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.


leave a comment
  1. maddukes98 / Dec 10 2021

    Living in a part of the country where there quite a few Griz fans here, I can say that I can feel the energy that is brewing from 2600 miles away in the PNW. I so badly wish I could be there at Bridgeforth but I’m rooting and can’t wait until 4PM PT!!! GO DUKES!!!

  2. The Oz / Dec 10 2021

    Great writeup, as usual. You had me at 0-0 Sunbelt. Go, Dukes!

  3. CJ / Dec 10 2021

    Super excited about this game. And despite Montana’s power, I’m feeling pretty confident that we’ll win. Next week at NDSU, not so much. But first things first…

    The travel puts a lot on Montana. And they had a tougher game last week than we did. After a twelve game season, things like this can affect a team, especially when you’re going against elite opponents.

    Cole was looking pretty good last week, albeit with the benefit of pretty good protection. I hope he builds on it tonight. If Cole is in his zone, we’ve got this.

    JMU tends to play up to the level of their competition. I’m hoping for a similar performance we saw last Spring against North Dakota.

    Key will be a focused and sustained effort by JMU. Can’t get rattled early and play from behind. Games can flip quick, especially against good teams.

    Getting a little ahead here, but the good news is that if we can get by Montana and NDSU, then I think it’s a lock we will win the title. There’s no team on the other side of the bracket better than those two. I’d love to settle the score with Sam Houston.

  4. Rob K / Dec 10 2021

    Looking forward to the big game. With our offense relying on big plays, we can really beat anyone. Although if those throws aren’t dropping just right, it can be a tough night. It was mentioned on the pod, but last week’s long catch by Brown was really pivotal in that game. If our receivers can keep making catches like that, then nobody is going to stop us.

  5. JMU2K1 / Dec 10 2021

    I watched the game while lurking on the game thread at eGriz. What a hellscape…

  6. Mike in Columbus / Dec 10 2021

    @JMU2K1. That must have been quite an experience as they sure seemed pretty confident of winning from what I was reading pre-game. I am guessing they complained a lot about calls that did not go their way; i.e. the overturned targeting call against JMU’s Kidd, the interference call when the JMU receiver fumbled the ball into the end zone, and maybe even the JMU touchdown in the 3rd quarter where the receiver just barely got into the end zone. Plenty of fodder for them to complain about but JMU really seemed to beat them in all phases of the game and outgained them by a large margin. Might have played out differently if their QB had not been knocked out of the game but that is just a lot of “what ifs.” Concerning for JMU, to me, seemed to be a lack of discipline or focus where #3 fumbled the ball on his one carry when JMU was driving and could have put the game away in the 3rd quarter ( sit his ass on the bench and don’t him in there anymore-can’t afford to have the running backs fumbling away what little running game the team has) and another instance where they fumbled the ball away when it seemed they were starting a good drive, a lack of any pass rush when the Montana starting QB was in there, and giving up quite a few sacks of Johnson. But overall, JMU really controlled the game and it never felt to me as if Montana was in it after it got to early parts of the 2nd half. Lastly, in response to the Sports Blog guys, I saw the “CAA Football” imprint into the Showalker Field all night long on TV so I am not sure what you were writing about in mentioning no sight of CAA signs. I would not mind seeing one more week of that imprint on the field if ETSU could beat NDSU. Would be good to see NDSU lose and JMU get that semi-final game at home but not counting on it. My first thought is that JMU won’t beat them at NDSU but JMU has a good team and if they continue the good passing attack and can get the same rushing game they had tonight, they can win that semi-final. Thanks always to the Sports Blog guys for the forum. Always enjoy reading the pre-game forecasts, the post-game wrap ups and listening to the podcast.

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