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.


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  1. Rob K / Oct 31 2021

    Good summary. There is a report that Percy is likely out for the year, so that is going to be a huge loss for us. I love, love Palmer – he took some big hits today and kept going – but Percy was the one most likely to break the big run for 30-40 yards. Having him out is going to present a lot of challenges for us.

    As for the defense, we just need to get excited about the fact that we are going to give up 1-2 long pass plays per game and have 1-2 PI penalties. We don’t have Jimmy Moreland back there anymore on press coverage. That said, Ross is very good, and I love his attitude. And the other kids can really play and they seem to play well as a unit. Our fans go crazy on social media every time there is a long pass against us, but that is football. Sometimes good players on the other team make good plays. We can absolutely win with this defense – especially with Cole hitting his long throws.

    The protection was much improved with Fornadel back in the lineup. And having Wells back to full health was a beautiful thing. Harry had a sneakily great game for the second week in a row. Overall, great game by everyone.

    One nit – it ended up working out fine, but calling a time out with 2nd and goal and 1:02 left on the clock in the first half was . . . perplexing. Someone in charge of timeouts needs to play a lot more Madden and get in some reps.

  2. CJ / Nov 1 2021

    I always worry about our matchup with Elon, not because the Phoenix are necessarily an elite program, but because they AREN’T an elite program and yet they still manage to find ways to take us down to the wire. However, glad to see we took care of business against them. As we saw from the W&M-‘Nova game, most CAA teams are capable of bringing each other down given the right circumstances…so it’s never a gimme when we play a decent CAA team.

    The good news is that Cole looked pretty good. His accuracy was much better, and I liked how he showed a little mobility when there was some pressure to extend the play for a few critical seconds (rather than going down for the sack when a defensive lineman is within arms reach). If we’re going to make a solid playoff run, the most crucial element is having Cole playing up to his capability.

    The secondary had a pretty good game, too, although I’m telling you guys that secondary continues to be our achilles heal in some respects. Any opponent who studies film is going to quickly realize that JMU is weak on deep passes…receivers can get open on us, and our secondary commits a lot of interference penalties. Davis Cheek is the best QB we’ve seen in a few weeks, so we did a fairly good job keeping him in check. However, as the QBs and receivers become more dangerous in the playoffs, our secondary will become more of a concern.

    As the old saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. So I guess if I have to choose I’ll take an improving Cole over an improving secondary.

    Let’s get after our last shot at a National Championship!!!

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