Apr 23 / Todd

Official JMUSB Playoff Preview Round of 16: VMI @ JMU

And suddenly all the nonsense falls away. The potential insanity of a spring season, transfer portals, basically everything in the world for 2020-21. And now it’s just the playoffs! In four short weeks, the sun could be shining on a Dukes team in Frisco. In three weeks, the Bison themselves could be at Bridgeforth. Next week, a chance to start shutting up the MVFC could be on the line. But none of that matters because a very old rival comes to town for the first time in many years this week with all of that at stake.

James Madison quarterback Cole Johnson throws during the Dukes' win over Richmond on Saturday in Harrisonburg.
Still love those gold lids

The Basics

Matchup: #11 Virginia Military Institute Keydets (6-1, 6-1 SoCon) at #3 JMU Dukes (5-0, 3-0 CAA)

Kickoff: 2:00 p.m. EDT. Saturday April 24, 2021, Bridgeforth Stadium, Rocktown, VA

Weather: Cloudy with occasional rain in the afternoon. High 59F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 90%. Rainfall around a quarter of an inch.

Broadcast: ESPN3

Boys in the Desert: All oddsmakers agree that JMU should be a heavy favorite over VMI – either 14 or 14.5-point favorites (according to Sports Betting Dime). But when it comes to betting the moneyline (i.e. JMU to win by any margin), the odds vary drastically. JMU is as short as -800 and as long as -560. That means bettors would have to risk 42.8% more at certain sportsbooks to obtain the same return.

How VMI Can Win

Be more than happy to be here and force JMU to outscore them. First and foremost, the Keydets need to lock in the game itself and make sure they aren’t merely celebrating so many firsts in this special spring season for the boys from Lexington. First FCS playoff appearance, first trip to new Bridgeforth, first SoCon title in 40 years, first win over El Cid in longer than they’d like to admit. All of that was nice last week and will be even nicer over scotch this summer, but if they want to keep achieving firsts, they need to be focused on a JMU team that is starting to find it’s fully operational form after lots of fits and starts this spring.

And make no mistake, a 6-1 SoCon champ can beat JMU. But VMI probably can’t do it in a 16-10 grinder. If they’re going to win, VMI needs to force JMU to play their way. They need a game with lots of possessions, lots of plays run, and lots of opportunities to trick the Dukes’ defense and bust big plays. The headline-drawing matchup all of us fans are looking forward to is VMI’s Air Raid offense, with all its schematic creativity and plethora of weapons led by 6’4″ WR Jakub Harres, against JMU’s vaunted defense led by CAA Defensive Player of the Year Mike Greene. But in reality, that matchup could be a wash with VMI getting theirs so to speak while also giving the Dukes a few chances for gamechanging plays. This game is more likely to come down to the other side of the ball for both teams. Put simply, unless VMI can get off to a blisteringly fast start with a multi-score lead, then their defense is going to have to show they can hold up to JMU’s bruising running game and its constant attempt to grind teams into dust by later in the game. The Keydet defense cannot allow 2 or 3 long drives that keep their O off the field.

How JMU Can Win

Don’t believe the hype, DO NOT turn the ball over, and play with the same level of gameplanning, execution, and ruthlessness they have against William & Mary and Richmond the last month. First, the Dukes need to throw out all past conceptions of VMI as a “lesser” FCS team. Any 6-1 SoCon team, regardless of recent history or the color of the uniform, is capable of winning at this stage and needs to be taken seriously.

Second, JMU needs to control the ball, the tempo, and the clock. VMI’s AirRaid can only score when it’s on the field, so not turning it over and giving them extra possessions is crucial. If JMU can produce a couple of long drives, they will have a chance to let the big O-Line lean on VMI later in the day. With the inconsistency (we hope it’s getting better) the Dukes have had in the passing game this year, this is not the team to fall behind by multiple scores against.

And finally, it all sounds so simple on paper, but if both teams play well, the Dukes probably win this by 10. So just do your job ruthlessly and see where things end up.

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Woodstock Brewhouse Tower Stout – We normally break out the cold/dark/perfect stouts and such for the brutal Valley-in-December playoff games. We’re hopeful this game – with potential cold-ish rain – will be the only game worthy of such a selection the next three weeks. This one is nitro-brewed so it’s smooth and of course is named for one of the Commonwealth’s best gravel climbs up Woodstock Tower Rd. to the Woodstock fire tower – the cyclists know this one for sure!

Official JMUSB Prediction

This could be a fun one. We’re guessing this one is competitive as hell and we all need reminding that we should treat VMI more as a 6-1 SoCon Champ (think how we’d view this game if it was 6-1 Furman or Wofford) instead of “just VMI.” But the Dukes are finally figuring out the competition aspect of this wild Spring Season and they’re looking like the talent-laden squad we’ve all come to expect.

JMU 31, VMI 17

Apr 23 / jmusport

Guest Post: The Heart of JMU

Andrea Clay is the parent of 2 Dukes (Class of 2018 and 2020). When she’s not rooting, she’s a nonprofit fundraiser living in northern Virginia with her husband and two mischievous dogs. Here’s her guest post, which is probably the most touching thing we’ve ever had on the blog.

When JMU’s spring football season started, I told myself to just enjoy the ride. Wins didn’t matter—what mattered was after 14 long, strange months I would get to root for the Dukes again. Watching the first three games of the season, I mostly kept that perspective (the first half of the Elon game notwithstanding). It was great to see the team on the field despite uncertainty about who should be QB1, how the O-line was going to perform without newly-injured Liam Fornadel and how many games we could play while COVID was still a real threat.

And then something happened…I got the call that everyone dreads. One of my brothers had a massive stroke and I needed to fly across the country to be with him. Suddenly football was more and less important all at the same time. The day of the W&M game, I was able to catch a bit of the game while my brother was resting. It was nice to have a brief respite from the reality of my brother’s situation which was extremely serious. The hospital has a very distinct smell and rhythm that feels abnormal the minute you arrive. Watching the game and discussing it in our family group text gave me a few minutes of normal

Then things got complicated. JMU’s season hung in the balance as did my brother’s precarious health. There was no football to distract me (although I do enjoy other JMU sports—especially baseball and softball!). Each week I hoped to hear the team would be able to take the field but understood there are things bigger than sports. My brother had good days and bad days but he was finally stable enough for me to fly home at least for a few weeks.

My days consisted of working a full day and then spending an hour or two trying to coordinate my brother’s care. There was an endless stream of paperwork to complete along with researching facilities that might offer him the best chance to recover. Last week, we were close to finalizing a long-term care plan for my brother AND the Spiders finally agreed to play JMU.

Friday morning started like normal except for the first time in months, my husband and I were planning our trip to Harrisonburg for the game. Then I received a call that my brother had suffered another stroke and was heading back to the hospital. The rest of the day was spent hearing somewhat conflicting reports on what his prognosis was but everyone was clear I didn’t need to head back to Arizona immediately. So I booked a flight for early Sunday morning so I could attend the game like planned.

It was a glorious sunny day in Harrisonburg. The sky is so blue in the Valley this time of year. As we walked to the stadium, everything felt weirdly normal. We found our seats and on cue, I got teary eyed when the current JMU video extolling everything that makes JMU special was shown on the big screen. Then my phone rang with an update on my brother. Things had taken a very serious turn and I frantically tried to see if I could get to Arizona any sooner. It was clear very quickly that my Sunday morning flight was my best option. So I tried to just focus on the game knowing this would be my last bit of normal for quite some time.

While the Dukes got off to a fast start, it took me a few minutes to really get into the game. But then something happened. I took a couple of deep breaths and tried to just focus on the moment in front of me. Ethan Ratke kicked his CAA-record field goal and we closed the first quarter up by 10. The defense played well and after trading field goals, we headed into the fourth quarter. By this time, I had spoken with the doctor in charge of my brother’s care so ensure our family was united in the decisions that had to be made. He didn’t pull any punches in telling us what the outcome was going to be and we all appreciated his honest compassion as he spoke with us. 

It’s now late in the fourth quarter and the Dukes were deep in Richmond territory with 1:00 to go. My husband asked me if I thought we’d try to score and I said yes. I said we have something to prove to the selection committee and we should get more points on the board. (Foreshadowing perhaps?) Instead the Dukes took a knee and the game ended with another key victory over the Spiders. 

The drive back to northern Virginia is a bit of a blur but it was great to have three hours when my biggest care in the world was whether Cole Johnson should really be running the ball that much and what was happening in the Fargodome. And that’s the beauty of sports. Sports can transport you from your reality for a few hours into something special. Something different. That is especially true at JMU. There’s something about being in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley that gets into your DNA and it’s like no other place. If this were the plot of a classic sports movie, the ending would have us winning it all in Frisco next month. That would be great. But for me the ending isn’t the point this season. The point is JMU football was around when I needed it most. Go Dukes!

Apr 21 / Rob

Prediction Contest: JMU vs. VMI

All the talk about seeds and autobids is behind us. It’s time to look ahead to JMU’s first round playoff matchup with VMI. The Dukes welcome the Keydets to Bridgeforth this Saturday and we want to know how you think it will play out. Leave a comment below with your prediction for the game. The person who comes closest to nailing it (winner & score) will get to write a guest post. That’s it. Go Dukes!

Apr 18 / Rob

JMU Beats RU and Gets 3 Seed

Coach Cignetti and the Dukes took care of business and soundly defeated Richmond by the score of 23-6. While JMU has become accustomed to much larger margins of victory over the Ticks recently, this one was never in doubt. The Dukes D completely shut down Richmond’s offense. And the offense jumped out to an early lead, before grinding it out in the second half to secure the victory. The win capped an undefeated spring regular season for the #1 team in the land. The reward was a #3 overall seed for the playoffs. Alrighty then.

First up, let’s appreciate this win. JMU does not have the sort of “light it up” offense of recent years. What it has is a unit that limits mistakes, takes care of the ball, and ultimately wears the opposition down. JMU under Cignetti probably isn’t going to run up the score or rack up 70+ point wins like it did under Houston. Yesterday was a good example of that. The Dukes could have taken some bigger strikes or even tried to punch it late. But they didn’t. They stuck with what was working, took what RU gave them, and walked away with a dominant win.

Likewise, Cole Johnson is probably never going to reach the heights of some recent JMU QBs. But let’s give the guy some credit. Since assuming the starting role after temporarily losing his spot, he’s played with much more confidence. He’s making better reads and seems way more decisive. Sure, he’s not going to be a Payton Award Winner, but when he plays like he has the past two games, JMU can beat any team it faces.

And we suppose we should say something about the defense. It’s just dominant. Fans bemoan the fact that the pass rush isn’t near last year’s level, but JMU lost a couple of its most effective pass rushers ever. As a unit, this defense is getting the job done. Much of the social media chatter during the RU game was about how Richmond’s Joe Mancuso was a much better throwing QB than anyone expected. We agree. The kid looked capable and he possesses a good arm. JMU held him to 125 yards and 9 completions in 24 attempts. That’s an impressive showing by the D. Again.

As a reward for its dominance, JMU earned the third overall seed for the playoffs. In case you weren’t paying attention, JMU was the #1 overall seed when the committee released its preview rankings a few weeks ago. Then following a couple of impressive wins, JMU fell two slots to third. Predictably, that has many JMU screaming mad.

There’s a legitimate argument for South Dakota State and Sam Houston to be deserving of the top two seeds. But it’s harder to make one, when the committee releases the ridiculous (and utterly worthless) preview rankings with JMU on top. Just don’t bother. It servers no purpose. If all this flip-flop does is get JMU playing with a chip on its shoulder next week in its opening game against VMI, then maybe do release them actually.

Finally, the committee awarding four of the six at-large bids to teams from the Missouri Valley Conference is flat our ridiculous. It’s a good league, but any argument relying on “good” losses is flawed from the start. This year more than any other, it’s tough to judge teams from different leagues. So maybe a little more weight should have been given to actual wins. Teams can only beat the opponents on their schedules. The committee seemed to act like MVC teams with multiple losses deserved bids because they would have hypothetically won more games if they played in a league other than the MVC. At the same time, the committee completely devalued real wins in actual games played by teams in those other leagues. Do better NCAA.

Apr 16 / Todd

JMUSB Spring Game #5 Official Preview: Richmond at JMU

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Richmond at JMU. Doesn’t matter the season, doesn’t matter the year, doesn’t matter the stakes. It’s Spatter-Stomping Time. It’s Tick Week. It’s Richmond at JMU.

The Basics

Matchup: #10 Richmond Spiders (3-0, 3-0 CAA) at #1 JMU Dukes (4-0, 2-0 CAA)

Kickoff: 2:00 p.m. EDT. Saturday April 17, 2021, Bridgeforth Stadium, Rocktown, VA

Weather: Cloudy, high 62.

Broadcast: NBCSports Washington Plus or Flo (last one!)

Boys in the Desert: JMU -12, O/U 50

How Richmond Can Win

Slow down JMU in the run game so they can apply pressure in obvious passing situations. If Richmond can get solid play from its run defense and superstrong LB’s including 2019 CAA DROY Tristan Wheeler, we all know the chance to beat JMU is to really turn the screws and force decisions from the QB – whether that’s Johnson or Maloney. On offense, Richmond QB Joe Mancuso is a veteran who leads a diverse attack with no exact focal point. He’s a capable runner and the way the Ticks spread the ball, JMU will need to stay on assignment.

How JMU Can Win

Play with the same level of gameplanning, execution, and ruthlessness they did at William & Mary last month. Only do it with a full roster this time. On offense, the Dukes line needs to play well this week and find a way to get blockers – even TEs and WRs – onto the second level to slow down the strength of the Spiders, their linebacking corps. If they can do that, it will set Cole up for more of the solid time and play we saw back then. If not, it could be a scramble drill all day. On defense, JMU just needs to play it’s dominant second halves for all 60 minutes. Pressuring the QB with just four has been a weakness “all year” for the Dukes and put simply, they need some guys to step up in that regard. MJ Hampton, Wayne Davis, and Que Reid have all been sent and bailed them out later in games but if they have designs on a postseason run, they need to generate at least some pressure from just the line.

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Union Craft Brewing’s Divine Pale Ale. A smooth drinking pale that has something refreshingly different up front. These guys from Baltimore do a solid job on almost everything and this is a great introduction.

Dukes Helping Others Week 5

As a reminder, each week we’re choosing a charity to donate to in honor of that week’s football game. And we’re asking other Dukes fans to join us as we continue to build #DukesMafia. We’ve been overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity thus far and hope the momentum continues. For the last regular season game of the year, we’re doing something with an organization that has been incredibly inspiring to us over the last few years and has its base right here in the DMV, the World Central Kitchen. We set the base donation at 5 bucks, but feel free to give more if you can (big shoutout to the RedRooster and Mr. Brown here!). Text “ROOTIN” to 707070 or click here to donate.

Official JMUSB Prediction

Both teams are absolute playoff locks with a win, with or without the automatic bid that could conceivably still go to an undefeated Delaware. JMU stands a decent chance of making the field on ranking and reputation even with a loss while Richmond likely has a lot more on the line this weekend. Hypothetically, they have more to play for. But our guess is JMU, for the first time all year, can see the rewards on offer this spring, and will be ready to rock this weekend. A monster Percy performance and continued growth from Wells is our guess.

JMU 31, RU 17

Apr 14 / Rob

Prediction Contest: Dukes vs. Ticks

First off, we know we’ve been slack. We literally just reached out to the winner of the last prediction contest 3 weeks ago. And we haven’t had much motivation to do much of anything here on the blog with all of the pauses and cancellations. But, it’s Tick Week. So let’s get it on.

Leave a comment below letting us know who you think will win on Saturday and what the final score will be. The person who comes closest to nailing it (winner & score) will get to write a guest post. That’s it. So give us your prediction and Go Dukes!

Mar 25 / Rob

2021 Spring Football Game #4 Official JMUSB Preview: JMU at W&M

In normal times, we have “spring football.” You know what we’re talking about. A few weeks of practice for the coaches to run everyone out there and maybe light a few fires of around some key position battles, before everyone suiting up for a pseudo-competitive exhibition with indeterminate scoring to wet the fans’ appetites. The entire experience is towing the line between being worthwhile preparation and a complete farce. Most fans get very excited about the notion of “spring football” in the weeks leading up to it. But then it comes and goes without the majority of the fanbase even realizing it. It’s a tradition that matters very much in the mind of college football coaches, but ultimately offers very little in terms of entertainment value for fans. 

Now in 2021, we have Spring Football. Unlike with “spring football,” this new version has full schedules and games that count. And much like with “spring football” it’s something that excited most fans in the weeks leading up to it. But without fans in stadiums, the assurance that each scheduled game will actually be played, or any consistency regarding how conferences have chosen to operate, this Spring Football has felt much more like “spring football” than anything real. 

However, that’s likely to change this weekend. JMU is all set to play William & Mary. With its full complement of players and superior depth, JMU struggled mightily against Robert Morris and Elon. Now thanks to Covid issues, JMU has had limited practice time the past two weeks. And multiple players, reportedly including key ones, are expected to be out due to Covid protocols. To top it all off, William & Mary comes into the game full of confidence after dominating an Elon team that gave JMU fits. Whether it’s Spring Football or “spring football,” things are about to get a bit more real.

read more…
Mar 24 / Rob

Prediction Contest: JMU vs. William & Mary (maybe)

AS of right now when I’m writing this, JMU’s contest against William & Mary has not been postponed. We still haven’t gotten confirmation that it’s happening, but no news is good news I guess. Spring Football, Pandemic Edition, is so weird. Let’s hope for the best and proceed with the prediction contest.

Leave a comment below letting us know which team you think will win and what the final score will be. The person who comes closest to nailing it (winner & score), will get to write a guest post. It’s that easy. So give us your prediction below and Go Dukes!

Mar 7 / Rob

Three Thoughts on JMU 20 Elon 17

Whoo boy. Another week, another come from behind victory for the JMU Dukes. This one was pretty dicey. JMU followed up a poor first half effort against Robert Morris, with an even worse one against Elon. The offense was stuck in quicksand and the defense wasn’t too hot either. JMU found itself in a 17-3 hole, before rallying to escape with the win. Cole Johnson struggled and was replaced by Gage Maloney, who rallied the offense for two touchdowns. A win is a win, but this was far from convincing. Here are three thoughts on the game.

It was time for Gage.

Cignetti inserted Gage Moloney at QB in the second half and it was a move that absolutely had to be made. Cole Johnson just wasn’t getting it done. He threw another pick and looked indecisive and unsure of himself. It’s never fun to see a guy get pulled, especially one who’s waited so long for his chance to start. The offense was completely ineffective with Cole however. Cignetti made the move hoping to spark the offense and that’s exactly what it did. Gage only threw the ball 6 times, but he looked assertive and confident. With him behind center, things opened up a bit and the running game found another gear. There’s no way to know, but I really don’t think JMU would have won without making the QB switch.

Just tell the defense every half is the second half.

That’s two weeks in a row, where the JMU defense looked absolutely dominant after the break. They looked a little out of sorts in the first two quarters and the secondary got exposed a few times. But dang did they come to play in the second half. They were in the backfield practically every play and blowing things up. Elon’s offense had a grand total of 36 yards in the half and was limited to convert just 2 of 8 third downs.

It was incredibly to see JMU’s defense play so well down the stretch. It was also pretty frustrating to see them make dumb mistakes and commit penalties to extend drives coming out of the gates. This team is lacking some of its biggest playmakers, but still was facing a third string freshman QB making his first start. They ultimately wore him down and rendered him ineffective, but the kid made some plays early. The D has shown that it can make the adjustments needed to take over. We’d like to see them come into a game with a plan that doesn’t require such massive adjustments one of these weeks though.

Ignore the rankings.

JMU landed in the top spot of the latest FCS polls. Let’s go ahead and ignore that. Look, we’re not saying JMU is terrible or that the program is in peril. But objectively speaking, this squad does not look like the best team in the country. And that’s ok. Polls, especially in the FCS, really don’t matter. What matters is teams winning and improving throughout the season. As JMU fans we’ve become accustomed to a sort of binary approach to each season. If JMU wins the title, it’s a success. If the Dukes fall short, it is not.

Many of us view each game as if it’s a referendum on title worthiness. Well, maybe we need to adjust our expectations. JMU might win a title in May or it might not. We have no idea. But we do know that they had no chance of winning a championship on Saturday. They were able to win a game and get to 1-0 in the CAA though. And that’s really what matters. Championships aren’t won in week three. Nor do rankings in week three matter. Objectively speaking, JMU does not look like the best team in FCS. But the Dukes are 3-0 and they’ve got 5 more games on the schedule. Rankings don’t matter. Getting better and peaking in May matter.

Mar 6 / jmusport

Guest Post: James Madison > Robert Morris

Hart won last week’s prediction contest and earned the right to guest post. Here’s his take on JMU sports, history, and beer (we like this guy).

Somehow I lucked out and won the football prediction contest last week, but I wasn’t really that close and the game went nothing like I thought it would go (or anyone else for that matter).  But that’s the allure of sports!  We never know how it is going to go and the outcome is not predetermined.  On any given day players can step up their game or falter under pressure.  Coaches can look like masterful gurus one week and then make head scratching decisions the next week.

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