Oct 24 / Rob

Dukes Knock Off Delaware in Newark

JMU went on the road and defeated Delaware by the score of 22-10. It was a banner day for both the Dukes defense and Ethan Ratke. The senior kicker was perfect, making all 5 of his field goal attempts. The defense took advantage of yet another backup QB, limiting Delaware to only 109 total yards. If you’re scoring at home, that’s not a lot of yards. Despite the fantastic effort from the defense, the Dukes actually trailed at halftime and had to comeback to win. The offense was pedestrian at best, but did enough to get JMU over the hump. If anyone tries to tell you it was a beautiful game, they’re lying. But it was another win. And we shouldn’t overlook that. Anyway, here are some quick thoughts on the game.

Red Zone Issues

Yes, the D smothered Delaware. And yes, Ratke was terrific. But all anyone is talking about is the struggling JMU offense. And that conversation probably starts with the red zone struggles. For the second week in a row, JMU failed to score a touchdown on any of its trips to the red zone. The Dukes are fortunate to have a kicker who assured that they still walked away with points, but it’s fair to worry that these struggles could eventually cost JMU.

JMU Twitter has all sorts of theories about why the Dukes offense falls apart in the red zone. Depending on who you pay attention to, it’s either the play calling, or the offensive line, or the quarterback. In reality, it’s probably a combination of all three. And it’s not restricted to just the red zone. The offense has been trending the wrong direction for weeks now. It’s not being overly negative to admit it. JMU averaged 3.9 yards per play in this game. Credit to Delaware’s defense for an inspired effort, but 3.9 yards per play isn’t good enough for a team that wants to make a deep playoff run.

JMU has an inexperienced offensive line. And it appears that they lost JT Timming for the foreseeable future after he was carted off in the second half. You could argue that for brief stretches, the line play was actually better after Timming went out, as it finally opened some lanes for the running backs. But overall the unit has room for improvement.

With the line still maturing, logic would dictate that you play to its strengths. Or at least try to scheme around its weaknesses. To my naive eye, it looks like the line has a lot of difficulty opening up holes in between the tackles. But JMU stubbornly refuses to abandon the inside running game. On one hand, you’ve got admire their determination to establish an inside power running game. On the other hand, we’re six weeks into the season and it might be time to try something different.

The passing attack also had a pretty tough day. We’ve all seen Cole Johnson at his highest and know that the kid has the ability to get it done. We’re not in his head, but his play seems to elevate when he’s playing with confidence and able to get into a rhythm. For the second week in a row, he and the Dukes were forced to play in some nasty weather conditions, which probably were a factor. However, it sure would have been nice if the coaches schemed up some stuff other than go routes and passes to the flat to get Cole going. The tight ends and running backs could present the types of routes and targets needed to get this offense back on track. Here’s to hoping we see more of each in the passing game going forward.

A Win is a Win

JMU fans are rightfully concerned about the offense, but let’s not discount the win. This had trap game written all over it with the massive off the field distraction courtesy of the Sun Belt news. It was arguably as big, or bigger, of a distraction since Mike Houston’s fake tears and “unscripted” comments about a Charlotte job offer that helped set things in motion for the disaster at Colgate. Coach Cignetti and his staff somehow managed to avoid a similar outcome. They deserve a lot of credit for that.

They say ugly wins are still wins. That’s true. JMU absolutely has things to fix at this point in the season. But the Dukes are 6-1 and very much in the running for a playoff seed. As anxious as I am for the offense to find its footing, I do feel better about this team than I did about last Spring’s team in the regular season. JMU isn’t blowing the doors off anyone or racking up style points. But they’re winning. A common refrain we heard yesterday was that “survive and advance” counts in the playoffs, but not in the regular season. We reject that. It’s the same thing. Teams just need to keep winning. And save the slip-up against Villanova, the Dukes keep winning. Let’s not forget that.


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  1. Rob K / Oct 24 2021

    Good summary. In general, I thought the Dukes did the little things well in the first half – with the one exception of getting into the end zone. We won the field position game, which carried over into the second half and ultimately resulted in a lot of points. Execution did not carry into the second half, particularly with the completions.

    The injuries were to positions that we could not really afford. Timming was considered our best OL after Fornadel. But also Que Reid went down as well, although I’m hopeful that his injury is not that bad given they were not talking about it after the game.

    One slight criticism, I know what we are going to do on 4th and short. It’s a quick snap with a run up the middle. That play finally failed this game. We may want to try something different going forward.

    Finally, just to be a broken record, but Ratke is special. We haven’t had anybody like him since I’ve been at JMU. 5 for 5? Come on.

  2. CJ / Oct 26 2021

    With the imminent move to the Sun Belt, this season’s urgency just got a whole lot more real. When we move to FBS, all of us can forget about seeing another national championship football team ever again in any of our lifetimes.

    One reason I love being a JMU football fan is because every season is a potential championship run. We have high standards for our team, and rightfully so. But it makes it fun from the standpoint of being a fan.

    But there’s two sides to the FBS-FCS argument. JMU currently has the highest budget in all of FCS football (you can fact check me on this but I’m pretty sure its true). And I think our budget even eclipses a lot of Sun Belt football programs. So we’re basically already spending FBS money on an FCS program.

    I’d also like to point out that other FCS schools, like North Dakota State, manage to assemble championship programs on half the budget that we spend. I think there’s probably a lesson to be learned there.

    But the bottom line is that it makes fiscal sense to move to FBS. I’m just worried that, as a fan, I’ll probably need to start getting used to a run of 2 or 3 win seasons. No more squeaking by New Hampshires or Elons when you’re in the Sun Belt.

    On another note, I think it’s good for our basketball program. Sun Belt is a mediocre basketball league, but the CAA sure ain’t doing much for our program either, so I think a change can be good for that program.

    Okay, you can talk amongst yourselves now.

  3. Rob K / Oct 26 2021

    CJ – completely agree. It’s rather incredible to see the comments on social media about how people think JMU is going to perform after the move. People are pointing to Cincinnati this year, to suggest that we could be ranked #2 in the country. I’m sorry, but the odds suggest otherwise. Much more likely is UVA’s experience – large numbers of disappointing seasons with occasional bursts of bowl appearances. We will see a decline in attendance at our home games – just like ODU did after Heinicke graduated. Everybody is going to blame the coaches, and the AD, and the program generally. But the real reason is this decision right now. The last 5-6 years were the glory years of JMU football. It was a really fun ride, but it’s about to be over.

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