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

FEPO: NDSU -5

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.

Dec 10 / Todd

2021 FCS Quarterfinal Preview: Montana at JMU

Res Ipsa Loquitur – the thing speaks for itself. Favorite maxim of law students and Sorkin nerds everywhere. But rarely does it hit this hard. Montana vs. JMU. What else do you need? Nothing, you need nothing else. For two schools separated by 2300 miles that are playing for only the third time, it really is stunning how much just that phrase – Montana vs. JMU – means to fans of both programs. But given that each of those matchups have occurred in December, you know what that means in terms of the stakes for FCS teams. A title won, a heartbreaking semifinal loss for the most mythical Dukes team ever, and now tonight!

The Basics

Matchup: #6 Montana Grizzlies (10-2, 6-2 Big Sky) at #3 JMU Dukes (11-1, 0-0 Sun Belt)

Kickoff: 7:00 p.m. EST. FRIDAY December 10, 2021, Bridgeforth Stadium, Rocktown

Weather: Cloudy, High 46

Broadcast: ESPN2

FEPO: Opened at JMU-6.5

How We Got Here

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

The sixth-seeded Griz avenged a regular season loss to Big Sky rival Eastern Washington at home last week in front of a raucous crowd. After falling behind early, Montana used some huge plays on special teams and an avalanche of Eagles errors to turn a thriller into a semi-blowout and won going away 57-41.

How Montana Can Win

Avoid mistakes and get to the QB. Offensively, Montana needs to play soundly. 17 or so points and no turnovers from their offense would be fine. They cannot afford to give the Dukes defense big plays and opportunities the way SLU did last week. And really, they probably don’t want this to turn into a typical Big Fluffy shootout like their game against EWU did either.

But Montana’s strengths are on defense and specials and that’s where they’ll be looking to win this thing. What they need to do most is pressure Cole Johnson. Given the matchup, it seems unlikely JMU’s running game will go nuts, but if Cole has time, Montana showed last week they can be beaten on the back end, and that was before they saw Wells, Thornton, Ravenel, and Brown. The Griz simply have to get to Cole.

And of course they have great teams. A track-speed kick returner, a strong punter, and a solid kicker. They’ll need to be special in this phase too.

How JMU Can Win

Make less mistakes and more big plays. It sounds too simple, but this one is just so closely matched that it really does come down to those two things. Cole won’t have clean pockets all day like last week, but if the Dukes can hit 2 or 3 big ones on offense again this week, that’s where the Griz are vulnerable and could be enough. Defensively, the Dukes need to play clean and get off the field on third down when they can. Every extra chance they can give the offense, the better the chances the big plays will hit.

And just like Montana, Ratke, Wise, Sroba, Thornton/VanHorse, and especially ALL of the coverage teams need to play their best games of the season. Most importanly, mistakes must be extremely limited when the margins are this close.

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Brothers Resolute – Friday night lights means it’s that time. Dark, cold, perfect.

Official JMUSB Prediction

Last home playoff game ever (in all likelihood we know). Montana. Rodney Landers narrating the hype video. Montana is really good. Good enough to win. Definitely good enough to make this a heart-wrenching, nervous-as-hell, insane Friday night game. But the Dukes ain’t done yet and they’ll find a way. Dukes 27, Montana 24.

Dec 2 / Todd

2021 FCS Playoffs Round of 16: Southeastern Louisiana at JMU

And just like that, the last ride in the FCS playoffs is here for the Dukes. And while we don’t want to admit it, that’s a scary prospect for fans. Obviously we all have hopes of going out a winner in Frisco in a rematch with Sam or Villanova in January. And realistically given this teams limitations in the running game and the difficult path the Dukes will face on this side of the bracket, many fans could probably at least hold their heads high on the way out after a big fight in a semi-final ending in Fargo. But woof, a Withers/Houston-esque Liberty or Colgate pratfall at this early stage with many fans barely aware the playoffs have started would suck. Like really really suck. We’re bullish on JMU’s chances this week, but this opponent does have the tools to make this more than a hail-mary possibility.

Before we get into things, a few quick notes on Southeastern. First, they officially prefer to be called “Southeastern.” When abbreviated, they’re touch about being “SLU” instead of “SELA” but SLU is the St. Louis Billikens for college fans and they’re just wrong. SELA is in Hammond, LA, a small town down in the boot north of New Orleans and east of Baton Rouge.

A cool thing about their home, Strawberry Stadium, is that it was initially built as one of President Roosevelt’s WPA projects back in the 30’s. Another fun fact in this game is that Dukes RB/DB Austin Douglas’ brother Justin is a DB for the Lions so you know there will be some chatter amongst players and a general lack of fear both ways.

SELA ain’t seen a guy like this

The Basics

Matchup: #2 JMU Dukes (10-1, 7-1 in that league) vs. Southeastern Louisiana Lions (9-3, 6-2 Southland)

Kickoff: 2:00 p.m. EST. Saturday December 4, 2021, Bridgeforth Stadium, Harrisonburg, VA

Weather: Mostly Sunny, High 59 – by Rocktown standards, a bluebird December day!

Broadcast: ESPN+

FEPO: Opened at JMU-14.5

How We Got Here

The Dukes received the #3 national seed in the FCS playoffs and had a bye last week.

The Lions beat the snot out of a rare SWAC at-large selectee Florida A&M last week 38-14. SLU ran a fake FG for an untouched TD on their first drive and never looked back at home in Strawberry Stadium in Hammond, LA last week to advance.

How SLU Can Win

Get into a shootout and outscore a JMU team that has shown a penchant for clamming up in the red zone. 6’7″ Lions QB Cole Kelly is a former 4-star recruit who transferred from Arkansas and won national player of the year honors in the Spring season. He spreads the ball all over the place to a deep core of pass-cathers (10 guys have at least 200 yards this season) spread out among WR, TE, and RB. Kelly is also the team’s leading rusher but that says more about the absolute lack of care for running the ball as a team than it does about his lumbering runs. SLU leads the nation in most offensive categories with a creative scheme that utilizes the absolute weapon they have at QB.

But defensively the Lions are another story. Every “big” game on their schedule has been an absolute shootout win or lose. 45-42 loss to FBS La. Tech. 58-48 win and a 45-42 loss to Southland rival Nicholls (don’t ask about Southland’s weird schedule after Sam Houston bolted for AQ7 this season). 55-52 loss to playoff team UIW and a 38-35 win over McNeese. While the defense appeared to play well in last week’s playoff opener, we won’t know till Saturday whether that reflected improvement by Southeastern or ineptitude from an overmatched and maybe-not-playoff-quality FAMU squad. Most likely the best the Lions can hope for is shutting down the Dukes predictable running game and finding a turnover somewhere.

How JMU Can Win

Tackle and play smart. Defensively, this is an intriguing game for a JMU team accustomed to truly shutting teams down. If that’s not entirely possible, and the film suggests it’s unlikely, the Dukes need to do the small things they don’t usually have to worry about as much. First, tackle tackle tackle. SELA does a ton of short passing in every direction and five yard completions need to be five yard gains, not 15 or more after missed tackles. Secondly, the Dukes need to be smart in the penalty department. Obviously, there will a focus on, and opportunities for, absolutely getting after the QB but late hits and targetings won’t help. And the Lions have shown a willingness at times, especially when challenged, to run the “all-PI” offense where they chuck it downfield and force DB’s to make plays. This was successful last week and JMU DB’s, particularly corners Greg Ross and Taurus Carroll, need to try everything they can to be aggressive without giving away free first downs.

On offense it’s simple – FINISH! There’s a not-unrealistic argument to be made that if the Dukes ever punt in this game against this defense it’s a failure. There’s an even stronger case that JMU should NEVER be settling for FG’s in this game if they plan to win. That’s it, across the goal line no matter what.

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Vanish Ghost Fleet IPA. Time to step it up with libations worthy of playoff games and this dark, cold, and perfect IPA fits the bill. Just love Vanish and their homegrown hops so much.

Official JMUSB Prediction

JMU puts this one away with a couple big plays from defense and specials after a nervy first three quarters. 45-31 Dukes!

Nov 19 / Rob

2021 JMUSB Game Preview #11: JMU vs. Towson

Well, this is how it ends. JMU’s final CAA Football Conference game takes place on Saturday against our old pals, the Towson (State) Tigers. It occurred to me that despite JMU sharing a league with Towson for two decades, I don’t know a single thing about the school. After some extensive research (Wikipedia) however, Saturday’s match-up is apparently a matchup of former normal schools. Like JMU, Towson began as its states flagship school for educating teachers and has grown to a large institution with over 20,000 students today. However, after learning about that little journey, the article immediately jumped to an account of Barry Freundel’s voyeurism, so perhaps it best we end our overview of the school. In any case, Towson has very little fan support and seems perfectly content to ignore its sleeping giant potential in favor of abject mediocrity. We think that makes the Tigers the perfect final CAA opponent for the Dukes. Let’s go.

The Basics

Matchup: #2 JMU Dukes (9-1, 6-1 in that league) vs. Towson Tigers (4-6, 3-4 CAA)

Kickoff: 2:00 p.m. EST. Saturday November 20, 2021, Bridgeforth Stadium, Harrisonburg, VA

Weather: Mostly Cloudy, high 48

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

How We Got Here

If you weren’t paying attention to Towson football last spring (and be honest, you weren’t), you might have missed that they took the season off. Any thoughts that the extra rest would give the Tigers a competitive advantage this Fall were quickly dismissed when everyone remembered that it was Towson. The Tigers have had their typical up and down season, during which they’ve managed to sneak in a good win over Rhody, a pair of wins over lesser CAA schools, and a number of relatively impotent performances to fill out the rest of the schedule. They’re currently coming off a two game skid with losses to RU and Elon. In last weekend’s 37-14 defeat to Elon, the Tigers trotted out a 3 QB attack to open the game. It didn’t work. Despite the disappointing result, Jerry Howard Jr. ran for 126 yards on only 17 carries. That’s legit. So is he.

JMU on the other hand is riding a 5 game winning streak and fresh off a 32-22 win over William & Mary. Against the Tribe, JMU’s offense struggled in the red zone, but move the ball pretty well all day. Defensively, the Dukes managed to keep the William & Mary offense in check for all but a few plays. Of course those few plays that they let up resulted in scores. The fact remains that despite its red zone struggles, JMU won handily. Again.

How Towson Can Win

The Tigers will go as far as Jerry Howard Jr. can take them. The Georgia Tech transfer has been a real bright spot for Towson. He’s exceeded 100 yards rushing in 3 of his last 5 games. He’s a big back and should be the focus on the Tiger attack on Saturday. They’re best hope is to pound the ball with him and keep the Dukes offense on the sidelines. If they do that, and JMU fails to convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns, they’ll have a chance.

How JMU Can Win

JMU has shown that they can win games even when the offense stalls near the end zone, but they really need to punch it in for a few touchdowns. This is the last game of the regular season and a great chance to build momentum for the playoffs. The offensive line has stepped up in the passing game lately. They need to find a way to have the same sort of success with the ground game. The Dukes have proven that they can win with “B” games from the offense and a stellar performance from Ethan Ratke. They need to get back to their more successful ways of running the ball effectively while spreading the ball around in the air. JMU has shown us brief peaks of championship level play this season. This regular season finale would be a great time for them to put together a full 60 minutes hitting on all cylinders.

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Lazersnake by 3 Floyds Brewing. This brewery out of Indiana has been well know by beer fans for ages. It’s only been relatively recently that we could find its beers where we live in Virginia. Not much more to say about it other than their stellar reputation is deserved. Lazersnake is a good, no nonsense IPA. Drink it and root for Dukes.

Official JMUSB Prediction

The Dukes put the clamps on the Tigers run game, Latrelle Palmer goes off, and Cole slings it around all day. JMU is going to go out of the CAA with a bang. The Dukes should win and win big. We’re thinking 35-10 good guys. Enjoy the game everyone.

Nov 14 / Rob

Quick Thoughts On JMU 32 – William & Mary 22

The Dukes kicked off their burn it all down tour of CAA destruction with a 10 point victory over the William & Mary Tribe. It was more methodical than exciting. But it was a win. And it moved JMU to 9-1 overall. Only a regular season finale against Towson stands between the Dukes and another double-digit win campaign. Cole Johnson had another 300 yard day in the air, completing 24 of 42 for 334 yards and a score. The Dukes moved the ball effectively all day, but struggled to convert red zone opportunities into TDs. Thankfully, Ethan Ratke made sure that didn’t bit them. The super senior had another historic day, converting all 6 of his field goal attempts. Defensively, Kelvin Azanama lead the way with 7 tackles overall and 2 for a loss. Overall, it was a solid win in what might be JMU last game in the lesser ‘burg for the foreseeable future. Here are a few quick thoughts on the win.

Give It Up For Mr. Ratke

Ethan Ratke set two NCAA records during the game. After hitting a program single game record 6 field goals, he’s officially kicked more than anyone in NCAA history. He’s sitting at 100 field goals and counting. That’s preposterous. He’s also the all time leading scorer when you factor in extra points, with 517 points. That is also preposterous. Fans might be frustrated with the Dukes inability to find the end zone as frequently as some past years (more on that later), but thanks to Ratke they managed to score on all 7 trips to the red zone against the Tribe. The guy has hit some of the biggest kicks in JMU history and he just keeps on going.

A Step Back Inside the 20

JMU moved the ball effectively against a pretty good Tribe D most of the game. The Dukes mixed it up in the passing game and spread the ball around. Eight different players caught passes. JMU was able to exploit matchups and get the ball to guys in position to make plays for most of the game. But things seemed to get complicated in the red zone. In its first possession in goal to go territory, JMU ran three versions of the same fade and failed to connect each time. In earlier games, it was JMU’s stubborn reluctance to get away from running inside that prevented them from getting 6 points. I know folks will disagree, but the struggles in this game seemed more related to execution than philosophy. On the the 3 aforementioned fades, the line gave Cole time and the receivers found space, but they couldn’t connect. It’s frustrating to see the repetition, but at least one of the 3 plays should have succeeded. JMU offense seems to rely on pass catchers in the flats making guys miss or going over the top. Those types of plays can be tough to execute inside the 20 as the field shrinks. JMU has enough weapons where it should be able to scheme something up near the goal line. But it’s also going to take guys stepping up and simply making plays.

Guess JMU is a Passing Team

Despite both Kris Thornton and Antwan Wells Jr. wowing fans during Spring football, most of us thought the JMU offense would be run focused. That hasn’t been the case. William & Mary has a good defense and JMU running back corps is plenty banged up. But this was not a great running performance by the Dukes. They averaged only 2.5 yards per carry. That’s not good enough. Despite the injuries and relative inexperience, the offense line was pretty good pass protection. Cole had plenty of time to throw most of the day. Things were a bit messier in terms of run blocking though. Latrelle Palmer is a terrific runner, but it’s asking too much of him to make guys miss before he gets to the line of scrimmage repeatedly. With only one more regular season game before the playoffs, JMU needs to figure things out quickly. The running game was supposed to be the strength of this team. Coming out of this win, it’s closer to a question mark.

Broadcast Amateur Hour

The terrible FloSports media deal is one of many reasons we’re anxious for JMU to move on from the CAA. It provides limited exposure and very little money for the league. The actual Flo app is much improved this season however. The problems are more of the garbage in, garbage out variety. Too many CAA schools have poor quality production with bad camera angles, limited replays, and overall junior varsity efforts. William & Mary’s technical production was fine, but what the heck was up with those announcers? We expect a certain degree of homerism whenever it’s another schools’ crew, but these dudes were next level. From calling out Tribe d-backs for “great coverage” as PI flags came flying out of the hands of every single official on the field, to trying to make “late slide” a thing, to ignoring the Tribe’s lack of discipline in favor of alleging that the refs were JMU alums, it was comically bad. William & Mary is one of the most outstanding educational institutions in the world. You might not know it you tuned into this broadcast.

Nov 12 / Todd

2021 JMUSB Game Preview #10: JMU at William & Mary

Time to begin the burn-it-all-down tour. Less animosity towards the Tribe than just about any CAA team, but they’re first on this retribution circuit. Big game, worthy opponent, one more time with the Griffins.

The Basics

Matchup: #2 JMU Dukes (8-1, 5-1 CAA) at William & Mary Tribe (6-3, 4-2 CAA)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. EST. Saturday November 13, 2021, Zable Stadium, the lesser ‘burg

Weather: Sunny, high 64

Broadcast: YurView (we don’t know what this is) or you can Go with the Flo (but we understand cancelling immediately with a clear explanation as to why)

How the Tribe Can Win

Muck it up. This is usually more of a hoops plan for a team that needs to throw you off your rhythm and turn a game into a rockfight. But it applies well to the Tribe this year. They really can’t throw the ball consistently and rarely light up the scoreboard, but they can control the ball and have forced oodles of turnovers in the games they’ve played well. In their season-highlighting win over Villanova two weeks ago the Tribe had four picks and a monstrous edge in time of possession. The running game has been strong even without much threat in the passing game and regardless of who has been under center. That’s not usually a formula for success against this JMU defense.

How the Dukes Can Win

Defensively, force W&M to throw and offensively don’t waste possessions. On D, the Dukes need to stop the Tribe from grinding out first downs with the running game and controlling the clock. This isn’t hard to say, but has been harder to execute as Villanova found out. On the other side, Cole and co. need to take every opportunity presented. Limiting wasted plays and penalties is huge against a team that will want to control the clock. Coach Cignetti has been pretty clear that the Tribe’s defense is athletically a better match for JMU than most teams the Dukes see and it will be important to not simply try to fall back on a “count on athleticism” advantage to pull this off.

JMUSB Beer of the Week (BOTW)

Founders All-Day IPA. It’s time to start wearing out CAA foes in every sport. All day. every day. every game. This is the perfect replacement when you’re having way more than one but you’ve reached the point where you understand life is too short for wang-stirred beer (Lite).

Official JMUSB Prediction

JMU 48, W&M 10. Good night and good bye W&M.

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.

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