Dec 2 / Todd

Dukes Season Ends at Colgate – Good/Bad/Ugly

Thank you to the GOAT!

The 2018 season came crashing down in heartbreaking fashion as Colgate made a field goal at the buzzer to defeat the Dukes 23-20 in the second round of the FCS playoffs. Surprisingly, given all the drama around the program this week, today’s good/bad/ugly is pretty simple. They’ll be plenty of time for after-action reports on the season and analyzing the coaching issue over the next few weeks this year, but as far as yesterday’s game there really were only a couple of glaring reasons (INTs and a couple curious coaching decisions) JMU lost. If this were 2012, we’d all say this was a decent season from a young team with a couple obvious question marks. But thankfully it isn’t 2012, and our expectations have been rightfully raised, and even looking through the most positive lens, we have to admit this one stings as it probably ended a week or two early relative to JMU’s talent and program right now.

The Good

Jimmy ‘effin Moreland – We have never enjoyed watching a JMU player, or the perseverance and humility involved in his journey, than this young man. From blocking a FG to win at Lehigh in his first season through being off the team but staying in school and right through to yesterday, as fans we simply say bravo young man! Along with Cardon Johnson and Trai Sharp, they’ve been a part of arguably the best five year run in JMU history.

Effort – Like most fans, we had no idea what to expect from the squad given the uncertainty around Head Coach Mike Houston this week, but we can’t fault the effort against a hard-nosed Colgate squad. If anything JMU was the aggressor. The Dukes had a plan and executed beautifully early. The kids hung tough no matter how many turnovers they gave away. Hats off to the Dukes for their focus and resilience and belief in each other.

Play up front – Interceptions and coaching (decisions and distractions) cost JMU the game, but the Dukes played one of their best games up front on both sides of the ball against a very good team today. The O-Line wasn’t perfect but they gave JMU chances at key times and the front seven on D did what they do.

The Bad

Getting away from the running game – JMU wasn’t producing in any explosive way, but the balance they showed in the first half was very encouraging. For some reason for much of the second half, and despite a QB being historically loose with the ball, the coaches actually got away from the running game. Who the hell knows, but it was frustrating to watch.

The Ugly

Colgate and Michigan St. fans – Two road games. Two fanbases throwing snowballs at JMU players. At least at Michigan St. the referee had the the good sense to stop the game and dismiss an entire section of the Spartan’s student section from the premises. This was truly bush league from Colgate. Almost as bush league as Dan Hunt’s comments after the game. We are developing an unhealthy amount of sports hate for Colgate for team JMU has only played twice.

4th Down – This has been the weakest coaching area for JMU all year and it reared it’s head again. We’ll never understand why, when you believe in, and rely on, your defense the way that Houston clearly did this year, the Dukes have  abandoned their aggressiveness on 4th down. First quarter, fourth and 1 at Colgate’s 45, and they punt. Turning into the Raiders first TD drive. Then the hideous fake punt decision late. We didn’t mind going for it, but it’s 4th and 4 or 5, why not just run a damned play instead of running the most obvious fake of the O’Kelly era? Yes, we’ve heard the fake may be Harry’s option, and it’s the first time he hasn’t made it, but it’s still on the coaches putting them in that position. Houston has been a wonderful motivator of young men, and a great general for running a program through his assistant hires and delegation, but game management is something this group still needs major help with.

Interceptions and JMU Fan reactions thereto – No way to sugarcoat this. JMU lost because Ben DiNucci threw four interceptions that were all pretty bad- in other words not the result of fluky plays (the fifth was a hail mary at the half). One less and the Dukes are probably prepping for Fargo. The only odd thing about yesterday was he was weirdly very good on the plays he wan’t throwing picks. He was deservedly benched for possession in the second half. To his credit, he returned to lead a game-tying drive that had us all dreaming again. But equally bad was the reaction online from some corners of the fan base. DiNucci is what he is, but he was the coach’s choice as QB1, likely for a reason, and yet for some reason he gets berated in a way we can’t recall for any other middling QB in JMU history. Justin Thorpe comes to mind, but the criticism of JT was often, and probably rightly, colored by his own decisions off the field and our reactions to them. It just doesn’t make sense that DiNucci gets treated the same even if he’s not Bryan Schor or Vad Lee or Rodney Landers.

Now let’s get ready to root for the Women’s Hoops team, hope for some progress from the men’s program, and set up a great spring with the return of Megan Good to a loaded softball team and the lacrosse team defending it’s title.

272 days to Morgantown!

5 Comments

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  1. JMUJoe1987 / Dec 2 2018

    Please quit cutting DiNucci or Nooch as the two of you like to call him any slack. He lost the game for us with his carelessness yesterday. At times his pocket awareness is pretty bad as well. I’m hoping with a new staff coming in the QB battle is wide open because like many of us said after the Elon loss the one thing that would cost us a shot at the Bison in Frisco or Fargo would be QB play and it did.

  2. Scotty / Dec 3 2018

    Have to agree with JMUJoe- not sure why you continue to ignore the flawed offense and QB play. My goal is not to be a hater but this team has 21 of 22 returning starters and is only a QB and solid offense away from another trip to Frisco. Name a single game against an above average offense where the QB played well (make sure to look up the stats for the defenses we played before answering). I remember you stating how good Delaware’s defense looked when we played them when the numbers do not support that they were anything but average.
    The current offense definitely favors DiNucci as the starter but any team that can press our receivers and put some pressure on him reveals his flaws. He wants to get the ball out to his first read on a short route or start to move the pocket. He actually had nice protection for the most part against Colgate. Against average to below average defenses he is a good QB. These teams play off or receivers and allow him to make the short baseball-like throws in the 3-7 yard range on which he’s accurate. His technical flaws become apparent on medium range throws, that frequently sail due to his sidearm motion, or the deep throws that he throws of his back foot and are inconsistent. His strengths are that he is very effective with play fakes and those short high percentage throws. He can run the ball but is not durable enough to be considered a running QB who is going to take a bunch of hits. He is 23 – what you’ve seen is what you get. Most importantly, his two opportunities to drive the team to a winning field goal while in good field position (Elon and Colgate) ended in an interception and punt. We still had a great season. If we stick with him, we will have basically the same record next year +/- another win in the regular season and postseason. Nothing wrong with that but please don’t default to the “he just had a bad day.” He consistently has bad days when faced with good defenses. Fortunately, we just don’t see that many good defenses until the playoffs. Thank god we didn’t go to the Fargo Dome this year.

  3. ShadyP / Dec 3 2018

    Very much appreciate you guys having this forum and information shared in a fun manner.

    Congrats to all of the JMU Senior football class. It has been a long, tough journey for these young men with some serious highs and serious lows. Thanks for for the effort and class that you always showed even when put in very difficult situations.

    Yes, Ben had an awful day throwing INTs….and I give him props he said just that in his post-game comments and faced the press in the post-game interviews. That said, he was the best option based on open competition last Spring and Summer. I assume with a new coaching staff QB1 will be wide open yet again. The oline played one of there better games of the season and oddly enough the play-calling went away from the run more so during the Colgate game that other games this year when the running game was simply not there at all. I would have loved to see JMU lean more on Cardon in this game b/c he really seemed to have a good feel/flow in this game.

    That fake punt call was in a word —- AWFUL coaching decision based on game situation. Punt the ball pin Colgate inside the 20 and with their offense they would have been happy to take their chances in OT.

    I was at the game and the Colgate officials gave lip-service at best to do anything to control/correct a situation where our coaches and players were being pelted with snowballs. I mean what the heck did Colgate officials think was gonna happen with college students when their idea of clearing snow from the stands was to create big piles of snow in the middle of every section/row. This scene was as bush league as bush league gets. It did not cost JMU the game but was very distracting on the JMU sideline.

    There seemed to be an odd vibe understandably on the sideline among the players. I am sorta gonna give the players an ‘out’ on this one b/c they were put in the middle of an awful, distracting situation all week. That is all on Mike Houston for the circus atmosphere. I don’t blame him for leaving for a better job and I don’t wish him bad nor well. He is just not our coach anymore so since I don’t know the guy personally, I just don’t care about him going forward.

    A football team/players can rally around a ‘fired coach’ situation or ‘coach leaving’ situation with an interim coach. You cannot rally around a lame-duck coach walking the sidelines.

    The INTs were very bad but they only turned into 3 points for Colgate….yes they cost JMU chances to score but Colgate could not turn them into points. Great job by the defense.

  4. Rob K / Dec 3 2018

    I find myself thinking about the parallels between this game and last year’s championship game. In both games, the defense played proudly and stood strong despite the multiple turnovers from the offense (including Stapleton’s fumble-that-wasn’t-a-fumble – just saying). In both games, the defense kept the game close such that we were driving at the end of the game with a chance to win. In both games, we came up frustratingly short.

    Nothing stings like last year’s game, but this one was tough for a few reasons. I echo the point that the O-line played well yesterday. Note that a couple of Nooch’s interceptions occurred when he had lots of time in the pocket. And they killed numerous promising drives where we were looking to come away with a field goal at worst.

    I also wanted to second the terrible fake punt call there. After the game, Colgate’s coach admitted that they were expecting it. We were at a different situation than the championship game where the fake punt worked. NDSU was preparing for a return because we were on our side of the field, such that a return was possible. That’s why it was a surprise. No return was going to happen in this game because we were so close, so there was no reason to send the coverage team back. Completely agree that if you are going for it, it’s much better odds to just run another play. But if we punted, the game was going to overtime. If we punted, the 20+ yard reception that won the game for them puts them at their 35. I will never believe that they were getting another one of those.

    All that said, I loved everything about Houston (OK, maybe not the clock management at the end of games and the refusal to go for it on 4th down – but everything else). He has given us an amazing ride, and I will be sad to see him go. We have been very lucky – which is hard to see after a disappointing loss.

    Thinking back – 2004 was a great championship and a great run, but it was unexpected and it was somewhat of an aberration at the time. The last three years were not an aberration. We have come to expect sustained success, and that is because of Houston.

  5. CJ / Dec 3 2018

    Sad to see this season come to an end and I’ll really miss watching the Dukes every weekend, but I think we went about as far as we should have. We had a good team this year, but it wasn’t a great team like 2016 and 2017. I had high expectations after what I thought was a very good showing against NC State, but the losses to Elon and UNH, plus the tight game with Stony Brook and even URI finding ways to put up some good numbers on us, proved we weren’t championship material this year. I think NDSU would have beaten us handily next week, and It’s a lock that they’re going to destroy Colgate as well.

    I’m following the theory that maybe Coach Houston, around the time of the Elon or UNH loss, also sensed that this squad wasn’t going to perform like the previous 2 years and started putting out feelers for new employment around that time while his stock was still sky high. I wish he would have stayed at least another season and the next guy certainly has lofty expectations to live up to. Hopefully we won’t have to settle for an assistant coach with no head coaching experience from a bottom-tier program (oh wait that’s our basketball team). Seriously though, if the deal is that the next guy repeats Mike Houston’s record and then bolts in three years, I’ll take it in a heartbeat.

    I don’t put as much emphasis on that fake punt as everyone else. Even before knowing the outcome, I wouldn’t have done it…but if it had succeeded then we’d all be praising Coach Houston’s gutsy play calling. I’d put more emphasis on the secondary allowing that subsequent Colgate 25 yard pass to Rockett which sealed their field goal chances. But really, there were plenty of missed opportunities well before any of that. Our secondary let some of their guys get wide open and they made us pay for that several times. Outstanding work by our run defense, but they were out there a long time and I kept wondering how long they could keep it up. The offense (DiNucci in particular) missed a couple of key opportunities to stay on the field and give our defense a little more rest. More importantly, they needed to capitalize on those possessions and score more touchdowns. It’s also hard to win against anybody when you throw 4 – 5 picks. Interceptions on 50/50 balls or Hail Marys are one thing, but a couple of those interceptions looked pretty easy for the Colgate secondary. Again, not picking on DiNucci, he’s a good quarterback and he did a lot of good things this game and during the season…he’s just not a GREAT quarterback. I’m hoping either DiNucci or Johnson really develop and break out next season, or we pick up a good transfer in the likes of Vad Lee (wishful thinking there).

    Bottom line, I’m grateful to Mike Houston for all that he’s done and I wish him the most success at ECU.

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