Dec 15 / Rob

JMUSB Playoff Game Preview #3: JMU vs. NDSU

schor-runningThe Basics

#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.

Unsung Heroes

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.

9 Comments

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  1. Drake / Dec 15 2016

    There are a lot of great things in this post. First, I just want to say, that no matter what happens we need to look at a lot of the bright spots we have for the future. Schor is back next year and we know the freshman QB looks like he’s going to be really good when we need him. Trai Sharpe is exciting as well.

    Like you guys mentioned, our D is really stepping it up. I read earlier in the season how the coaches thought that it would take them a while to adjust to Trott’s system but once they did, turnovers would skyrocket. They called it. Other than the Richmond game, the other games never seemed as close or like a shootout. Richmond had a really good season (minus last week) and we shouldn’t underestimate how big that game was. I think we are just too afraid to admit how good this team is compared to past teams. Easily, these guys are the best since 2008 and for sure the most exciting to watch. I was telling my wife that deep down, JMU will probably lose a close one. I think this is me just looking at 5 time champs and giving in. But they have a chance to do something really special and get national attention, not to mention recruiting juice. Let’s take the Bison (great fans, btw) to the woodchipper (Fargo anyone?) and snap the streak!

  2. Chris / Dec 16 2016

    “Look upon my work ye mighty, and despair”

  3. ND / Dec 16 2016

    Bison fan here. Great post. JMU has an awesome group of fans to where no matter what happens, I just hope the AD’s talk about a home and home contract for the future. A trip out to JMU would be a blast and JMU fans could see Fargo when it isn’t zero.

  4. OBXDuke1983 / Dec 16 2016

    Hi AD. A home and home would be amazing for our schools, our fan bases, and FCS football. Looking from tonight and many more match ups to come.

  5. NDtoo / Dec 16 2016

    Well done satire at the top and good breakdown.

    Good luck gents. We hope our D plays like last week to lock you down… but i have a feeling it closes out within a score. Just hope it’s our way!

  6. 07Duke / Dec 16 2016

    Two great teams go head-to-head tonight and I could not be more excited for the game! It’s going to be a good one. Go DUKES! #LockTheDamnGates

  7. 2004 Duke / Dec 16 2016

    Let’s face it, for both teams this is the de-facto National Championship game.

    Keys to the game:

    Dukes- Defensive front 7 MUST shut down the run and force NDSU into an air-it-out shootout.

    Bison- Pound the rock with long clock-eating drives to wear out JMU’s defense and throw off JMU’s offensive rhythm.

    The best thing that can happen to JMU is to start fast (like last week). When you punch them in the mouth in the very first round, it stuns the crowd and makes the other team get frustrated early.

  8. Kevin B / Dec 16 2016

    Great analysis of the game! I can’t say I agree with the outcome you’re predicting, but I expect a bloody shootout that will be a Hell of a lot of fun to watch.

  9. Uncle Ron / Dec 16 2016

    Fantastic work as usual. Can’t wait for tonight.

    By pure coincidence, Todd and I kicked off last week’s tailgate with some Dark Hollow. It is delicious, but likely contributed to me getting a little too toasty that night. Looking forward to watching this one on the deuce from the warm comforts of home.

    Go Dukes!

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