Dec 17 / Todd

2021 FCS Semi-Final Preview: JMU at NDSU

Wouldn’t want this any other way! The old nemesis one more time. We sports-hate ’em for lots of reasons. A fanbase largely consisting of sixty-year old, entirely white upper midwesterners with Canadian accents condescending to us about the football and claiming that Harrisonburg, in Rockingham County and the Valley of all places, is somehow full of coastal elites. Breastaurant-worshipping troglodytes who are tighter with tips than the bikinis on the bartenders gaslighting all of us that somehow we’re the fanbase with issues. But the hard truth of the matter is this: we hate ’em cause we’ve lost three painful times in the playoffs, including twice in Frisco, and for all the pride we have in our Dukes, we can’t really puff our chests out and be the worst versions of ourselves either when taking on the Bison.

The Basics

Matchup: #3 JMU Dukes (12-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) at #2 North Dakota St. Bison (12-1, 7-1 MVFC)

Kickoff: 9:15 p.m. EST. FRIDAY December 17, 2021, Fargodome, Fargo, ND

Weather: N/A

Broadcast: ESPN2


How We Got Here

The Dukes received the #3 national seed in the FCS playoffs and beat the snot out of Southeastern Louisiana and Montana the last two weeks.

The Bison received the #2 seed and then took advantage of their traditional soft-assed path to the semis with wins over Southern Illinois and an overmatched East Tennessee State team.

How NDSU Can Win

Win big in time of possession and really pressure Cole. Defensively, the formula is simple for NDSU. They have to pressure Cole Johnson enough to change the game. Cole has shown a mature ability to not force things and sometimes that means taking a sack. That’s ok two or three times and hasn’t stopped him and the offense from coming back for big plays later. But the only way to stop the Dukes from eventually breaking a few big ones is to keep that pressure up consistently for 60 minutes. This group of JMU receivers in a dome is not something even the venerated Bison can hold down on the back end alone without such pressure so this will really be the whole game on that side of the ball.

Offensively, the Bison need to grind clock in their traditional way and do just enough. NDSU’s offense, particularly if their one true speedster WR Christian Watson cannot play or is limited by a bum hamstring, does not have a Trey Lance type threat this year. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try to do what they do. And holding onto the ball to limit JMU’s offensive opportunities might be as important as actually trying to light up the scoreboard. NDSU’s most underrated strength through their entire decade-long run has been the way their grinding, clock-killing style takes away even the chance for another high-flying team’s offense to get in rhythm.

How JMU Can Win

Don’t get out-gimmicked and make more big plays. On defense, there are two keys this week. The obvious one is holding up on the line for 60 minutes. JMU has been incredibly tough to run on consistently this year thanks to Mike Greene and company wrecking things. But NDSU’s run game, and commitment to that run game, are the strongest the Dukes have seen all year and JMU will have to prove they can hold the line for all four quarters. If they do, it will be interesting to see what the Bison really have in the passing game. QB Cam Miller is solid, but he’s just not on the level of his Jensen/Wentz/Stick/Lance predecessors yet. Another element of this, like last week, is trying to force NDSU into 3rd and 4 or more. If the Bison grind to a bunch of 3rd and 1’s, things get a whole lot tougher in this regard.

But just as important, JMU has consistently been out-gimmicked/out-schemed by NDSU the last two matchups. The fake FG in ’19, the wide-open throwback in ’17, being ready for JMU’s fourth down goal line call in ’19. JMU needs to be ready all game. And this includes the almost certain pass coming from wildcat QB2 Quincy Patterson (VT transfer/bum).

On offense, JMU just has to stay focused no matter what happens and trust – as they did last week – that the time will come for big plays. Not one team has truly kept the Dukes from moving the ball and hitting a few this year and there’s no reason to think this will be any different if the offense can just hang in there and continue to avoid the big mistakes. Eventually, Cole will have time and JMU’s athletes will be flying around open in the dome. Finally, while we’d love to see at least one true trick from JMU at some point (thinking that Thornton jet sweep is primed), we don’t want to see anything too gimmicky the way the Dukes ended up for stretches of the ’19 game with the Gage package and the final play.

And specials need to be special of course! #LetHarryRun

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Who are we kidding? It’s a 9:15 kickoff and we’re all drinking bourbon, preferably Angel’s Envy. Hopefully followed by a celebratory scotch after midnight, preferably Ardbeg of course!

Official JMUSB Prediction

This is the second of five games against NDSU where we feel confident saying the Dukes are narrowly better and if both teams play their best, JMU wins. In ’17 we felt that way and turned out to be painfully wrong for a lot of reasons. In ’16 we didn’t feel that way, but turned out wrong in the best of ways! So really we don’t know anything in a series where every game has been tight (even the forgotten ’11 trip up there where an overmatched Justin Thorpe-led Dukes squad hung in gamely for a long time). But this matchup is also long overdue for a boat-race by the more talented team. Dukes roll! JMU 31, NDSU 16.


leave a comment
  1. zac / Dec 17 2021

    Dukes 38
    Bison 24

    2 garbage time Tds make this blowout look respectable.

  2. Mighty Oz / Dec 17 2021

    You nailed it again. Great analysis and writing. I predicted JMU 31, NDSU 17 before reading your prediction. Thanks!

  3. Dr You / Dec 17 2021

    Outstanding take as always, especially the “beer” of the week selection. I’ll be watching at my fav bar and as a show of solidarity will switch to Angel Envy from my usual Makers. And I really like that Ardbeg call (Islay FTW…)

    Gonna be a close one, but the Dukes will prevail:
    JMU 24
    NDSU 17


  4. Robert K / Dec 17 2021

    Let’s do this! You point out in your summary, but one of the biggest differences in our two losses in Frisco were garbage or trick or broken plays by the Bison. If the teams played straight up, or if we managed to stop the fake FG and stop Lance on that 3rd and 28 or whatever, I think we win both Frisco games. We stop those kinds of plays and we take care of the ball, we win.

    Dukes 30 (three Ratke FGs putting him towards the top of career points scored)
    Bison 17

  5. CJ / Dec 17 2021

    Can we just savor this for a moment? Because it doesn’t get much better than this. The two titans of their league, playing to go to the national championship. It’s like Ali vs Frazier, or Tyson vs Holyfield. I don’t expect we’ll see another JMU football matchup like this in any of our lifetimes.

    And by the way, after this, Frisco is just a formality. No team on the other side of the bracket can match these two teams. The winner of this game will be the national champion.

    Make no mistake, NDSU is good. And home field advantage is a HUGE factor. NDSU is also talented and very physical, but what really makes them successful is that they are an extremely well coached team. If NDSU wins, it will probably be due to better coaching.

    However…a few things have me feeling pretty good about this game. And in total concurrence with that surprisingly decisive 31-16 prediction by Todd.

    First off, NDSU is not the same team it was back in September, and neither is JMU. NDSU is a little more beaten up, but JMU is actually playing its best football right now, and has looked good against the FCS elite. They’re peaking at the right time. I watched NDSU’s game against ETSU, and while the Bison won handily on the scoreboard, it was a very physical game and they had some injuries. I suspect they aren’t nearly as healthy as JMU, who had a much less physically demanding game last week,

    Secondly, while NDSU is a very well coached and physical team, our athletes are superior. It was evident against SELA and Montana. Man for man, JMU is the better team. Unfortunately, the more talented team doesn’t always win…that’s where coaching makes the difference. But if we play like we’ve played the last two weeks, we will prevail.

    Third, NDSU is not quite as invincible as they’ve been in years past. They are very beatable, and JMU is the team that is has the skills to do that.

    Biggest wild card for me is that Fargodome factor. If this was at Bridgeforth I’d feel a lot better.

    Hope we can do this one more time in January.

  6. CJ / Dec 17 2021

    To Robert’s point about Frisco, Trey Lance was a game changer in that game. Along with better coaching, Lance made the difference in that game.

    NDSU doesn’t have a game changing athlete this time. Not even Christian Watson (who isn’t 100 percent anyway) is on the same level that Lance was on.

  7. maddukes98 / Dec 17 2021

    Agreed – the eye test doesn’t seem to me show that NDSU is quite at the same elite status as in previous years. Still very good, just not elite.

    Dukes – 33
    Buffalo Chips – 27

  8. Hart / Dec 17 2021

    Rob & Todd are blogging with an edge. Lots of inflammatory descriptions, some potty mouth language, and some truth. I like it.
    Should be a great game with both of these teams a notch below where they were in 2019. Still the best 2 teams in FCS, but the gap has closed in the super senior year.

    That home field advantage in the ultra loud small dome is a game changer and the Dukes will have to be significantly better to overcome it. The Bison certainly get a little cushion for error having their impressive12th man. Hopefully, the Dukes have far fewer false starts tonight than 5 years ago. I think it was 5? which usually results in a loss, but not that night. JMU was significantly better and won by 10 even with the handicap.

    Stop the run at all costs and win the game. 7 in the box, 8 in the box, 11 in the box, 15 in the box if we need to cheat. Just stop the run and make them try to win left handed.

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