Dec 9 / Rob

Three Thoughts On JMU 66 – Monmouth 21

Monmouth came to Bridgeforth Stadium ready to shock the world in the second round of the 2019 FCS Playoffs. The Hawks did not shock the world. Instead, the JMU Dukes weathered a lighting fast start by Monmouth and won going away. Things started off kind of bleak for Coach Cignetti and the boys when Pete Guerriero took a handoff on the first play from scrimmage and proceeded to go 93 yards for a TD. Then after Ben Dinucci and the JMU offense answered with a 5 play 73 yard TD drive of their own, Monmouth took the ensuing kickoff back for 6. It was not an ideal start for JMU. The teams traded scores and ended the first quarter tied at 21. Long story, short, the Dukes absolutely crushed from that point forward. Here are three quick thoughts on JMU’s big 45 point win.

Steady as She Goes

We were both in the stands for the game. Maybe the vibe was different for folks watching on TV, but I swear, nobody lost faith even after Monmouth’s fast start. There was plenty of frustration in the stands, for sure, but nobody was panicking or worried that the Dukes were giving the game away in the first quarter. And that’s because there were no signs of panic by any of the players or coaches.

We’d be lying if we said we could tell you the players were thinking after Monmouth went to house on its first play. And we’re not even going to attempt to guess how they felt when the teams ended the first quarter locked at 21. But we sure didn’t see anyone who looked like they’d given up. And we didn’t see players or coaches losing control. We just saw a bunch of guys going about their business.

We’ve said all season that Cignetti’s no-nonsense approach, might not make fans want to run through brick walls, but it pays dividends when the team hits adversity. Yesterday was another perfect example. The Nooch and the offense kept going out there and marching down the field to answer Monmouth. It was as if they knew as long as they did their jobs, the D would eventually get it together, then they’d run away with it. This team is just so steady and determined. It’s a joy to watch.

Weapons and Weapons and Weapons

This is one of the most diverse offensive units that we can recall JMU having. Brandon Polk has done enough in his only season for the Dukes to be considered one of the greats. He caught 6 passes for 83 yards against Monmouth and became only the second Duke ever to exceed 1,000 yards receiving in a season. His battery mate Riley Stapleton did typical “Riley in the Playoffs” things, catching 7 balls for 87 yards. Jake Brown made a few big grabs and Devin Ravenel only had one catch, but it was a great grab that moved the chains on a wonderfully aggressive fourth down call. Oh, and Dylan Stapleton has also become a consistent and dangerous outlet for Nooch. There is so much talent in the passing attack that defenses are routinely forced into bad matchups that JMU can exploit.

And the running game is just punishing teams. JMU’s offensive line has been perhaps the most underrated reason for the team’s success. They’ve manhandled opponents all season, particularly deep in games when lesser units can fade. Juwon Hamilton and Percy Agyei-Obese keep defenses up at night by themselves. Throw in secondary options like Soloman Vanhorse and lately, Erik Kirlew, and it’s not a fair fight.

Hit Pause on the Attendance Shaming

First off, we admit that we’re guilty of stoking this particular fire with some of pregame comments during pretty much every JMU playoff run. Trust us when we tell that we do it more in attempt to rally the troops and encourage folks to go to games, than to actually knock folks who can’t make it to Bridgeforth week in and week out.

We’ve seen the griping online about how many (how few?) people attended this particular game. We were both fortunate to be in the stands though and we’re telling you, the numbers might have been light, but the atmosphere was still fantastic. We didn’t hear anyone griping about empty seats or wasting much effort even thinking about it. We all just rooted and enjoyed the day.

We’d all love the stadium to be packed for these playoff games. But we shouldn’t get so worked up about attendance, that we start taking swipes at each other or doing things that distract us from enjoying this run.

I’ve been a season ticket holder for over a decade and yesterday’s game was the first I was able to attend all year. Yeah, I feel sort of bad about it, but life happens. I’ve got a wonderful wife and two great kids. Weekends fill up fast and sometimes I can’t make the drive to the ‘burg to watch the Dukes. That’s true for a lot of people, especially this time of year. It does nobody any good to get all worked up about it.

I get it. I’ve gotten really worked up about poor attendance in the past too. Ironically enough, I’m 99.99% sure every time I’ve complained about the stadium looks, it’s been from the comfort of my own couch as I watch on television. I know how hypocritical that is. But I have a feeling I’m not alone. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe we personally accept the completely valid reasons we have for not attending a game, while simultaneously discounting that others might have their own valid reasons and hoping they’ll drop what they’re doing to make up for our absence. I don’t know. The human mind is a weird thing.

When I’m in the stands like I was yesterday though, I’m having too much fun and not really concerned with much else beyond what’s happening on the field. So maybe the solution is that we all just root. If we’re sitting in front of our TVs, root. If we’re out running errands watching on our phones, root. If we’re in the stadium, root. Screaming about what everyone else should be doing or where they should be doing it from, isn’t going to do anything than take away from our own enjoyment of the games.


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  1. Rob K / Dec 9 2019

    Completely agree about how the team didn’t press. You see many times if a team gets down like that, then they start to take unnecessary chances, and only dig themselves further into the hole. JMU did the opposite and just went about their business. A few other observations:

    1. We are going to have to accept that the slow start by the defense is a feature, not a bug. We saw this way back with St. Francis, and we have seen it virtually every game since then. But the defense gets things together, and then they lay the hammer.

    2. There was a pass from Nooch to Stapleton that bounced in the dirt right before making it to Stapleton. I was actually surprised that they didn’t connect for once. Really speaks to the consistency between them.

    3. Even if Monmouth had scored at the end of the second half, I thought it was likely the game with Atariwa coming back given how much the defense tightened up without him.

    4. Obviously would have liked to see better special teams coverage, but I thought it was good coaching to switch to the high kickoffs to force the fair catch. And also good coaching to knock one deep down the middle to keep the return team honest.

    Great win.

  2. Drake / Dec 9 2019

    On the topic of the offensive line, there were zero sacks allowed on Saturday. If teams can’t get pressure, Nooch is going to find an open man or run it for a big gain like he did Saturday.

    It’s nitpicky I know, but that unsportsmanlike flag on Daka was such bullshit. He had his hands on his hips. He didn’t posture over the player. I think the ref was just pissed someone was celebrating while being up huge. He set a new sack record at JMU, he has the right the celebrate.

  3. ShadyP / Dec 9 2019

    Impressive performance by JMU Saturday afternoon.

    Monmouth got the best possible start they could have hoped for — popped a long TD on the 1st play, followed by a kickoff return TD. Kind of a fluke start which I don’t see happening again. That RB got 93 yards on the first play of the game and wound up with 117 total……and their overall rushing total wound up under 100 yards. That is damn impressive after the 1st play.

    The offense was amazing as they methodically marched up and down the field. Play calling was superb. Whatever you guys are doing keep it up. The offensive line is night and day compared to last year. Coaching and scheme make a huge difference b/c it is the same guys playing. But hats off to the oline they are opening holes in the run game consistently and keeping Qb clean when passing.

    The defense played quite well……I thought Groulx did a great job filling in, in the 1st half. In the 2nd half the defense played lights out. I was personally very happy to see Tutt get that pick 6……that young man came into JMU with a ton of talent, and has battled injuries time and time again and never given up.

    Special teams – blocked punt and back to back blocked FGs, impressive.

    Just keep taking it one game at a time and take care of business.

    I don’t think anyone is shaming fans, merely pointing out the obvious. The attendance was poor at the game period and not sure who sits around you……but everyone to a person around me commented on the poor attendance from non-students to students alike (it was equally poor). I think it would go over better if folks just did not offer the 42 varying excuses for not attending. The timeline and short turnaround is pretty weak……….Folks have known for roughly @ a month JMU would have home playoff games barring something odd……..I don’t think anyone expects a sellout (25K) but not getting the stadium half full is pretty weak and these student athletes have busted their ass all season and quite frankly deserve better support from students and non-students alike.

  4. CJ / Dec 9 2019

    I’ve said all season long that our secondary is our big weakness, and a potential back breaker against elite playoff teams. That being said, I think our secondary handed their business pretty well on Saturday. That one touchdown pass was a well-placed throw, not necessarily the fault of the coverage. However, Monmouth didn’t have a particularly stellar passing arsenal in terms of QB or receivers, either…so there’s that, too.

    So my new concern is our consistent slow starts on defense. We need to play all four quarters of the game! We can’t afford to give away scores. We can manage an early slugfest against Monmouth, they cannot keep up with us. But elite teams (NDSU, Weber, and yes, Northern Iowa) will take those easy head starts and not look back. We are a better team than Northern Iowa and I predict a win on Friday, but do not count those guys out. They are the best team we’ve faced since WVU, and they’re playing inspired football and they are no pushover. They will be throwing haymakers at our defense from their first play from scrimmage, believe that.

    And if anyone is still reading this far I’d like to add that attendance concerns are just one more reason that I advocate us STAYING on the FCS football level. Put the extra money into hiring a decent basketball coach!

  5. JMUDRU / Dec 9 2019

    Great talking to both of you on Saturday! It was definitely noticeable that the attendance was small but I agree that it seemed like our section and the crowd in general was fully engaged.

    I will say this…one of my favorite memories from my Senior year was hanging out with friends and living it up exam-free before the Montana Semi-Final in 2008 which was also a nationally televised Friday night game. The result of that game still stings (I sat in the stands not talking to anyone for about 30 minutes after the final whistle) but damnit what a great experience.

    Here is hoping that plenty of students make those same memories (with a W this time).

  6. dukes4 / Dec 9 2019

    Re attendance- Amen to ShadyP’s comments. Just take half a day and get there. You will be happy you did.

    JMUDRU— As I recall, that 2008 Friday night game was in freezing cold temperatures, was the last Friday before the break (JMU allowed students to stay until Saturday) was JAM PACKED and a blast. ( although smaller stadium) Perhaps the difference was the Montana brand vs Monmouth. (a yawn for some folks)

    Issue this Friday will be the cold rain but that should make it even more exciting. Lack of hotel rooms because of graduation might be a killer also. We said no excuses, see ya’ll there.

  7. Rob / Dec 10 2019

    @JMUDRU Great chatting with you too. Really appreciate you coming over to say hello. Hope to see you at more games in the future.

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