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.


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  1. Mike in Columbus / Mar 7 2021

    Thanks for the recap of yesterday’s game and I know we are somewhat football focused on the blog but I want to write about today’s basketball game as I am more of a college basketball fan and when I attended JMU basketball was THE sport and we had good teams that were competitive in the CAA and in most out of conference games. You may have plans to write about it but I did not have a chance to listen to Byington’s post-game show on radio but did listen to the game…did not watch it but listened via WSVA. I am still steamed about the outcome 5 hours after the end of the game. I think we can say overall the basketball program has made some progress but the result was still the same as it was under Rowe and Brady….a loss in the quarterfinals of the CAA tourney. I find myself liking Byington but it would not take much to have an improvement over Rowe and I think if we don’t hold Byington somewhat responsible for today’s loss, we are lettng him off too easily. Someone tweeted to the JMU Sports Blog that the technical on Byington towards the end of the game, when it was still in doubt, was bush league officiating. I would agree that CAA refs often think they are the show probably after watching a Power 5 game and seeing those refs on TV and I would agree that it was questionable for a ref to call a technical at that point with the game in the balance. But, it is also not very smart of Byington to get a technical at that point in the game regardless of how outlandish the call. He knew the game was still winnable at that point and still went ahead and lost his cool. Others may disagree and say he was standing up for the team but I just saw it as a poor decision by a coach that maybe got carried away with himself. I also think the last two losses and somewhat on Byington as he seems to not coach the team on how to defend the 3 point shot. Both Drexel and Elon are not good basketball teams yet they both won against us by hitting an abundance of 3 point shots. I am also disappointed in the team giving up a 15 point lead from the midway point of the second half. Got to put the hammer down at that point and JMU just cannot do it. I think there has been improvement…in nothing else in attitude towards the basketball program but don’t think we should get too carried away as they did not play a lot of games on the road and only played about 18 games overall. Let’s see how they do in a full season next year. Just see no reason why JMU should not he dominating this conference in basketball the way it has been in football the last few years. Ok thanks for providing the forum for venting. I know you guy’s post was on yesterday’s football game but I have been mad about the outcome for hours. I know we weren’t going to the NCAAs without Lewis but did want to see us finally win just one game in the CAA tourney for a change.

    Regarding yesterday’s football I just listened to WSVA via the computer but it seems as if the offense has no real spark under Cole. He also seems to make poor decisions and perhaps he is just not the guy to lead the team at QB even if he has paid his dues and waited for his shot. Got to go with who gives the offense some direction and who the other guys trust. Will be interesting to see who starts next week and if it is Gage, whether he can do any better playing the whole game. Better get it figured out before the “real” season starts in September. Thanks guys for the great work on the blog. I don’t post often but appreciate the forum for when I do want to vent and always enjoy reading your writing.

  2. RMD / Mar 8 2021

    Just checking my spelling … Moloney is with an “o”, right?

  3. Rob K / Mar 8 2021

    A few thoughts on the game:

    1. The internet / social media comments during the game were . . . not good or positive. I think we could all perhaps calm down a little bit. It was a bad start to the game and a great come from behind victory. Reading the social media comments, you would have thought we lost the game.

    2. The move to Gage was absolutely the correct one. I think Johnson is great to have as a back-up QB. He takes risks and can win any game against any opponent. He can also lose any game against any opponent. That type of player is valuable, just perhaps not as the every-day starter.

    3. Outside of the switch to Gage and the come-from-behind victory, the loss of Fornadel is perhaps the biggest story from this week. Going into the season, I would have ranked our best returning players as (1) Fornadel (2) Green (3) Atariwa (4) Amos and perhaps (5) Percy in some order. Combined with the other injuries to the D-line, three of those five no longer able to contribute because of injury or transfer is going to be extremely hard to make up.

    This is not a negative statement, but I suspect we will be the Notre Dame of this year’s FCS conference. We may go into the playoffs with a very strong record and a high ranking, but injuries will make it difficult to compete with the top teams. All that said, great win, and I look forward to seeing how Gage plays with this team and enjoying the season.

  4. CJ / Mar 8 2021

    The red flag we saw in the Robert Morris game has turned into a blazing crimson supernova of a banner. Hey, I get the positive spin that we hung tough and pulled out a win…but we weren’t playing Weber State or NDSU. This is twice now that teams with nowhere near our talent (or budget) are cooking us for good portions of the game. Elon, who got owned by the mighty Gardner Webb the week before, basically beat us for nearly three quarters of the game…with a freshman quarterback. How does that happen?

    William and Mary most definitely smells blood in the water. RMU and Elon gave them two solid blueprints on how to beat us. I’m sure Coach London senses the opportunity and will come at us with everything. And based on what we’ve seen so far he’s got a good shot at winning.

    Overall, we have some of the best talent in the FCS. Our resources and coaching are also very good. But even if the elements for success are all there, it still doesn’t guarantee that everything will come together. There’s a disconnect somewhere and the coaches need to fix it. I think replacing Cole was a good start. We can’t afford to wait for him to find his rhythm. From what little we saw of Gage, I thought he looked pretty good. One thing I noticed was that his mobility was much better than Cole’s. Elon had more success than they should have stopping our run game, so if Gage can connect with our elite receivers it will really have our offense firing on all cylinders.

    I know it’s a crazy year and things are off the rails in a lot of ways. There’s still a lot of football to be played. But this is where our coaching staff proves whether they’re worth their salt. I hope we’re not seeing a repeat of 2018…where we came in with high expectations, but then had some surprise losses to Elon and UNH which heralded an early playoff exit to an inferior but hungrier team. The difference between 2018 and now, however, is that our coach isn’t going to jump ship for an FBS program. I think Coach Cig is with us for the long haul and I trust that he’s as good as anyone to correct our issues.

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