JMUSB Playoff Game Preview #3: JMU vs. NDSU
#4 JMU Dukes (12-1) at #1 North Dakota State Bison (12-1), 7 p.m. Friday
Coverage: ESPN2, which is great because the Dukes are undefeated on the Deuce this year. And as we mentioned last week, every bar in the country will accidentally have this game on.
Weather: It’s a dome (of sorts), but it’s going to be cold outside. Really cold.
What’s at Stake: A spot in the Big One down in Frisco for the whole damn enchilada against the winner of Saturday’s game between Youngstown State and Eastern Washington
Fargo, North Dakota, the Capital of FCS Football
This game will be in Fargo, North Dakota. A locale that until just recently, was known simply as the place that people settle when they flee the ethnic diversity, hot climate, and spicy cuisine of South Dakota. But that has all changed. For years the center of gravity for FCS football was somewhere on the East Coast. Sure, there was Montana, but the CAA and SoCon were the definitive big boys for a long while. However, things have shifted westward. And they’ve done so because of NDSU and its impressive string of 5 straight titles. Which means Fargo is pretty much the center of the FCS universe until someone knocks off the Bison. Based on our limited social media interaction with Bison fans this week, they seem like a good bunch. You’ll probably find creeps if you look real hard (same goes for JMU fans btw), but overall it seems like a passionate and confident (can you blame them?) fanbase that will be awfully welcoming to Dukes fans in Fargo.
A Rematch…Of Sorts
This is only the second meeting between JMU and NDSU. The first meeting took place way back in the 2011 playoffs. In that game, the Bison held serve at home and defeated JMU by the score of 26-14 on the lovingly retro astroturf of the Fargodome. It was hard fought game that ultimately came down to a few plays. NDSU made enough (D.J. McNorton’s 60 yard TD scamper comes to mind). JMU didn’t. Ballgame.
Of course even the most die hard JMU fan would need to admit that the 2011 JMU Dukes were just sorta decent. They went into that game as clear underdogs, played tough, and just lost. It wasn’t a championship contender of a team. A lot has changed since that game. JMU’s most successful coach was fired. He was replaced by a guy who lit a spark and added a much needed dose of excitement to the program, but whose core coaching abilities were limited. Then he moved on to
greener pastures Texas State. He was ultimately replaced by Mike Houston, a much better coach, who has the Dukes here today.
Things have changed for NDSU as well. For one thing, they finally got rid of the astroturf and have real field turf now. For another, they’ve won 5 straight National Championships and established themselves as a dynasty. So there’s that.
North Dakota State is Unbeatable
No. They’re not. NDSU is very, very good. You don’t win 5 straight championships by accident. The Bison are the top dog and deserve every bit of respect and admiration that comes their way. But folks talk about them as if they invented the game of football and win with a combination of sheer will and mystical powers. That’s got to stop.
Again, NDSU is a damn fine football team. But so is JMU. JMU is in the odd position of winning games so decisively, that folks (including JMU fans) decide the other teams are just bad, instead of maybe realizing that JMU just makes them look that way. Given that the Bison are the champs and the game is being played in the thunderously loud Fargodome, it makes sense that JMU is an underdog though. But the Dukes ain’t scared and fans shouldn’t be either. This is a match-up of two great teams who are peaking at the right time.
How NDSU Can Win
Teams that make it this far, by and large, have formed a real identity. There’s no need to experiment or radically change things up. Sure, good coaches will add wrinkles to the gameplan to gain an advantage, but no team reinvents itself in the semifinals. NDSU knows what got it here and knows what it’s going to take to win. They’re going to try to control the clock, play physical defense, and slowly wear JMU out when they have the ball. They’ve got plenty of dynamic skilled players, so don’t think it’s going to be three yards and a cloud of dust. It’s not. But the Bison offense is more intent on just pounding the opposition repeatedly, until it finally snaps, loses its will to fight anymore, and succumbs to its fate. It’s a lot like a North Dakota winter in that regard.
How JMU Can Win
Like NDSU, JMU just needs to stick to what got them here. JMU has talented skill players for days, but that doesn’t mean the Dukes aren’t physical. They are. We’ve witnessed them use a combination of physicality and raw talent to smoke teams all season.
The NDSU defense is legit, but some argue that its one relative weakness is secondary play. So if JMU can win the physical battle at the line and get Abdullah and Sharp moving the chains, there will be opportunities for Schor to feed Ravenel, Kloosterman, Taylor, and the boys. And on defense, they shouldn’t change a thing. Seriously. We have zero idea what got into the D at halftime of the Richmond game, but it’s been a different unit since then. If they keep playing aggressive and physical, there’s no reason they can’t hold NDSU in check.
Obviously, playing in the extremely loud Fargodome presents an additional challenge. But it’s nothing JMU can’t overcome. By deciding to have its hype video played pregame, JMU almost seems to be ready to feed off the crowd. And let’s be honest, if Justin Thorpe handled the noise, we’re confident Bryan Schor can remain focused.
It’s obvious who the standout players are for both teams. The stars’ abilities to make plays will go a long way to deciding the outcome of this game. But with both teams so intent on eliminating their opponent’s strengths, teams always need big performances from unexpected places in big games like this. Sometimes it’s guys who are simply in the right place at the right time, who make a key play. Other times, it’s players who are called to play a larger role than usual. The Dukes have plenty of guys with the talent to make a difference tomorrow. We don’t know who will step up, but two guys to really keep an eye on this week are Dimitri Holloway and maybe even Ish Hyman. And we’re pretty high on Trai Sharp in place of Cardon Johnson as well.
JMUSB Beer of the Week
It’s a cold one and this is a night game, so it’s the perfect time for something dark and rich. Let’s go with Dark Hollow from Blue Mountain Brewery. This Virginia brew is a bourbon barrel aged stout full of caramel and vanilla flavor. And at 10% ABV it will keep you nice and toasty.
Official JMUSB Prediction
We ain’t scared. Schor and the boys feed off the noise, put up some points, the D gets the job done, and the Dukes dethrone the king. JMU 35 – NDSU 24.