressure. On offense, the Rams need to take their shots. Lawson can sling it. If he plays aggressively, instead of trying to wait for JMU to make mistakes, he and his teammates will have a shot to pull off the upset.

How JMU Can Win

By QB TBD taking control. Despite what some hyper partisan fans on both sides of the debate might tell you, Nooch and CoJo each have clear strengths. Nooch is dangerous with his feet and up until last game, good about protecting the ball. Johnson has a lively arm and good accuracy. JMU can win if the coaches call the game in a way that leverages the QB’s strengths.

Earlier in the year, we all wanted Nooch to stand tall in the pocket instead of tucking a running when the pocket collapsed, so that he could progress as a QB. Well, let’s worry about progressing in the offseason. It’s time to win. Maybe Nooch will eventually become a classic drop back QB. If he gets the start on Saturday however, we’re all for him scrambling and moving the chains.

If Johnson is the guy, then it’s time to go vertical-ish. Folks are somehow convinced that he was dropping 50 yard bombs on the dime against UNH. He wasn’t. He was hitting guys in stride on 15-20 yard throws. The Dukes will succeed if he can consistently connect on those sorts of throws. The running game will open up and eventually the talent gap will become evident. And some better offensive line play wouldn’t hurt.

Defensively, JMU needs to keep it simple and let guys do their jobs. The Dukes don’t need a ton of sacks or to create multiple turnovers (although neither would hurt). This defense is very good, when it plays straight up and pounces on the opponents missteps. It’s good enough to shut down the Rams’ running game and make them one dimensional. From there, it’s all about limiting big plays.

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Temps in the 40s? Seems a little early for that, but the cold definitely makes it stout weather. Let’s go with a winter warmer like Virginia Black Bear by Lickinghole Creek. It’s an imperial stout with lots of roasted chocolate maltiness. And at 9.3 ABV it will keep you nice and toasty at the tailgate. Or put you to sleep if you have one too many. Good beer though.

Official JMUSB Prediction

The o-line bounces back, seniors step up, D gets back to business, and the team rallies around QB TBD. Dukes roll 31-10. This JMU team has flaws, but we believe it also has heart. And while I can’t believe I just typed that cheesy sentence, I do think it matters. JMU got pushed around last week and is facing adversity for the first time in the Mike Houston era. We don’t think the Dukes will fold in these circumstances. We think they’ll thrive. JMU is gonna roll on Saturday.

8 Comments

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  1. OBXDuke1983 / Nov 9 2018

    I have to admit that life has gotten in the way of me following the season as closely as I would like. I know that the o-line was young, but not totally inexperienced coming into the season. I am, however, surprised that it seems to have been a liability lately. Have there been key injuries? If so, what is the current status and the outlook going forward? Sorry if this is something you all have already discussed thoroughly.
    Go Dukes!

  2. M@ / Nov 9 2018

    @OBXDuke1983, I don’t think enough has been said about the o-line (granted as a former HS o-lineman I’m always going to think that. I will preface all of this with the following: I have no insider information. I don’t even live in the same state. So a lot of this is conjecture with at least a few facts (as we, as fans), know them. Also, apparently I felt the need to write a book. Now…

    * This year’s 5th year seniors are the last recruiting class under Mickey. That means we also have two Withers-recruited classes before we get to a ‘pure’ Houston team.
    * Jahee Jackson (Jr; OL) has been suspended for the last few games (since and including Richmond if I’m correct) for breaking team rules. Houston has not provided a time frame for the end of his suspension (and honestly seemed a bit upset to me), including stating he wasn’t sure Jackson would return to the field this season. Others have heard this upcoming week as a game he may return for; I have not, but I go full ostrig after a loss. I think he was moved to guard during the off-season and has been doing very well in the interior, especially helping to generate push (more on this later). His age (one of only two 4th year players on the team) and his experience were likely very helpful. Which may be why Houston seemed so upset. (Huge speculation incoming) Jahee is likely looked at as a leader on the o-line. And when he messes up, the younger kids see it; and that can’t be good.
    * I mentioned earlier there are only two 4th-year players on the o-line this season. This is the full break-down:
    – 5th Year: 0
    – 4th Year: 2
    – 3rd Year: 7 (one a true-Jr)
    – 2nd Year: 4 (one a true-So)
    – 1st Year: 6 (all true-fr…obviously)
    Something else I noticed in just collecting those counts (I mentioned I felt the need to write a book, right?) is that the 1st and second year players (theoretically recruited by Houston) seem to be bigger (overall) than the third and fourth year players (though the smallest is a true freshman at only 257 lbs). (SPECULATION)I’m thinking that Houston prefers a larger o-line and may be struggling a bit reconsiling the smaller linemen that Withers preferred in his blur offense (END SPECULATION). I am not as up-to-speed on who the actual starters are (bad former-olineman, *slaps self on wrist*). So I can’t exactly speak to the starting and/or first-in o-line breakdown. I know the true-Jr (Mac Patrick) is the starting Center (a role I think he’s played for the last two seasons…possibly going back to the NDSU game in 2016; though that’s from memory).
    All of that being said, I do recall that Stinnie was the only starting o-lineman to graduate. That means the other four were back from last year’s championship run. Does one 5th year player (and a suspended 4th-year player) really make that big a difference? I think so. Remember, one of the problems this team (and last-year’s team) faced is scoring touchdowns in the redzone. A lot of the time (not all the time, but a lot of the time) that indicates an o-line that can’t get any push. Ultimately those yards come down almost as much to the strength of the o-line as it does to the play call and the running-back’s vision. This is because (sorry if you know this, but I’m on a roll here) the defense has to respect the pass, especially the deep pass, when the offense has more real-estate to work with. It becomes easier and easier to put more (and bigger) players in the box the closer the offense gets to the endzone. So many times this season I’ve seen opponenets switch out one linebacker and two defensive linement in the redzone. I have to believe they are going to the bigger but slower guys (maybe even moving a smaller DT to DE in those situations, but that doesn’t even count as speculation). Jackson was named a HeroSports Sophmore All-American. He really is that good. And missing his strength in the middle has to be a problem right now.
    On the subject of strength, part of what makes an o-line bigger, stronger (and sometimes meaner) is how many years the strength coach has worked with them. That’s one of the reasons that this line has worried me since the end of last season. Shore had some kind of magic that helped to offset that. Confidence from a fifth year QB who can evade (with a second RPO on the scramble) along with WRs that could catch anything (except in the national championship…not that I’m bitter or anything). Lose those offsetting factors and you get mediocre-at-best offense, especially in the redzone.
    * The last fact I’ll include is that the o-line has had three coaches in three years. The guy from 2016 (whose name I really wish I remembered) impressed the heck out of me. The 2016 team wasn’t supposed to be that good (better than average, but not great). Yet the team only lost two games by single digits…and NDSU *wasn’t* one of them (although you will note I said ‘single digits’ and not ‘ten points or less’). The ability to run at will was a huge factor for that. Abdulla was a great back, but honestly he didn’t have to make anyone miss until he had already gained 3 yards. The o-line played that well. Another reason I give the coach a lot of credit is that in the NDSU game, in the dome (a smidge intimidating), he had a red-shirtfreshman OT step in for his first ever start (Tyree Chavious…the other 4th-year player) and an injury to the center and he plugged in a true freshman (I think…this is where I’m remembering Patrick getting his first playing time). That takes a great coach and special players. Those two players are still here, but I still worry that the coaches (or more accurately the lack of coaching consistency) hasn’t been giving the line the leg up they should get.
    * Lastly, this is absolutely pure speculation, I don’t think Coach Kirkpatrick (the offensive coordinator) has a magic rabbit hidden in his playbook. He makes adjustments extremely well. But his playbook seems to be pretty consistent from game to game and season to season (with an occasional “where the hell did that come from” moment each season). In 2016, every opponent was seeing it for the first time. Now, some of these opponents are seeing it for the third time. They are making adjustments and doing it well. Looking at last-season’s tapes and seeing what they did wrong or what kind of adjustments JMU made and they are pre-adjusting to the adjustments.
    This team is suseptable to penetration in the running game and in the passing game. An older and stronger o-line may be able to prevent or mitigate that. Defenses are bringing blitzes…lots and lots of blitzes to get that penetration. With a better o-line, we may be able to get off some deep passes to make people pay for those blitzes (it really only takes another 1/2 second). But with everything I’ve mentioned above, the o-line just isn’t there yet. Traditionally, the next step to overcoming that type of blitz-generated penetration is to have hot routes that the QB can dump off to when the pressure is on. There didn’t seem to be any hot-route options in the games I’ve watched (I didn’t watch UNH…thank goodness). WRs weren’t looking for the ball quickly, keeping their eyes on the defenders from what I could see. But even if they were there, those quick routes under duress can also be intercepted on a higher-than-normal percentage…just ask Jimmy Moreland. I’m wondering if that’s why there were so many turnovers against UNH; but, like I said, I didn’t watch the game. So I don’t know. There is no quick fix. There is no rabbit. Ultimately it comes down to execution and strength. Both take time. And that’s where I think the lack of age on the o-line, even though they have a lot of game experience, is really hurting.

  3. M@ / Nov 9 2018

    For anyone who is interested and doesn’t want to go through all of the data collection (I’m going to try something, so if this is ugly I’ll post a prettier version afterward):

    NameHtWtYr
    JAHEE JACKSON6′ 3″295Jr*4
    TYREE CHAVIOUS6′ 4″318Jr*4
    JOE FISHPAW6′ 4″282So*3
    J.T. TIMMING6′ 2″301So*3
    ZAIRE BETHEA6′ 3″309So*3
    TRUVELL WILSON6′ 2″309So*3
    MAC PATRICK6′ 2″292Jr3
    MICHAEL FAULKNER6′ 4″284So*3
    RAYMOND GILLESPIE6′ 5″272So*3
    WILL CLEVINGER6′ 3″290Fr*2
    JAKE GLAVIN6′ 2″308Fr*2
    LIAM FORNADEL6′ 4″306So2
    COLLIN REECE6′ 7″320Fr*2
    JACKSON SKULE6′ 7″319Fr1
    NICK KIDWELL6′ 5″317Fr1
    CALEB HAMLETT6′ 5″326Fr1
    KYLE SMITH6′ 4″295Fr1
    HENRY SCHROEDER6′ 4″257Fr1
    AMELIO MORAN6′ 6″309Fr1

  4. M@ / Nov 9 2018

    May be a bit easier to read:
    JAHEE JACKSON Jr* (6′ 3″; 295lbs; Year: 4)
    TYREE CHAVIOUS Jr* (6′ 4″; 318lbs; Year: 4)
    JOE FISHPAW So* (6′ 4″; 282lbs; Year: 3)
    J.T. TIMMING So* (6′ 2″; 301lbs; Year: 3)
    ZAIRE BETHEA So* (6′ 3″; 309lbs; Year: 3)
    TRUVELL WILSON So* (6′ 2″; 309lbs; Year: 3)
    MAC PATRICK Jr (6′ 2″; 292lbs; Year: 3)
    MICHAEL FAULKNER So* (6′ 4″; 284lbs; Year: 3)
    RAYMOND GILLESPIE So* (6′ 5″; 272lbs; Year: 3)
    WILL CLEVINGER Fr* (6′ 3″; 290lbs; Year: 2)
    JAKE GLAVIN Fr* (6′ 2″; 308lbs; Year: 2)
    LIAM FORNADEL So (6′ 4″; 306lbs; Year: 2)
    COLLIN REECE Fr* (6′ 7″; 320lbs; Year: 2)
    JACKSON SKULE Fr (6′ 7″; 319lbs; Year: 1)
    NICK KIDWELL Fr (6′ 5″; 317lbs; Year: 1)
    CALEB HAMLETT Fr (6′ 5″; 326lbs; Year: 1)
    KYLE SMITH Fr (6′ 4″; 295lbs; Year: 1)
    HENRY SCHROEDER Fr (6′ 4″; 257lbs; Year: 1)
    AMELIO MORAN Fr (6′ 6″; 309lbs; Year: 1)

  5. M@ / Nov 9 2018

    I said we lost two games by single digits. I meant we won two games by single digits with all other wins being by 10 points or more).

  6. OBXDuke1983 / Nov 9 2018

    M@, thank you for your thoughtful and thought provoking answer. I appreciate your taking the time to provide it.

  7. Rob K / Nov 9 2018

    M@ – great comment about the O-Line. And in my opinion, that was the big difference towards the end of last year. Too many injuries left not enough push up front and too many gaps in protection on pass plays. I do think we have missed Jahee more than most people realize. I hope he is back in action tomorrow!

    And for what it’s worth, I completely agree with the pod this week. I would love to go into the playoffs as an 8th seed. You know who the Bison don’t want to play at home? Us.

  8. M@ / Nov 14 2018

    I’m less sure about a trip to Fargo. Especially since I said I’d try to make the trip next time and I’m afraid I’m going to have to eat those words. 🙂

    Sticking to the line strength, the Bison have a huge,experience, and age-tested line on both sides of the ball. I don’t think the Bison want to face us at all (we may be the boogie man), but they’d prefer it be in the dome.

    Of course if we can come out of that with the W, the national championship may be a pseudo-home game again as I’m not sure any other team (except maybe SDSU) will travel as well.

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