May 7 / Todd

Official JMUSB Semi-Final Preview: JMU at Sam Houston St.

Solomon Vanhorse wearing all-white uniform
He wears a different number now, but could we see Vanhorse in the passing game in the storm-trooper whites this week?!

The Basics

Matchup: #3 JMU Dukes (7-0, 3-0 CAA) at #2 Sam Houston Bearkats (8-0, 6-0 Southland)

Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. EDT. Saturday, May 8, 2021, Elliott T. Bowers Stadium, Huntsville, Texas

Weather: Partly Cloudy, 84

Broadcast: ABC – this is outstanding!

Boys in the Desert: JMU -1, O/U 47

How Sam Houston Can Win

Play their game and don’t get caught up worrying about the bigger picture. Sam Houston is the first opponent JMU has faced this year where we can’t say with confidence that if both teams play their best games, the Dukes are a heavy favorite. Sam Houston under former Delaware Coach KC Keeler have made a point of rebuilding their program from the inside out to be more physical by following the model set by NDSU and JMU. Last week’s ousting of the Bison went a long way towards helping the Bearkats (seriously, with a “k”) shed the #SoftHouston label that Valley and CAA fans have been throwing at them for a decade – with the high-water mark for this shade being the 2016 playoff shellacking in Harrisonburg for a then-undefeated and top-ranked (not seeded, sound familiar Dukes fans?) high-flying offensive show.

But this week Sam Houston needs to forget all of that – the NDSU win, the 2016 humiliation at JMU and the accompanying trash-talk, and the chance to return to the FCS title game – this time against a non-dynastic opponent – and just play their game. The Bearkats need to hit a few downfield throws, run enough power to keep the Dukes honest, and trust speedy dual-threat QB Eric Schmid to make JMU pay when things break down. On the other side, Sam was able to shut down NDSU’s running game last week, a task made much easier because NDSU provided essentially zero threat in the passing game. The game plan this week is likely the same and Sam’s best chance remains stacking the box and hoping Cole has a bad day and/or their corners can hold up against a receiving corps loaded with threats.

Oh yeah, it also wouldn’t hurt the Bearkats chances to not give up multiple special teams TDs the way they did last week.

How JMU Can Win

Sling it! For real, it may be time to #passmore. Obviously JMU wants to run the ball like always and prove even this bulked-up version of the Bearkats can be bullied, but if Sam Houston puts eight in the box as often as they did last week, we could see a repeat of the first half against VMI a couple weeks ago with the Dukes looking to exploit one-on-one matchups on the outside with Wells Jr., Thornton, and Bracey. Addtionally, with the growing volume of jaw-dropping gametape on Wells, Jr., if Sam rolls any help his way, could we see more looks at Clayton Cheatham in the middle or even Vanhorse/Hamilton in the slot or the rarely-used screen game a bit?!

On defense, even if they can’t get massive pressure, JMU’s front seven needs to stay home to make sure Schmid can’t break huge plays with his feet. On the back end of the defense, the Dukes secondary just needs to make plays if (when?) Schmid’s occasionally suspect throwing gives them opportunities.

And Special Teams! Last week we had even more fiascos on specials but the Dukes avoided the worst of the potential consequences. This week actually presents an opportunity against an equally mistake-prone SHSU unit and the Dukes need to at least break even in this facet.

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA. Of course we still love IPAs and the kick from the higher ABV, but semi-final Saturday with JMU kicking off the second of two national tv games calls for something without all the hipster haze of the New England variety that only leaves you feeling like you’ve eaten a burrito or two. This one is a classic; just west-coast smooth and ready to rock a celebration Saturday!

Official JMUSB Prediction

This has the feel of a great one. A hungry rebuilt Sam Houston in their building defending their unblemished home FCS playoff record against JMU, a true FCS powerhouse finally finding its rhythm, and its swagger, at the perfect point of this Spring season. We think JMU has a bit more firepower to find the clutch drive late when needed.

JMU 27, Sam Houston 23


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  1. Mike in Ohio / May 7 2021

    Thanks for the good pre-game analysis as always. I am not much into predictions but hope yours comes out correct. I was not paying much attention to the spring season initially as I was not sure they should even be playing and when some virus-related postponements occurred, I really felt they should not be playing. However, when the playoffs started I got sucked back in. Find the team to be sort of confounding. Everytime the QB goes back to pass I am sure he is either going to throw an interception or get sacked and fumble the ball away. Yet at the end of the game he has completed 14-17 for over 250 yards. The defense reminds me somewhat of what used to happen under Mickey Matthews with several stupid penalties that keep the other team’s drives alive or they give up big yards on trick plays. Yet after the game they have mostly shut the other team down and kept the other offense off of the field. And I have never been real enthusiastic about Cignetti as I thought he made some bad decisions in the last championship game that cost JMU that game and I find his offense pretty predestrian and him to be an old school kind of coach that reminds of what we saw here in Columbus under Jim Tressel at Ohio State. Yet at the end of the game they have scored over 30 points and have dominated in time of possession. So at the beginning of each game I am sure they are going to lose and then have to admit they look pretty good…just not flashy. So hopefully it continues for this week. Watched the SH-NDSU game last weekend and felt NDSU should have won that even after only mostly scoring through special teams, so I think if JMU can withstand the heat and put them behind early, we can win. Thanks for the blog and podcasts. Always enjoy reading and listening to them as it keeps me connected to JMU sports while here in Ohio.

  2. CJ / May 7 2021

    Can I just say that I love this? JMU taking on the best of the FCS…and looking good! I sure didn’t see it coming, but great win last week against North Dakota!

    I’ve completely given up trying to figure out this team. Lightweights like RMU and Elon have us on the ropes and looking discombobulated, and then we knock out a heavyweight like North Dakota as if we’re Clemson or Alabama. It completely defies any rational explanation.

    My only conclusion is that if our running game is firing on all cylinders (as it was on Sunday), JMU is tough for anyone to beat. Sam Houston is a very good team, but if JMU’s run game is clicking then Sam Houston will be cooked. With Wells emerging as an equally potent threat in the passing game, Sam Houston is really in quandary defensively.

    On the other hand, do not discount the disadvantage of JMU having a short prep week combined with long distance travel. I think this has been a factor for our previous playoff opponents like ND, Weber, and Sam Houston, but now we’re on the other end of that factor.

    I’m feeling pretty good about the game, but all things considered what do I know?

    Still, this is why I love JMU football. And to round out the boxing analogies…on Saturday, somebody’s “0” has got to go!

  3. Dion Foxx, the last great JMU dual sport threat / May 7 2021

    I kinda like the idea of starting the first series made up of a deep shot to Wells and maybe a screen or two to Vanhorse. We don’t need to establish the run. It’s already been established by default. Get weird. maybe a five wide formation just for laughs. If it works, great. If not, we settle into ground and pound. Dukes 28-9.

  4. Rob K / May 7 2021

    Great summary. Very excited for this one. I keep waiting for the injuries and transfers we have experienced on defense (particularly D-line) to come back to haunt us, and it hasn’t happened yet. Really have to give it up to the younger kids and the coaching to get the boys ready to play and dominate.

    On offense, I can’t say enough about how dominating the run game was last week. It was a joy to watch. If I remember correctly, the annoncer last week described Palmer as a “a big man with bad ideas.” We need more of that. You saw last week that short throws and bombs plays to Cole’s strengths. If we can keep that going and a good running game, we can beat anyone.

  5. Dukes4 / May 8 2021

    Suffering thru this game. Play calling is ….?

  6. Mike in Ohio / May 8 2021

    Well at least they did not totally fold after undergoing that onslaught in the 3rd quarter but you got to run some offense in the 3rd quarter to keep their offense off of the field since the defense looked totally gassed. And then another dumb penalty at the end that ended any feint hope of a comeback. And you can’t give up a sack on Gage on that 3rd down play. But give it to Johnson, who I don’t have much confidence in, he played tough and did not back down. But if anyone was watching this they figured out a way to beat us….just speed things up and spread the field on offense. Ok on to getting ready for the fall season in September.

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