Dec 20 / Todd

2019 JMUSB Semi-Final Preview: Weber St. at JMU

The Basics

Matchup: #3 Weber St. Wildcats (11-3, 7-1 Big Sky) at #2 JMU Dukes (13-1, 8-0 CAA)

Kickoff: 6:30 p.m., Bridgeforth Stadium, Harrisonburg, VA

Weather: Mostly clear, 35 at kickoff. Pretty perfect for December in the Valley with afternoon highs around 40 with plenty of sunshine for the tailgate and should stay above freezing till just about the end of the game. Best of all, it’s supposed to be dry and uncharacteristically almost zero wind so should be just fine, especially with a little something for a hot chocolate or coffee.

Broadcast: ESPNU

Boys in the Desert: JMU -16.5, ML -900, O/U 47

What We Know About Weber

JMU fans certainly know and respect the Wildcats, having survived a game the Dukes maybe should’ve lost at home in the Quarter-final in 2017. That’s the one that ended 31-28 on the infamous Field Goal from Ethan Ratke.

This year Weber and JMU have shared one common opponent in Northern Iowa. Weber also beat a notably then-healthier UNI team 29-17 back in late September. Two of their three losses were tight games on the road against FBS teams (San Diego St. and Nevada) early in the year. Their other loss was a blowout at the hands of Montana – a loss they avenged last week.

With the new home-and-home series the two programs have announced for 2021 and 2022 to follow the second playoff meeting in three years, this has very cool potential to turn into a rare intersectional rivalry at the FCS level.

A Couple More Non-Football Notes on Weber St.

Dame Lillard went to Weber St. and they’ve been a frisky mid-major in hoops for decades.

One thing we learned on the Hero Sports Podcast with Weber’s President this week is that the university is truly an open enrollment institution. And we’re not here to pick on that at all. It’s actually pretty amazing that in the era of Aunt Becky and resume-building middle schoolers there are still public institutions that are truly providing “access” to higher education in a way that long, long ago left our own beloved JMU. We’re not nostalgic for those days and we’re incredibly proud that the JMU of today would never accept two morons like us, but it’s good to see there are still schools out there preparing the population, all of it, to go to work.

How the Wildcats Can Win

Feels like a broken record, but turning the Dukes over, making a play or two on specials, and turning this into lower-scoring, grinding affair has to be the plan. Weber appears to be a better, more skilled version of the UNI team that, for all its offensive ineptitude, did a good job in slowing the Dukes and at least playing a game at a pace to their liking last week. If JMU gets untracked early, it’s harder to see Weber keeping up for four quarters if it’s a true shootout.

How the Dukes Can Win

Don’t get suckered on trick plays and win the special teams battle. If there were no trick plays and no kicking game, we think JMU wins this 9 out of 10 times. But there are, and those are two areas that Weber excels and in which the Dukes have shown themselves vulnerable over the course of the season. The uber-aggressive defense has been suckered before on flea-flickers and halfback passes and we fully expect to see their ilk from the Wildcats. Plus, while the Dukes ultimately had a great day results-wise punting last week, they were a whisker away from UNI blocking multiple kicks. Conversely, Weber won their game over Montana with a blocked punt for a TD. And that’s before we ever mention JMU’s difficulty covering kicks and lack of anyone to go full kamikaze on the coverage teams since Sam Kidd went down mid-season – see for example the Monmouth runback.

But if JMU can hold up in those areas, and Ben can be wise with the football (we admit to having some fear here against the Weber pass rush, but believe in Ben’s growth), the Dukes are simply deeper, more talented, and have the ability to eventually hit a few plays that we’re not sure the Cats can keep up with.

Record Watch

This time of year is all about winning the game, surviving and advancing, etc., and that’s as it should be. Individual records won’t mean much on Sunday if we’re not all scrambling for flights. But there are a few records within reach this week (and notably quite a few more if the Dukes get another game) including:

  •  Season Field Goals – one shy of the record
  •  Percy is 3 TD’s shy of tying the single season mark
  •  Polk needs just 87 yards to break the single-season receiving record (and 3 TD’s for receiving TD’s).
  •  Ratke is just 11 points shy of the all-time scoring mark
  •  Daka’s 16.5 sacks are already a record and he can distance himself from the field. 

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. One of the OG’s for craft beer and this year’s batch is particularly tasty. And really, having a semi-final at home in BFS for only the third time ever is very much worthy of celebration. Hopefully we’ll be celebrating at the end as well.

Official JMUSB Prediction

The Dukes finally get loose! Maybe we’re just full-blown optimists, but Weber is finally a team that even Cignetti seems unlikely to hold anything back against. And while the Wildcats seem capable of a few things themselves, we think this is the week we see a fully operational battle station in action from the Dukes.

JMU 38, Weber St. 17

Let’s hope they’re so worried about Riley after his breakout game against them in ’17 that they forget about Polk and co.

2 Comments

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  1. Rob K / Dec 20 2019

    The come from behind victory over Weber two years ago is a top 10 JMU victory for me. And through the first three quarters of that game, it was a top 10 most frustrating game. There were a lot of mistakes and defensive lapses before things started really coming together. If we can minimize those mistakes and not turn the ball over, I’m really optimistic. We have played teams like Weber before this season – great defenses combined with very good run games and competent (but not elite) QBs. And we have done very well against all of them. If we play like we did with Monmouth or the first quarter from last week, then I think we will cover the spread. Go Dukes!

  2. CJ / Dec 20 2019

    A few things in our favor…

    I think we’re better off facing Weber than we would have been against Montana. Montana has a stronger passing attack that could potentially exploit our secondary. Weber is still good, however, and I expect them to take more than a couple shots downfield — its a proven way to score on the Dukes.

    We’re healthier than Weber, which is always a major factor 14 games into the season. Weber’s last couple of games have also been grinders, so they may be even more busted up than publicly acknowledged. I’m hoping DiNucci is okay after that little scare next week, having him on his game will be a backbreaker for Weber.

    Weber has to travel. This could also play a role. Our close call against Stony Brook earlier this season could have been due in some measure to the fact that we were on our third away game.

    Weber has some distracting head coaching rumors going around. Not sure exactly how this affects player performance but it certainly didn’t seem like it helped us last year with Mike Houston at Colgate.

    Nevertheless, Weber won’t be a pushover. They truly believe they can win this game and they are hungry to make it the championship. Their program has been on an upward trend for years and they feel they deserve to be in the championship. I hope the scare they gave us 2 years ago will be sufficient motivation not to take these guys lightly.

    JMU seems to be peaking at the right time, similar to how we did in 2004. On the other side, NDSU is showing some uncharacteristic fatigue and imperfection. I still think they’ll make it to Frisco, but Montana State has the biggest upset chances since JMU in 2016 — the Bison have their hands fuller than we do this week. Not trying to get ahead of ourselves, but the stars may be aligning well for the Dukes.

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