Nov 5 / Todd

2021 JMUSB Game Preview #9: Campbell at JMU

Well what a decade this last week has been! From the high of thinking the SunBelt might happen to the low of learning an inevitable announcement will end postseason aspirations for many JMU teams this year (and maybe next) and leave a group of kids in those sports high and dry when many of them have already had two years of their careers marred by Covid cancellations and reschedulings. There is blame to go around, there are celebrations to be had, there is hope for the long-term future, and sadness and concern for the short-term future. It all adds up to an extreme mix of emotions, positions, thoughts, and of course the accompanying hot and cold takes. We’re on the roller-coaster with everyone else and not always sure what the right answers are.

That said, we’re here to talk about the one program this is really all about. And oddly, the program least affected by realignment in the here-and-now – football. While all conference moves are largely about football, because CAA football is different from CAA everything else, the Dukes season this year can continue as-is.

The Basics

Matchup: Campbell Fightin’ Camels (3-5, 2-3 Big South) at #3 JMU Dukes (7-1, 5-1 CAA)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. EST. Saturday November 6, 2021, Bridgeforth Stadium, Rocktown

Weather: Sunny and chilly, high 52 (perfect!)

Broadcast: NBC Sports Washington + (Dudley and Buckhantz) or you can Go with the Flo (but we understand cancelling immediately with a clear explanation as to why)

How the Camels Can Win

Short pass the Dukes wide to death and hope JMU goes back to missing tackles. Hardly anyone has much success running the ball against JMU and Campbell seems likely to hardly even try. Their “running game,” so to speak, is likely to come from lots of swing passes and short stuff on the outside. Oddly, this is an area that frequently scares us with so much roster churn and inconsistency at those positions for JMU this year. The Dukes have the speed to hopefully prevent giving up huge plays, but this isn’t the worst way to attack this team and Campbell could find some success there. The Camels have a pair of strong wideouts in Caleb Snead and Jalen Kelsey that seem capable of giving the Dukes corners fits in this matchup. Campbell is huge up front size-wise but has struggled in the run game.

Defensively, Campbell will have to hope their disruptive defensive lineman Brevin Allen can cause some chaos against JMU’s revamped offensive line because they’ve given up 27 or more points in each of their last five games and those teams didn’t have Cole Johnson, Antoine Wells, Jr., or Latrelle Palmer.

A few fun notes and thoughts on Campbell. The Camels are coached by former Nebraska star Mike Minter. Campbell has not one, but two Fightin’ Camels mascots, Gaylord and Gladys, and they are glorious. Just twenty years ago, Campbell was still a sleepy country school where well-to-do North Carolina kids who didn’t get into one of the big schools but wanted more than a junior college might go. It’s main campus in Buies Creek felt as rural as any place in the state. Randolph-Macon might be a shaky Virginia equivalent. Well things have changed in a big way. Buies Creek, and Harnett County where it sits, have rapidly become almost exurbs of Raleigh, just down the road from the exploding southern suburbs of the Triangle. FCS Football, now in the Big South, and some modest success in hoops have raised the profile of athletics. A gorgeous and growing law school in downtown Raleigh has also begun to put Campbell alums among the movers and shakers in the state. And a thoughtful and creative relationship with North Carolina’s huge military community, with branch campuses and outreach at both Fort Bragg and Camp LeJeune have added to Campbell’s presence in an oft-overlooked part of the state. Needless to say, the pines are still tall and the sandhills are still small, but Campbell is not just another school you’ve never heard of.

How the Dukes Can Win

Keep building on offense and make big plays on defense. The Dukes offense should have a chance to build on last week’s performance where things seemed to click again. Campbell has a few solid players on defense, particularly at LB and in the pass rush, but they do give up points. Anything less than 30 points from JMU would be surprising and disappointing, particularly with the weather finally looking clear for once tomorrow.

However, on defense the Dukes need to make some big plays. Campbell’s WR talent and general gameplan seems well-suited to pose some matchup problems for JMU, but it could also provide opportunities. The Dukes insane speed in the pass-rush could wreak havoc on an enormous but slow-footed OLine and JMU will need to cash in on any opportunities for big plays – sacks, turnovers, etc.

Oh yeah, maybe don’t let all the Sun Belt and Homecoming distractions go to the head either.

JMUSB Beer of the Week (BOTW)

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. So much to celebrate with this classic beer this week. The end of pumpkin beer season! Fresh hop season! The Sun Belt! Homecoming! And a rich IPA for the anti-IPA beer fanatics in your life. Plus this year it’s finally available in cans so tailgating can commence.

Official JMUSB Prediction

JMU 34, Campbell 17. We think the Dukes slowly but surely pull away to celebration time in this one but not before some frustrating moments. Basically a microcosm of all things JMU athletics this week.

Oct 31 / Rob

Dukes Drop Phoenix 45-21

JMU took possession after the opening kick and promptly marched down the field with relative ease. The Dukes found themselves. After entering the red zone, the Dukes were poised to punch it in and take the early lead. However, after four attempts from inside the 2 yard line, the Dukes coughed the ball up and found themselves with no points for the effort. It was in a word, concerning. It wasn’t just that once again JMU was unable to punch it in for 6, it was the way they failed to do it. The Dukes tried to run up the gut four times. Fans were left wondering if some sort of foolish pride or stubborn refusal to admit that they can’t run inside like some teams of the past would plague the Dukes all season. And then JMU got the ball back and turned the switch. All of the creativity and aggressiveness that fans had been clamoring for was back. In only 1 minute and 39 seconds, the Dukes drove 53 yards for a touchdown. Just like that, the JMU red zone curse was broken and JMU cruised to a 45-21 win over Elon.

There was a lot to like about this game. But it all starts with the play of Cole Johnson. The 6th year senior had looked pretty pedestrian coming into this game. In recent games, he looked tentative and like he was playing to avoid mistakes, instead of to make plays. He broke out of his funk in a big way against Elon. A very big way. All he did was complete 22 of 25 attempts for 307 yards and 6 touchdowns. Yes, we said 6 touchdowns. That’s the most any JMU QB has thrown in a single game. Cole was Peak Cole in this game. He stood tall in the pocket, was decisive, and delivered the ball with confidence. He didn’t pass up opportunities for big plays and settle for check downs. He didn’t miss open receivers. He hit his receivers in stride all day. It was about as good a QB performance as you’re going to get.

It wasn’t just Cole who elevated his game. The entire offense snapped out of its funk. Latrelle Palmer lead the rushing attack with 20 carries for 83 yards. With Percy out, Lorenzo Bryant had a productive day, chipping in 44 yards on 11 carries. And the Dukes’ stellar receiving corps had itself a day. Antwane Wells Jr. eclipsed the century mark for receiving yards again. He had 8 catches for 114 yards and 2 TDs. He finally looked fully healthy. And as you know, when fully healthy he’s virtually unstoppable. Kris Thornton was right on Wells’ heals, with 95 receiving yards of his own. The really big thing in the passing game was the fact that JMU spread the ball around. A total of 9 guys caught passes. This game showed that when the Dukes are mixing it up and using all of their weapons, they’re very tough to stop.

On defense, JMU was far from dominant, but did what had to be done. The Dukes D has benefited from facing backup QBs so often it’s become routine. Against Elon, JMU had to face Davis Cheek, one of the top QBs in the league. Cheek led his Elon team to a victory over JMU back in 2018. That single win makes him one of the most successful CAA QBs the Dukes have faced in the past 5 years. He’s a really good player who came into the game red hot. And JMU made him look kind of average. The Dukes held him to only 18 of 33 for 198 yards. They did it by creating pressure and not giving him time. JMU sacked Cheeks 4 times. They had him on his heels more times than that. After giving up a big play for a TD and an efficient 75 yard TD drive, the D settled in and really limited what Elon was able to do. It was a good effort against a capable opponent.

All in all, it was a very strong performance for JMU. The Dukes are sitting at 7-1 and suddenly there’s a clear path to a top 4 playoff seed again. A surprisingly dangerous William & Mary team knocked off Villanova and Southern Illinois. With those losses, if JMU wins out, the Dukes will likely be no worse than the 3 seed. Unless of course the committee hands it to some 7-4 MVFC team because “MVFC.” JMU has a homecoming game against a maybe future CAA Campbell Fighting Camels squad. After that, the Dukes head to the lesser ‘burg to face William & Mary in what might unexpectedly be the CAA game of the year. Everyone is (rightfully) excited about the future of JMU football and the move to the Sun Belt. But the present is pretty damn exciting too.

Oct 29 / Todd

2021 JMUSB Game Preview #8: Elon at JMU

There’s an important game ON THE FIELD at Bridgeforth tomorrow y’all. We know, we’ve also been guilty of overlooking that fact at times this week as the wait for the Sun Belt must wait another week. Next week for Homecoming against Campbell we can all blow things out and truly celebrate the “Official” future of JMU Athletics (and the end of all the dumbass campaign commercials on tv!) but this week the focus needs to be on winning a CAA game team against a 3-1 in conference Elon team. The Phoenix were up and down the first four weeks (close loss to Wofford in Week 1, close win over Campbell week 2, understandable loss to App. St., and a shootout loss to W&M) but have found their stride with three straight decisive (ten plus points) wins in conference over Richmond, Maine, and UNH coming into this week.

The Basics

Matchup: Elon Phoenix (4-3, 3-1 CAA) at #5 JMU Dukes (6-1, 4-1 CAA)

Kickoff: 2:00 p.m. EST. Saturday October 30, 2021, Bridgeforth Stadium, Rocktown

Weather: Off and on rain, 50’s

Broadcast: NBC Sports Washington (with Buckhantz!) or you can Go with the Flo

How the Phoenix Can Win

Jump up early and collapse the middle. Even with all of JMU’s recent struggles in the red zone, Elon needs to get off to a good start so they can control the clock and the game. They haven’t scored more than 33 in a game all year (and only scored 30 twice; once a loss to W&M) and simply cannot afford to get in a track meet with the Dukes. Defensively, they need to take the opportunity presented by JMU’s reshaped and banged-up O-Line to limit the JMU inside run game like a few other teams have been able to do lately.

Offensively, they need to be sharp in the quick-passing game and not rely on Davis Cheek to stay alive for slow-developing plays. He’s capable, but that’s not sustainable against this JMU rush. JMU shuts down the run and we don’t expect anything different this week, but Elon will be looking to use their quick-pass game in its place and needs to force JMU’s DB’s to show they’re ready.

How the Dukes Can Win

First, be ready early. Elon is well-coached and they’ve scored right out of the gate the last couple weeks. There is no time for a sleepy start from the Dukes. Defensively, the Dukes have to get home with their pressure on Phoenix QB Davis Cheek. Yes, he’s beaten JMU before, but he’s grown as a player and is playing the best ball of his career right now. Elon has at times struggled to run the ball but he’s been so strong, especially when he is given time, or slides to create his own time, that the Phoenix have overcome it. When teams have sent pressure and failed to get to him, he’s been hitting big plays. Additionally, Elon ran quite of bit of the quick horizontal/swing pass game stuff last week in their win over UNH. If that happens again, JMU’s defensive backs have got to make tackles and not allow extra yards.

On the other side of the ball, the obvious fix is “score TDs on red-zone trips.” Hope that happens. But we’d also like to see JMU not be so stubborn about smashing two-yard runs up the middle if Elon’s capable line holds them up a bit. If it isn’t there, move to the quick passing game and get the ball to Wells, Thornton, VanHorse, etc. in space and let them work. The Dukes seem to have an advantage outside and even with dicey weather this week, we’d like to see them use it before the second half if required.

Lastly, for both teams field position could be critical on a wet afternoon. Lots of JMU’s ability to overcome its own hiccups the last couple weeks can be attributed to controlling the field position game and that could be big again.

JMUSB Beer of the Week (BOTW)

Deschutes Black Butte Porter – A classic American Porter. Just a phenomenal beer. Perfect for a rainy fall afternoon. And probably best to enjoy it now with word that Deschutes fully abandons its formerly grand plans for a Roanoke outpost. It’s been so great having their reliably solid offerings available even in some of the Commonwealth’s most behind-the-beer-times areas the last few years and we an only hope that continues regardless of Deschutes lack of a physical presence in the state.

Official JMUSB Prediction

Dukes find a way to take remove the restrictor plate! JMU 38, Elon 16

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.

read more…
Oct 22 / Todd

2021 JMUSB Game Preview #7: JMU @ Delaware

Need one more. JMU needs one more win against a sputtering old rival to get through the toughest stretch of the season at 4-1 and keep all their goals intact. With university-changing athletics news swirling around the Dukes and coming off a bounce-back win over Richmond after the loss to Nova, it’s so crucial that the team itself not overlook this game.

The Basics

Matchup: #7 JMU Dukes (5-1, 3-1 CAA) at #23 Delaware Blue Hens (3-3, 2-2 CAA)

Kickoff: 3:00 p.m. EST. Saturday October 23, 2021, The Tub, Newark, Delaware

Weather: Partly Cloudy, 62 degrees

Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia or you can Go with the Flo

How We Got Here

Delaware made the FCS semis last spring before falling to SDSU. But after losing QB1 Nolan Henderson earlier this season, they’ve cycled through QB’s and struggled to get any consistency on offense. They’ve lost their last two – both on the road – to URI and Stony Brook, but will back in Newark for Homecoming this week.

The Dukes beat Richmond last week with dominant defense against another backup QB and are at end of a mostly-road game stretch where they really need to get one more win before coming home for most of the stretch run.

How the Chickens Can Win

Take advantage of a potentially tired and distracted Dukes team and not waste a single opportunity. JMU is at the end of 4 road games in 5 stretch that has seemed on paper like the season’s toughest. The players and coaches have had plenty of extracurricular social media to binge on this week if they were so inclined. And the last two weeks, JMU has given chances to their opponents by not stepping on necks when the chance was there. For Delaware to win this week, they need to cash in those chances. If the Dukes turn it over, Delaware has to get points. If a penalty puts the Dukes behind the sticks, the Hens defense has to get off the field on 3rd down. And any redzone trips they get need to be six, not three. If they can get a Homecoming crowd that’s angry with their coach and indifferent about the program’s future behind them instead of tuning out, that would go a long way towards being in control late.

How the Dukes Can Win

Do Your Own Job. Delaware is a desperate team fighting for their season. Whatever the story with their coach’s status and their program’s future, this particular Hens squad made the semis in the spring and had high hopes for this year. They will be focused even if they’re outgunned. The Dukes need to match that focus during an otherwise wild week for JMU. While Alger, Bourne, donors, and fans all have their own obligations and other things to worry about this week, for the players and coaches themselves, the only job they can do that will contribute to JMU this week is winning this damned game. The defense should be able to tee off on another backup QB leading a sputtering offense, but the JMU offense and special teams need to clean up the penalties, turnovers, and general sloppiness that have led to a loss to Villanova and a “meh” outcome against a struggling Spiders team. Allow Sroba/Vanhorse/Thornton returns to stand without being called back. No more collapsing pockets without ball protection (sacks are not horrible compared to fumbles). Hit the most open receiver, not the obvious one. Catch the ball. Hit the first guy that crosses your face when pulling. Put simply, do the basics correctly. Just do your own job and this will be ok. For those three hours, their is nothing more a player or coach can do to boost JMU than win this game.

JMUSB Beer of the Week (BOTW)

New Anthem Beer Project Ba’al – With everyone in the world trying to make massively cloudy/juicy IPA’s and most of them ending up tasting like they still had soap in the lines, it was refreshing to have my guy at the local bottle-shop (shouts to HighSide in Fairfax City) recommend something new that actually delivered. This small brewery from Wilmington, NC hit a home run and you should find this simple gold can wherever you can.

Official JMUSB Prediction

Time for the Dukes to get back to the soul-crushers they looked like against Maine and Weber a month ago. JMU 38, UD 13

Oct 17 / Rob

Quick Thoughts on JMU Over RU

JMU moved to 4-1 on the season with a 19-3 win over the Richmond Spiders in the Dukes home away from home. The defense took advantage of a banged up Spider attack, terrorizing a series of backup quarterbacks all day. The Dukes totaled 6 sacks for the game and limited Richmond to only 188 yards. On the other side of the ball, the Dukes offense moved the ball, but only managed to punch it in for a single touchdowns. Ethan Ratke put last week’s uncharacteristic off-day behind him, nailing all 4 of his field goal attempts. It was JMU’s 6th straight win over Richmond. Here are a few quick thoughts on the victory.

Meh

Beating the Ticks is always great. Always. But this game was kind of a snoozer. It was evident right out of the gate that JMU was the superior team. Force to start its backup QB once again, Richmond’s offense struggled to get anything going. The Dukes defense was outstanding. But they were so dominant that it almost seemed like an unfair fight. The JMU offense on the other hand, put together several good drives, only to settle for field goals on 4 out of 4 trips to red zone. JMU was firmly in control for all 60 minutes and it was nice to bounce back with a win after the loss to Nova. We’re a spoiled, spoiled fanbase though because sometimes seeing the Dukes stomp the hated Spiders, wasn’t even enough to get us that excited. End to end victories are appreciated. Even if they sometimes can be a bit dull.

That Defense Though

Yes, Richmond’s top QB, Joe Mancuso was out. And backup Beau English also missed a few series after getting hurt himself. But backups or not, there was very little the Spiders’ offense could do against JMU. We were very critical of the defensive play against Villanova. Well, the Dukes D answered the bell and bounced back with one heck of an effort. They limited the Richmond passers to only 83 yards in the air on 8 of 18 passing. They were equally as effective against the run, holding the Spiders to only 2.6 yards a carry. To my eyes, it looked the best game the defense has played all season. Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey was all over the field making tackles, while Mike Greene did Mike Greene things, and the pass rush suffocated the Spiders. The secondary looked to be in sync and guys generally executed their assignments. It was a big step forward for the unit and a great response to last week’s unusually subpar performance.

Offense Needs a Spark

It sounds crazy to express concern about an offense that rushed for 100 yards and threw for nearly 300. But when all that leads to just a single touchdown, that’s what happens. There is an insane amount of talent on the JMU offense. But something is missing. It’s unfair to say that the players aren’t going all out, because they obviously are playing their hearts out. But there are stretches where as a unit, the offense looks unsure of itself.

Much of the struggles probably start with the relatively inexperienced offensive line. There’s room for improvement there for sure, but sometimes other guys simply need to step up and make a play under pressure. Thankfully, there are plenty of players capable of doing that. We’ve seen that when Cole Johnson gets in a rhythm and plays with confidence, JMU is very difficult to stop. The past few games that hasn’t happened however. There are plenty of hack comments we could make here as we go full on Monday morning quarterback or worse, armchair psychologist. Instead, we’ll take a glass half full approach. It’s not that this offense is consistently failing, it’s that it’s thiiiiiis close turning the corner and harnessing its full potential. Call us homers, but we think it will.

Oct 14 / Todd

2021 JMUSB Preview Game #6: JMU at Richmond

Ugh, what a bad taste last week left in the mouths of JMU fans. This week is shaping up to be a good old-fashioned JMU/RU blood feud. On one hand we’re more confident the Dukes will play well after what we hope is the ultimate wake-up call last week. On the other hand, while it pains us to say it, Richmond really shouldn’t be as bad as they looked last week either and it’s absolutely desperation time for any hopes of saving the season for the Spatters.

The Basics

Matchup: #7 JMU Dukes (4-1, 2-1 CAA) at Richmond Spiders (2-3, 0-2 CAA)

Kickoff: 2:00 p.m. EST. Saturday October 16, 2021, Bridgeforth East, Richmond, Virginia

Weather: Showers, 81 degrees

Broadcast: NBC Sports Washington or you can Go with the Flo

How We Got Here

The Dukes stumbled in all three phases in their first loss of the year last week at home to Villanova. The Dukes do not play an FBS game this year and have one quality win at Weber St. The Spiders have lost three straight – two of which are excusable to Villanova and Virginia Tech – but last week’s home loss to Elon where they were held to seven points is a head-scratcher. Richmond opened the season with blowouts of bad Howard and Lehigh teams.

How the Spiders Can Win

They’ll have to ignore the massive home-field advantage the Dukes bring into this one. Then they need to score more than the 17 total points they’ve managed to find the last two weeks with backup QB Beau English at the controls. Three weeks ago, the ODAC’s best were flying high having won their first two and leading Villanova on the road 27-13 headed to the fourth quarter. Since then it’s been a trainwreck on fire off a mountain. First, Nova scored 21 unanswered to take that game. Then QB1 Joe Mancuso got hurt on the second play of the game at VT and then the Ticks were manhandled at home by Elon.

Richmond’s defense, particularly in the front seven, is veteran and touuughh. And they’ll need to follow Villanova’s gameplan to a tee. Try to hold the Dukes running game in check and count on the Dukes to do predictable things in “and long” situations. More than that though, unless there is some well of Boise-style trick plays up their sleeve, the defense will have to score or at the very least give the offense short fields if they’re going to keep up with JMU. Don’t take RU’s defense lightly, they were very much in the game in Blacksburg a couple weeks back, trailing just 14-10 in the second half before falling 21-10 with essentially zero offense.

How the Dukes Can Win

Quit f*cking around and do their damned jobs. That’s first and foremost. Offense, Defense, Specials. All shared in the blame for last week’s collapse and it’s on the players to execute at a higher level. On the coaching side, on offense JMU needs to be less predictable, especially in 2nd and 10 or 3rd and long situations. Not trick plays, just something other than run up the middle or chuck it to a 60% healthy Antoine Wells, Jr.

On defense, the Dukes need to get their best pass-rushing linemen in the game and do everything they can to bring pressure with just the front four. This will give them more guys to cover some weaknesses on the back-end, though admittedly we’ll be surprised if Richmond’s QB can do anything resembling the play of his Wildcats counterpart last week.

On special teams, flush last week and get back on track. We’ve seen it before and no reason to think we won’t again.

JMUSB Beer of the Week (BOTW)

It’s gonna be muggy and damp this weekend. You’ll want something lighter and refreshing that when a little is spilled on your raincoat as you take it on and off depending on that awful southern sweat-to-rain ratio won’t linger all afternoon like a wet fart. Basically, no stouts, porters, or hazy IPA’s – even those from Veil this weekend. What you need is a classic. And there’s hardly anything more classic than a Pilsner Urquell. The Czech standby is perfect for this occasion.

Official JMUSB Prediction

It’s Spatter Stomping time and the Dukes really need this one. JMU 30, Richmond 16

Oct 9 / Todd

JMUSB 2021 Preview: Villanova at JMU

2019 JMU Football-Morgan State

The Dukes come home to finish their trio of matchups against Wildcats (Weber, UNH, Nova). With injuries to QB1 at Delaware and Richmond, this is shaping up to be the toughest game of the year and Villanova is not to be overlooked in any way.

The Basics

Matchup: #3 JMU Dukes (4-0, 2-0 CAA) vs. #11 Villanova Wildcats (3-1, 1-0 CAA)

Kickoff: 2:00 p.m. EST. Saturday October 9, 2021, Bridgeforth Stadium, The ‘Burg

Weather: Mostly Cloudy high of 65 (actually only 15% chance of rain between 2-5 p.m. so looking better and better)

Broadcast: NBC Sports Washington or you can Go with the Flo

How We Got Here

Villanova is 3-1 and coming off a bye before taking on the Dukes (somehow this is about to happen to JMU two weeks in a row thanks Joey D!). The Cats destroyed two Patriot League team (Lehigh and Bucknell) early and beat Richmond 34-27 in their CAA opener before falling respectably at Penn St. a couple weeks ago. The Dukes made all the mistakes and were fortunate to sneak out of Durham with a win last week but remain perfect on the year.

How the ‘Cats Can Win

Make the game’s biggest play. Villanova is super-experienced, deep, and we’d have to think highly motivated to go after the team that’s given them fits lately. But the one thing that they haven’t been able to come up with the last few meetings has been that game-flipping play that tends to mean the difference in close games between these CAA heavyweights. That killer interception, special teams penalty, and backbreaking long run have always gone the Dukes way. The Wildcats are good enough to win this game, but they have to make the biggest play.

QB Daniel Smith is quite a bit Flutie-like. Small but crafty and more than capable with his legs. RB Justin Covington is back after dealing with injury last year. Villanova has scored 34, 55, and 47 points in their non-Penn St. games this year so they can light it up more than past years. On the other side, JMU has always talked about how awkward it can be (especially for OLines) to play against their traditional 3-3-5 stack defense with identifying the “front four” always a challenge. But Coach Cignetti mentioned this week that Nova is mixing things up more than ever from a scheme standpoint on D this year. With Malik Fisher (DL) and Owen Thomas (LB) entering the Semenov-zone of career-length with the Covid flexibility and Christian Benford (CB) probably as capable as anyone the Dukes will see all year at matching up with Wells, Jr. it will be a major challenge for Cole and co.

How the Dukes Can Win

Win on third down and learn from last week and don’t screw around or think this is ever over. Richmond was up two scores before Villanova dropped 21 unanswered to beat them a few weeks back. They’re 10x better offensively than UNH. Most important, the Dukes need to win on third downs. They left a few conversions out there last week (hate to see Harry punting on 4th and 1 or 4th and 2) that they have got to make this week to keep the Wildcats offense off the field. And defensively, Smith and Covington are such swiss-army knives that it’s vital that the Dukes find a way to not allow a bunch of frustrating 3rd and medium conversions. It’s be nice if JMU can ride the momentum of the first sold-out stadium in a couple years.

JMUSB Beer of the Week (BOTW)

Leffe Brune – Every year we search for great non-pumpkin Fall beers and this year we finally asked ourselves “why are we skipping one of the goats of fall beers?” There’s a reason this bad-boy Belgian has been made the same way for almost eight centuries. And InBev or not, it’s an outstanding choice for a chilly, wet fall day.

Official JMUSB Prediction

Villanova is good and this will not be easy. But the Dukes are home and should be locked in after a bad outing last week and some long road trips. JMU 27, Villanova 23

Sep 30 / Rob

Official JMUSB 2021 Preview: JMU vs. UNH

It’s 2021. While it’s unquestionably better than 2020, things are still in a precarious state. The world is still trying to fight through the pandemic. People all over are struggling in a number of ways. Politics seem more partisan than ever. And as of right now when I’m writing this, the Yankees appear to be on the verge of making the playoffs. Times are tough. With all this sadness in the world, it seems kind of ridiculous to do our regular schtick where we mock the Dukes’ next football opponent. So we’re not going to make a bunch of cheap jokes at New Hampshire’s expense this week. That would be insensitive and inappropriate in the current climate. We’re going to focus on a topic that unifies people, instead of dividing them.

Richmond sucks. We’re not sure if the RU campus is still littered with creeps in sweater vests. It might be or it might not now. That’s a tired old trope at this point anyway, so maybe we should retire it and replace it with whatever the modern day douche-signifying uniform is. (Someone get on that.) In the meantime, let’s all relish in the fact that the Spiders suffered one of the most painful losses in recent CAA memory two weeks ago. On September 18, the same day JMU defeated Weber State, RU went on the road to face Villanova. Things started off well. The Spiders quickly fell behind 13-0. But the joy was short lived. RU stormed back with 27 unanswered points. After 18 of the most emotionally trying months ever, citizens of Earth were facing the unimaginable horror of an emphatic and potentially momentum building win for the Spiders. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. On this day, evil would be defeated. Villanova rallied to tie the game at 27 in the fourth quarter. Then with only 38 seconds left, Nova connected on a 47 yard pass for a touchdown. And just like that, light triumphed over darkness.

The Basics

Matchup: #3 JMU Dukes (3-0, 1-0 CAA) vs. #25 New Hampshire Wildcats (3-1, 2-0 CAA)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. EST. Saturday October 2, 2021, Wildcat Stadium in Durham, NH

Weather: Partly cloudy with a high of 67

Broadcast: NBC Sports Boston or you can Go with the Flo

How We Got Here

JMU had last week off after an impressive road win at Weber State. In the victory, the Dukes offense ran for over 5 yards a carry and Cole Johnson continued his stellar play, completing 70% of his passes. Through 3 games, JMU has shown that it has a balanced offense with enough weapons to create matchup nightmares for the opposition. And the Dukes have an extremely physical defensive unit, with plenty of depth. The team has yet to be seriously challenged, but now heads into the meat of the CAA schedule.

UNH virtually took the last week off, hardly going through the motions in a 77-7 loss at Pittsburgh. Yes, Pitt is an ACC team, but 77 points is 77 points. And college football fans expected more fight from UNH after the Wildcats opened the season 3-0 with wins over Stony Brook and Towson in conference play, and an out of conference defeat of Lafayette. Granted, Stony Brook and Towson are probably middle of the pack (at best) CAA teams, and Lafayette is in the Patriot League and not Holy Cross, so we know the Leopards are not good. Still though, UNH didn’t even show up against Pitt. The Wildcats gave up 455 yards passing and 707 yards overall. That’s…not great.

How the ‘Cats Can Win

By taking care of the ball and turning it into a slugfest. The Wildcats have fumbled the ball 11 times in this young season, with 10 of them coming during their 3-0 start. That’s playing with fire. The UNH defense is probably better than last week’s performance indicates, but it’s not so good that the Wildcats can count on shutting down the Dukes all day. They’re going to need to keep JMU’s offense on the sidelines and limit the Dukes’ possessions. And while New Hampshire has a solid passing attack, these are not the QB1 Ricky Santos era Wildcats that could sling it as well as anyone. In short, they’re not built to win a shootout. Their best bet is to turn the game into a grinding affair and capitalize on mistakes. If they can run the ball just enough to keep the Dukes D-Line from pinning their ears back and attacking the QB, they could move the ball.

How the Dukes Can Win

Just do their thing. It would be smug and dismissive to say something like the Dukes would need to beat themselves in order for New Hampshire to win. We know that. Here’s the thing though, the Dukes would need to beat themselves in order for New Hampshire to win. That’s not to say this is a guaranteed victory. It’s not. New Hampshire absolutely can win. The fact is that if the Dukes play up to their potential, they’re better and they’ll win. JMU has a stable of studs running the ball, a QB who is playing with confidence, and the most dangerous receiving corp New Hampshire will see for the rest of this season. Defensively, they’ve got the sort of pass rush that can make things very difficult for a talented, but relatively inexperienced QB like UNH’s Bret Edwards. So if they stick to their gameplay and limit mistakes, the Dukes will win. But we’ve seen the wheels come off for JMU in Durham before. And it’s still too soon to talk about it.

JMUSB Beer of the Week (BOTW)

LazerSnake by 3 Floyds Brewing. The world has plenty of hazy fruit bombs New England IPAs. This is not one of them. It’s a good old fashioned throwback IPA. It’s not overly bitter and it goes down smooth. 3 Floyds has been known by craft beer fans for years, but has only recently been distributed near us. It was worth the wait. They make great beers and LazerSnake is worth trying. And at 7% ABV it will take the edge off for those of you forced to reckon with the sad reality of paying FloSports to watch this game.

Official JMUSB Prediction

The run game goes wild, another crisp day from CoJo, and the D creates a few turnovers. JMU rolls 35-17. New Hampshire caught a bad break playing a Pitt team motivated to play its best football after suffering an awful loss to Western Michigan. They’re better than last week’s result indicates. But JMU is coming into this game rested and focused. The Dukes train keeps marching with another road win this weekend.

Sep 19 / Rob

Dukes Pick Up Impressive Road Win at Weber State

The JMU Dukes took their longest road trip ever, flying all the way out to Ogden, Utah. And boy was the trip worth it. JMU took down a very strong Weber State team defeating the Wildcats 37-24. It was a hard fought contest between two very tough teams. Weber put together a couple of scores in garbage time, but the truth was that JMU pretty much dominated in the second half. Cole Johnson continued his hot play, completing 20 of 28 for 177 yards and 2 TDs. He wasn’t flashy, but he was efficient. Antwane Wells Jr. got banged up a little bit, but still managed to haul in 8 catches and score 2 touchdowns. The Dukes got contributions from all over in the running game behind some spectacular offensive line play. On defense, it was a physical effort that reminded a lot of fans of some of the “bend, but don’t break” Dukes D of the recent past. Overall though, the defense was pretty good and put the clamps on Weber before a couple of late touchdowns made the game look closer than it really was. Here are a few quick thoughts on the win.

O-Line Stepped Up

The offensive-line was the one position group that JMU fans were concerned about heading into this season. Of course, most people didn’t think the line would play poorly. It was more a concern about the depth and reliance on several younger players. Against Weber State, in a game that tested JMU’s depth at multiple positions, the offensive line had a fairly impressive performance. The guys opened up huge holes for the JMU running backs to push through and thoroughly dominated in the third quarter when JMU put the game away. When Liam Fornadel went down for the season, it created an opportunity not just for Tyler Stephens, but for the entire line to elevate its play. Through three games they have. And yesterday on the road against a top 10 team, they anchored the big second half push to secure the win.

Tough Opponents Mean Tough Games

The majority of the fanbase has complained for years about the Dukes’ lopsided affairs in out of conference play. The cries for more competitive games against top teams from other conferences have been pretty loud for a wile. Everyone says they want the Dukes to player fewer FCS minnows and more FCS powers. Well it turns out that playing tough teams make for tough games.

We realize that sounds pretty obvious, but based on the general anxiety of JMU twitter during the first half, it had to be said. The bar has been set very high for JMU football. Weber State is a top 10 team. This was arguably JMU’s best FCS regular season opponent since playing App State in 2008. Fans say they want competitive games, but it sure seems like what they really want is blowouts against more competitive teams. JMU was far from dominant in the first half, but the Dukes took advantage of some key Weber mistakes and held a comfortable 14 point lead at the break. A significant portion of JMU fans seemed underwhelmed though. And it wasn’t even particularly close. JMU turned it into a laugher after the break.

It’s great to have high standards. Football games are 60 minutes and there are no style points in the standings. And the Dukes did exactly what top teams do. They took everything a top opponent threw at them, persevered, and eventually pounced on opportunities to march to an easy victory. They’re not all going to be wire to wire blowouts.

The Bye Week Seems Pretty Clutch

JMU having it’s bye in September didn’t seem ideal when the schedule was published. It seems pretty ideal now. The Dukes took some serious lumps yesterday. Antwane Wells Jr. was hobbled and it looks like Kaelon Black could be done for a while. And the Dukes were missing several key players heading into the game. JMU has an old school CAA gauntlet on tap, with games against New Hampshire, Villanova, Richmond, and Delaware coming up. All four to those teams look good enough to make the playoffs, if not make a run. JMU needs to get healthy and stay focused in order to emerge from that upcoming four week stretch unscathed. The bye week is early, but it seems pretty perfect right about now.