Sep 22 / Todd

JMU at Utah St.: Official JMUSB Game #4 Preview

The Basics

Matchup: JMU Dukes (3-0, 1-0 Sun Belt) at Utah St. Aggies (1-2, 0-1 Pac12 ;))

Kickoff: 8 p.m. EDT. Saturday, September 23, 2023, Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium, Logan, Utah

Weather: 55 and dropping. Logan is in northern Utah, nearly to Wyoming and Idaho, and late September is deep fall. 6 p.m. local kickoff looks like perfect football weather.

Broadcast: Mountain West Network (free stream from what we can tell availalbe directly through the link on JMU’s schedule page; also there’s an app on Roku and AppleTV (which is unhelpful for LG Tv’s but you should be able to cast it from your iPhone)

Boys in the Desert: JMU -6.5, O/U 52.5

How We Got Here

The Dukes survived an absolute battle down in the deep south, hanging on for an important 16-14 dub at Troy last week. The Dukes have managed to get out of the first two legs of this rare and difficult three-game road trip.

The Aggies have had an odd schedule that is very hard to take much away from, destroying a bad FCS team – their neighbors just up the road Idaho St. – in Week 2, bookended by losses to two stronger teams. USU hung tough with Iowa in week 1 but sort of self-destructed with FIVE personal fouls and a few turnovers in an otherwise respectable 24-14 loss. Last week they got run out of Colorado Springs on a rail by an underrated Air Force squad who buried them 32-7 by halftime even if the final score put some lipstick on that pig.

How Utah St. Can Win

Ride the passing-game hope generated by true freshman QB (and alleged Aggie savior) McCae Hillstead to outscore a potentially tired Dukes team on a long trip at altitude. Like Virginia’s Colandrea, Hillstead is a true freshman that has generated all kinds of hype after entering last week’s game at Air Force and throwing three touchdowns, albeit in a mostly meaningless second half after trailing huge early. Unlike Colandrea, who was relatively unheralded, Hillstead has been the great hope for hardcore Aggie fans since the day he commmitted after becoming something of a Utah high school legend at Skyridge HS. (Speaking of Utah high school ball, wonder if the in-house streaming broadcast will talk as much about prep ball as the Weber St. team did a couple years ago – “Copper Canyon!” iykyk) But much of the passing game flows through Senior WR Terrell Vaughan, and JMU has to find a way to slow him down after struggling to contain top targets the last two weeks.

Otherwise it’s hard to know much about what Utah St. really wants to do offensively as they’ve been forced to throw in two games when trailing big and racked up a gazillion rushing yards against their survivalist friends from Pocatello. Good luck to them if they want to run on the Dukes this week though.

Defensively, they need to avoid allowing JMU a fast start and hope the Dukes stay conservative like they did last week.

How JMU Can Win

Focus. Utah St. is good, not great. Playing a Mountain West school is both fun and unusual. But with two emotional wins in the rearview and a huge matchup finally back at Bridgeforth next week against South Alabama, the number one item on JMU’s board this week has to be focusing on what’s required to win this game in the moment. A faster start offensively would go a long way to making that possible. JMU doesn’t need to go crazy or anything, but if the Dukes can distance themselves by two scores at any point, thus allowing them to run the ball on offense and turn the monstrous DLine loose on the freshman…..that’s likely a tasty recipe. Focus also extends to taking care of the football and avoiding hideous penalties, both of which JMU did a solid job of last week at Troy.

Defensively, JMU needs to keep steadily improving. Last week was better than UVA. On the surface Troy still racked up passing yards. But looking closer it’s hard not to notice a considerable amount of those yards were on perfectly timed back-shoulder throws and the like between a veteran QB and a couple solid receivers. Put simply, if JMU is going to be the best rushing defense in the country, that particular brand of passing play is going to be availalbe to those teams capable of hitting it. But that ain’t most teams and it remains to be seen whether another new young QB can do it this week.

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Avery Brewing’s The Reverend Belgian Quad – As with most middle-aged (it’s eerie how quickly I’m wondering about when I won’t even be able use that descriptor anymoe!) beer geeks, we’ve finally found our way to all things Belgium. And while we appreciate the efforts of American brewers to replicate the classics, most of them aren’t even on the same figurative continent as, say, a St. Bernardus 12. But Avery, aptly located in the new capital of college football (Boulder), has one of the best versions we’ve found. And an 8 p.m. kickoff on a rainy fall evening in the Commonwealth where we hope another random streaming network holds up for all four quarters is the perfect time to break out this monster.

Official JMUSB Prediction

JMU 30, Utah St. 20 – Offense makes progress even if this is closer than we’d prefer.

Sep 15 / Todd

JMU at Troy: Official JMUSB Game #3 Preview

The Basics

Matchup: JMU Dukes (2-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) at Troy Trojans (1-1, 0-0 Sun Belt)

Kickoff: 7 p.m. EDT. Saturday, September 16, 2023, Veterans Memorial Stadium, Troy, Alabama

Weather: Partly Cloudy, low 80’s

Broadcast: NFL Network (pretty cool)

Boys in the Desert: Troy -2.5

Let’s get back to this from the Dukes Safety group!

How We Got Here

Dukes had a slightly disappointing showing in a 38-3 opener against FCS Bucknell before a massive post-weather-delay comeback to win an insanely emotional game over the Wahoos last weekend. Troy also was underwhelming (at least defensively) in their FCS opener where they downed Stephen F. Austin 48-30 (was 31-20 at the half before Troy pulled away). Then they played a very solid half at Top 15 Kansas St. before imploding/wearing down after the break and letting things get a bit out of hand 42-13 on the road.

How Troy Can Win

Extend whatever drought the JMU offense goes through and use that to outscore the Dukes. JMU has had extended periods where the offense has stalled a bit in both of the first two weeks even though they’ve scored 36 and 38 points so far. Troy’s defense is better than either unit JMU has seen so far. While it seems unlikely they’ll keep the Dukes in check for 60 minutes, if they can force two plus quarters of “meh” from JMU’s offense, that could set them up to score enough.

Troy has a superback in Kimani Vidal. He can grind out yards (like last week against a legit KSt. team) and he’s explosive with a national-best four carries over 40 yards thus far. The Dukes lead the country in rushing yards per play though and this matchup of strength-on-strength should be a dream to watch.

Troy also has a talented WR in Chris Lewis, capabale of hitting the highlight reel anytime the ball heads his way. But if JMU can hold Vidal to even normal-ish rushing numbers, can QB Gunnar Watson find Lewis and co. in obvious passing situations when Kromah and Green have green lights in the pass rush?

On defense, Troy cannot afford any of the second-half lapses they had in the Little Apple last week. UVA seemed well-prepped for much of what JMU likes to do, but when things got tight late, they missed opportunities to close the Dukes out. The Trojans will need to be better.

How JMU Can Win

Cash in opportunities with points. The last two weeks, JMU managed to find enough possessions to eventually get the offense rolling after slowish stints in the first half of both games. This week they’re playing a team with equal talent that likes to run the ball, control the clock, and isn’t afraid to play low-scoring junkfests. The Dukes simply cannot afford to miss chances when TD’s are availalbe. As was much discussed, JMU overthrew sure TD connections against Bucknell early and then last week a combination of drops, a timid 4th down decision, and another overthrow saw them miss the chance to really bury the Cavs before they got their own momentum late in the opening half.

Barring turnovers, JMU’s defense should keep them in this one throughout against a rush-first squad. But Troy seems unlikely to blow this on their own and the Dukes need to pay off their chances when presented.

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Swover Creek Farm Brewery Jalapeno Cream Ale – It’s the first real Fall Saturday weather-wise in the Valley so far this year and the Dukes have a night game. So head out in the afternoon to gorgeous Swover Creek (it’s an Edinburg address but it’s more Mt. Jackson) for some incredible pizza (get the Mexican with the homemade Chorizo) and try something weird (non-gourd category of course). Use the JMU mug on the wall if they’ll let ya!

Official JMUSB Prediction

JMU 34, Troy 24 – Just a really good game between two solid and proud programs. But the JMU pass defense and tackling finally tighten up and compliment the front six, forcing a late back-breaking turnouver from the home team.

Sep 7 / Todd

JMU at UVA: Official JMUSB Game #2 Preview

Hoping for a few moments like this!

The Basics

Matchup: JMU Dukes (1-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) at Virginia Cavaliers (0-1, 0-0 ACC)

Kickoff: Noon EDT. Saturday, September 9, 2023, Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, VA

Weather: Isolated thunderstorms, high 85. Looking promising that storms will hold off till after the game but going to be moist and humid regardless.

Broadcast: ESPNU

Boys in the Desert: JMU -7 (damn right you read that correctly!)

How We Got Here

First, the narrow view:

The Dukes beat FCS Bucknell 38-3 despite a massive struggle offensively through nearly 3 quarters. JMU fans, including us, have said all that needs to be said about the QB issue this week, but after a promising few drives from Jordan McCloud, the hope is he’s ready for a return to the bigger stages he played on at Arizona and USF. JMU received the same single vote in the AP poll this week that it did in the preseason as they begin the toughest stretch of their season (@UVA, @Troy, @Utah St., South Alabama).

Virginia was forced to start off their season in Nashville against Tennessee for an allegedly “neutral site” game. As expected, it did not go well with the Hoos getting boatraced 49-13 but it’s hard to draw conclusions based only on an actual road game against one of the nation’s best teams.

But this game requires a much broader view of how we got here that’s significantly more important than anything on the field from Week 1:

For the Dukes, it’s been four decades of hoping for this game to take place. Funny story, but Gary Clark once returned two kicks for TD’s in a Dukes win in the early 80’s and the Hoos have ducked scheduling this new-blood from just over Afton mountain ever since. Virginia has had no problem playing (and sometimes even losing to) old-south rivals from Williamsburg or Richmond over the years, but heaven forbid they allow these new-money usurpers in purple near the veranda. That said, if you had told us ten years ago this game was taking place, we would’ve been at our absolute worst and most obnoxious headed into this game (think WVU at FedEx). But for two reasons, we’re not even considering that approach this week. First, and least important, the Dukes are favored in the game and we’ve become accustomed to winning football over the last decade while UVA has wandered the wilderness of the bottom-half of a watered down ACC all that time. Although this matchup will certainly bring out more casual fans from both teams than usual, the real ones in both purple and orange know this isn’t your old-school FBS/FCS matchup we would’ve thought not all that long ago.

But most important of all, this is Virginia’s first home game since the murders of three players last November. This weekend, the UVA community will be celebrating the lives of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr., and D’Sean Perry. We encourage Dukes fans to read AD Jeff Bourne’s important message from this week. While we’ll be running our mouths with some good-natured trash-talking Friday night and Saturday morning, it certainly won’t have any venom in it like, say, NDSU in Frisco. And we’d venture to guess the trash-talking will be between friends and family members you’re attending with as much as any random strangers in different color shirts. We’ll scream ourselves hoarse during the game for sure, and probably even use a few choice words at times, and should the Dukes prevail, there’s no doubt we’ll celebrate robustly downtown well into the evening. But it will be with a heavy heart and great empathy for those same friends and family members who are a part of the Hoos community.

How Virginia Can Win

Muck It Up. With questions at QB, other important players injured or just returning from injury, and an offensive line that struggled in Week 1, a shootout with the Dukes is likely not the way to a fun afternoon for the “home” team. Starter and Monmouth transfer Tony Muskett injured his non-throwing shoulder and has been listed as day-to-day. If he plays, does he hold up and can the Cavs run their full offense if his running is limited? If not, it’ll be true freshman Tony Colandrea forced into action against a Dukes defense that showed almost nothing on film last week and seems likely to be substantially more versatile this week. A couple TE’s were nicked up last week in Tennessee as well so it’ll be interesting to see how aggressive UVA is willing to be at least as long as this game’s close.

Defensively, UVA held their own a bit better, at least through the first half against the Volunteers. And they could get reinforcements this week in DE Chico Bennett, Jr. and S Antonio Clary who have been practicing this week after being held out of Game 1. But Tennessee also missed some huge opportunities by turning the ball over and outright dropping a sure touchdown after the Cavs were beat deep.

If UVA is to pull the upset, it sure feels like a messy grind of a game (and the weather could help here too if it turns ugly) in the 17-16 or 20-13 range is their best bet. Use the emotion of the day and the fear of an awful September (they have Maryland and NC State next before a soft landing at last with BC) to hang in this game no matter what. Even with JMU’s own concerns at QB, a track meet against the Dukes O-Line and skill players feels like a recipe for disaster.

How JMU Can Win

Make the plays that are available in the passing game. It would also be great to see JMU continue the Special Teams sharpness (especially if there is wet weather) we saw in Week 1 and we’re confident the Defense will come to play even if they give up a couple big plays. But the most important thing for the Dukes is to make the basic plays through the air offensively. If McCloud can take what’s available and keep the UVA defense honest – even if there aren’t flashy plays downfield – than the running game will eventually find its groove with JMU’s talented and veteran groups on the OLine and in the backfield. When McCloud came in the game last week, it was just as important when he made the simple throw to Horton, thus backing a couple defenders out of the box, as it was when he hit the highlight reel to Brown later on. Avoiding huge mistakes and being able to patiently await them from this UVA team that’s still finding its way would be just fine.

Defensively, we saw JMU challenge Bucknell at the line and dare them to throw. To the Bison’s credit, they hit a few plays in the first half against this setup, but at some point that broke down and we don’t expect anything different this week. While it’s obvious the Cavaliers have considerably more talent than Bucknell, the gameplan against a limited QB or a true freshman is likely the same. Throw your firepower at stopping the run (look for bigger impacts this week from James Carpenter and Tyrique Tucker inside and Chukweneke/Reid at the Rover spot) and force passing situations whenever possible. UVA likely won’t avoid Chauncey Logan’s side like last week so we’re excited for a possible huge play at some point from the sophomore corner.

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Commonwealth Brewing’s Papi Chulo. Seems fitting to have the one of Virginia’s best breweries be so aptly named for this one and taste so good all in a purple can! You could also scrap the beer and make it a mimosa morning. Certainly fits the vibe “on grounds” and honestly, this matchup is truly worth celebrating!

Official JMUSB Prediction

Dukes 31, Cavaliers 17 – This one is back and forth for a good while, but JMU finds a few more big plays and the Cavs offense can’t keep pace over four quarters.

Sep 1 / Todd

Bucknell at JMU: Official JMUSB Game #1 Preview

Running Back Kaelon Black carries the ball against Appalachian State
Looking forward to having Kaelon back at 100%

The Basics

Matchup: Bucknell Bison (0-0, 0-0 Patriot League (FCS)) at JMU Dukes (0-0, 0-0 Sun Belt)

Kickoff: 6 p.m. EDT. Saturday, September 2, 2023, Bridgeforth Stadium, The ‘burg

Weather: Sunny, low 80s

Broadcast: ESPN+

Boys in the Desert: Good luck finding a shop that’ll take this one but the line’s gotta be a lot. And whatever it is, it isn’t enough.

How We Got Here

The Dukes had a dream start to their 1-A tenure last season, finishing atop the Sun Belt East at 8-3, spending a glorious week in the Top 25, and adding some new games to the list of legends with the comeback in Boone and the blowout of Coastal to win the East. But where last year we all entered the season thinking the MTSU game was a tossup and having no idea what to expect, fans are back to believing that a repeat of last season’s record is expected.

Bucknell struggled mightily in a Patriot League that has seen one program (Holy Cross) invest mightily in football and distance themselves from its conference mates by a wide margin over the last few years since the League finally changed its scholarship rules to allow for a more even playing field with the rest of FCS. But the Bison did finish strong last year winning their last two games. They enter 2024 with a veteran group and much higher hopes.

How Bucknell Can Win

Produce a bunch of Dukes turnovers at the perfect times. Bucknell is an extremely veteran team on both lines. The D-Line has multiple 6th year players who have seen a lot, including plenty of FBS matchups, so they won’t be scared by the atmosphere the way other FCS teams sometimes were. DE Tyler Alston will need to get in the Dukes backfield and screw things up because the skill-player disadvantage will be significant. On offense, they need to grind out just enough yards to hang onto possession behind their best players Tackle Ethan Pitzel and Guard Casey Stephenson. 3 and outs will absolutely crush them because while they may be able to anticipate the Dukes starting slowly with a new QB1, that won’t last for 60 minutes. Beyond that, they’d need to swap uniforms with the smellier Bizens up even further north to keep it close.

How JMU Can Win

Don’t beat themselves and don’t freak out. The Dukes are the better team and should roll. While nervous fans like us have long memories (don’t say Bloomsburg) of nervy opening buy-games at BFS, the squad has really handled business in these situations throughout the post-Mickey era. But with a young QB in Alonza Barnett III making his first start after a real camp competition, a veteran O-Line that hasn’t necessarily been pushed to earn their spots in camp this year, and a massive return to big expectations after coming into the season with relatively lower pressure last season, they need to just settle in and play within themselves. The rest should take care of itself. Defensively, anything more than 10 points from the Bison would be a disappointment as this team struggled to score against their peers last year. Given the talent and experience JMU has on that side, it would be a surprise if Bucknell is able to manage much beyond a big play or two that can be expected in Week One.

Couldn’t resist a shot of the Whirlies in the Panthers stadium

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Daycation IPA, Highland Brewing, Asheville, NC – Basically Asheville’s version’s of All-Day. Crisp with low ABV perfect for a long sunny tailgate on Labor Day weekend from one of North Carolina’s OG breweries.

Official JMUSB Prediction

JMU 48, Bucknell 10 – enjoy this one cause things heat up in a hurry this month

Nov 23 / Todd

# 23 Coastal Carolina @ JMU: Official JMUSB Game #11 Preview

The Basics

Matchup: #23 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (9-1, 6-1 Sun Belt) at JMU Dukes (7-3, 5-2 Sun Belt)

Kickoff: Noon EST. Saturday, November 26, 2022, Bridgeforth Stadium, Rocktown

Weather: Partly Sunny. High 56.

Broadcast: ESPNU (National U Doubleheader treatment for the SBC)

Boys in the Desert: JMU -14, O/U 54 (this is wild to us but might as well roll with it!)

How We Got Here

The Dukes fumbled 17 billion times last week, but otherwise looked a hell of a lot healthier than they’ve been since early October in another 20-point comeback to end Georgia State’s bowl hopes and set up this Sun Belt East Title Game. Plus we have to think they’ll be primed to send out a decorated and meaningful senior class (Percy, Kyle Davis, KT, Ukwu, Ravenel, Kidd, Painter, etc.). JMU is 7-3 in their first full season in FBS and a win Saturday would mean they win the Sun Belt East. No matter what the rules or technicalities say, everyone would know (but mainly Coastal would know) who the real champs are and who really belongs in the Sun Belt Title game with Troy next week. And what better way to wind up this magical first-FBS season than having Brideforth welcome a ranked team for the first time ever!

Coastal had an unexpected bye week for the worst reason imaginable as their scheduled trip to Charlottesville to take on the Cavaliers was cancelled. Prior to that they survived their game without QB1 Grayson McCall with a 26-23 win over Southern Miss. Not unlike the Dukes, Coastal has been a study in how a winning program culture can sometimes carry you even when the matchups don’t seem in your favor. They’ve survived all year and won close game after close game even though it seems they don’t quite have the talent or the edge they did during the last two seasons. After all of that they stand at 9-1, ranked 23rd, and with an outside shot at a New Year’s Six bowl depending on results in the AAC.

How Coastal Can Win

Hang in the game long enough defensively to allow their insanely creative offense to confuse JMU’s young and transitioning defense. The Chants’ defense has been…meh. They give up 27 points a game and have only held one team under 21 all season. They give up 400 yards per game. But they have been opportunistic with almost as many sacks and turnovers forced as JMU. In other words, they aren’t good but they’re often complimentary to Head Coach Jamey Chadwell’s extremely creative offense. Is it option? Is it spread? Is it pistol? It’s sort of all of them and it averages 32 points and nearly 430 yards per game. With JMU playing more and more youth on defense right now, we’ve seen the Dukes give up some long broken plays the last few weeks and Coastal seems capable of finding a few of those too.

How JMU Can Win

Don’t beat themselves. Step 1 of this is “don’t fumble every other play.” But Step 2 requires the Dukes to handle the emotions of this week. It’s essentially JMU’s bowl game, we all know the real stakes, it’s a ranked team at BFS, it’s a blackout game with fancy unis, it’s an important Senior Day, and it’s unusual for JMU in that it’s a finite last game. In other words, chances are the Dukes will come out sky-high. Early on they need to use that emotion to do their individual jobs and not try to do too much. If there’s adversity (like last week), they also need to not let the emotion and the ending of this season overwhelm them into frustration.

But beyond that, JMU with a healthy Centeio is simply better than Coastal without Grayson McCall. With the exception of Reggie Brown, the Dukes’ offense is relatively healthy and has certainly looked as dangerous again the last two weeks as it did during the heady early season. Chadwell wasn’t playing games when he noted in this week’s presser that JMU’s O-Line is the best they’ve seen all year. And if JMU’s defense can stick to their assignments and stay home against misdirection, we’ve seen what the Dukes are capable of against teams that struggle in the passing game and have to stay on the ground against Ukwu, Edwards, Carp, and co.

Historical Footnote

JMUSB Beer of the Week

We had another beer here, but if you don’t know why we’re now going with Atrevida Beer Co’s Christopher Street Pale Ale, you really should read this story about a helper/hero that would make even Fred Rogers smile. Plus, who doesn’t love a hoppy Pale (instead of an IPA, think Blue Mountain’s Full Nelson)?

Official JMUSB Prediction

Beach chickens. Basically the Delaware of the Sun Belt. Already crowing about “winning” and “clinching” the Sun Belt East when the real ones will know the truth come late afternoon Saturday.

JMU 38, Coastal 13

Nov 17 / Todd

Georgia St. @ JMU: Official JMUSB Game #10 Preview

Running Back Kaelon Black carries the ball against Appalachian State
Feed the RB’s!

The Basics

Matchup: Georgia State Panthers (4-6, 3-3 Sun Belt) at JMU Dukes (6-3, 4-2 Sun Belt)

Kickoff: 2:00 p.m. EST. Saturday, November 19, 2022, Bridgeforth Stadium, Rocktown

Weather: Sunny. High 42. Season has changed; plan accordingly.

Broadcast: ESPN+

Boys in the Desert: JMU -9.5, O/U 53

How We Got Here

Even with injuries continuing to cause problems, the Dukes looked considerably closer to their high-flying selves in Norfolk last week with the healthy return of huge contributors like Tackle Nick Kidwell, Linebacker Jailyn Walker, and QB1 looking like normal (tbd after the ankle last week though).

Georgia State on the other hand is the most Jekyll-and-Hyde team the Dukes have seen all year. Take a look at their progression through the schedule and tell us what to make of it:

35-14 L @ South Carolina (expected), 35-28 L vs. UNC (strong showing), 42-41 L vs. Charlotte (WTF?!), 41-24 L vs. Coastal (maybe about right but now they’re 0-4), 31-14 W @ Army (proud showing), 41-33 W vs. Georgia Southern (definitely not mailing it in yet), 42-17 L @ App (bad performance against an overrated team), 31-17 W vs. ODU (happy times for Homecoming as injuries start to mount for the Monarchs), 42-14 W @ Southern Miss (hell yes, the traditional late-season-push is on from the Panthers and almost back to .500), 31-28 L vs. UL Monroe (WTH? at home?!)

As you can tell, there is simply no consistent narrative that makes the Panthers’ campaign make any sense. But they’ve got two games left and need two wins to get back to .500 and become bowl eligible. Is that motivation enough to play well on a cold day in the Valley?

How Georgia State Can Win

Play one of their good games and ride a balanced offense to win a high-scoring affair. Georgia St. has strong athletes on defense, but let’s be realistic – the only teams they’ve held below 24 points in 9 games so far are run-ONLY teams Army and Southern Miss who each still managed 14 points and offensively-limited ODU who got to 17. They generously gave up 40 plus to App, Coastal, and Charlotte (seriously, Charlotte). The Panthers average 30 points a game. They also give up 30 points a game. They simply have to keep scoring and hope the Dukes make the kind of mistakes that cost them the Ga. Southern game.

QB Darren Grainger is the best true dual-threat QB that JMU has seen yet. He’s coming off a game where he threw for 349 and rushed for 81 on a substantial 17 carries. Receiver Jamari Thrash has been a standout all year and RB Marcus Carroll is solid all-around. That offense better come to play these last couple weeks as Georgia State heads north to the mountains in both weeks to JMU and Marshall, two teams that play a bit of defense.

How JMU Can Win

Be smart (maybe even cautious?) on offense and swallow up any will to win on defense. If JMU can play the kind of defense we’ve come to expect this week – largely shutting down the run game and making a few plays on the back end – this could be a rude awakening for the Panthers. It’s going to be a chilly 40-ish degrees (Dukes fans know the difference between 40 in NoVa or RVA and 40 in the ‘Burg) and the Dukes should be charged back up after righting the ship last week.

Offensively, JMU just needs to be crisp and relatively mistake-free. Georgia State’s track record is clear that competent teams will get to the 30’s and if the Dukes can avoid turnovers, feed the backfield trio and take what’s there, there’s zero reason to think they won’t do the same. If Centeio is limited at all after appearing to sprain an ankle last week, that will be even more reason to lean on the running backs and the short passing game (could we see more WR screens to Thornton and Ravenel again?).

Historical Footnote

This will be JMU’s second time playing (and hosting) Georgia St. The Panthers spent one season in 2012 in the CAA before bolting for the Sun Belt. The Dukes won that game 28-21 at Bridgeforth in one of the bash-your-head-in Mickey-iest games ever. Michael Birdsong was making his first collegiate start, and his only one that season, after Justin Thorpe had been injured the previous week at Bridgeforth East. Birdsong was predictably bad in that offense that day and the Dukes hammered it with the only offensive sparkplug of the late-era Mickey days, Dae’Quan Scott who went for 130 on 25 carries. We remember being at the game and before it was even over discussing how it was going to be one of the most forgettable games we would ever have been at and that thought has aged well (or aged poorly depending on your perspective). Here’s to starting fresh with a Georgia St. team that could end up being more of a rival than we realize over the next decade in both football and hoops.

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Skipping Rock Roasted Pecan Brown English Brown Ale – You may not realize it, but Staunton’s Skipping Rock has bought out Pale Fire and that makes our old friends in the ‘burg worth re-visiting these days. Not only do they finally have tv’s now where you can actually watch the game, but they also kept the better beers but have started brewing in a way that won’t leave your gut a mess the next morning. Oh yeah, and Skipping Rock has been turning out a solid lineup for a while. This time of year is perfect for this almost smoky brown ale. Plus, they’re doing things up and down the Valley as they’re opening another small satellite tasting room under the Pale Fire name in Basye just outside the entrance to Bryce Resort – think the original Devil’s Backbone circa 2011 before all the AB/InBev nonsense.

Official JMUSB Prediction

ATL kids headed north on a cold, windy day with the sweet smell of butchered poultry flying up and down 81 for Thanksgiving next week. What could go wrong? Everything!

JMU 38, Georgia St. 17

Nov 11 / Todd

JMU @ ODU: Official JMUSB Game #9 Preview

Homecoming for Kaelon this week

The Basics

Matchup: JMU Dukes (5-3, 3-2 Sun Belt) at Old Dominion Monarchs (3-6, 2-3 Sun Belt)

Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. EST. Saturday, November 12, 2022, S.B. Ballard Stadium (The Oyster Bowl), Norfolk, VA

Weather: Partly cloudy, 75. Winds 10-15. Pretty darned perfect for November ball.

Broadcast: ESPN+

Boys in the Desert: JMU -7.5, O/U 46.5

How We Got Here

Both teams seasons have mirrored each other a good bit. A month ago both teams were on top of the world about their first season in the Sun Belt (well, in ODU’s case their first season back in the Sun Belt). ODU was only 3-3 at the time but coming off a blowout win down at Coastal, sitting on top of the East at 2-0, and they’d played an out of conference schedule to that point that was exactly what fans had always dreamed of since they’d gone FBS a decade ago. They had opened with the HOME win over the Hokies, lost a game they should’ve won at UVA, and played relatively competitive games against strong ECU and Liberty teams.

How ODU Can Win

Score points and throw the ball to Ali Jennings. “Score points” sounds stupid but ODU lost 12-0 to Marshall last week so, you know, scoring points would help. The Monarch’s defense has been…fine. It’s not exceptional at anything but it’s been opportunistic at times creating turnovers and good enough all year to keep them in games and give them a chance against an objectively strong schedule. But offensively, ODU has one of the nation’s best, and most overlooked, players in receiver Ali Jennings III. Sometimes he personally is the offense for the Monarchs, and he’s so good that often that’s enough. Through ODU’s first seven games, he led them in receiving every game and never had less than 87 yards. Five of the seven he was well over 100 yards and he had a staggering 200 down at ECU. Then the last two weeks, Georgia State and Marshall held him to 7 catches and 60 yards combined and the Monarchs scored a total of 17 points after being shut out by the Herd. But with JMU’s youth and inexperience at corner, not to mention suspect tackling of late across the back end, Jennings must be licking his chops for this one. If ODU can slow down JMU’s pass rush enough, things could get real ugly for JMU’s banged up secondary.

How JMU Can Win

Get to the QB and rediscover their offense. Defensively, this is rather simple. Unless JMU is suddenly changing up its whole gameplan and philosophy by playing more zone or soft coverage, we all know what the equation is for success. Against this team, and a player like Jennings, the Dukes pass rush simply has to get home on ODU QB Hayden Wolff. If the Dukes crank this up like we’ve seen them do in situations like this before (remember “the Hoodie” game against the Ticks and the glorious Soft Houston night?), the Monarchs don’t appear to have many other options.

Offensively, the Dukes need to get back to what made them successful earlier this year. The RPO game needs to return to the middle routes and get away from simply “chuck it down the sideline and hope.” WR screens, jet sweeps, and power run all have chances against a defense that’s been exposed in the running game a few times lately. While the Centeio and Kidwell injuries have grabbed all the headlines the last few weeks, the quiet truth is the offense is actually in better health at this point than the Dukes ravaged defense.

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Commonwealth Brewing’s Papi Chulo IPA. Yes, Commonwealth remains frustratingly overpriced most places in the state. But this one is so good, it comes in purple cans, and it’s from Virginia Beach. Just too spot-on to pass up for this week’s trip.

Official JMUSB Prediction

Whispers this week say Rob may have been a little too accurate in his comments regarding JMU’s approach to last week’s Louisville game on Monday’s pod. Our guess here is Toddy TD and his line look a lot healthier this week and we see a whole lot more of the offense that made us all giddy earlier in the year. That said, this is the renewal of what seems destined to be a massive rivalry and it’s hard to see either team letting it get totally away from them early. The Monarchs are going to find Jennings and the Dukes are going to struggle to stop him. But JMU simply has more weapons and options as both teams adjust. Plus, after all of the fun craziness of the first five weeks, we’re exactly where we thought we’d be when the move to the Sun belt was announced. JMU is 5-3 and ODU is 3-6 and the national spotlight will be lightyears away from Norfolk this week. But for these two teams, and these two fanbases, this is still a HUGE game. It’s sold out, it’s ODU’s Oyster Bowl week, and it just means so much more than any FCS game did in years. For the Monarchs, they have to win to keep bowl hopes alive. For the Dukes, they have to get the “never beaten ODU” monkey off their backs. For both teams, this will set a tone for recruiting battles, program momentum, and offseason vibes. At it’s core, it’s one of those November Saturdays that make college football the absolute best. It doesn’t have to mean anything to anyone else when it means everything to those involved.

JMU 27, ODU 20

Nov 4 / Todd

JMU @ Louisville: Official JMUSB Game #8 Preview

Feed this man!

The Basics

Matchup: JMU Dukes (5-2, 3-2 Sun Belt) at Louisville Cardinals (5-3, 3-3 ACC)

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. EDT. Saturday, November 5, 2022, Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Kentucky

Weather: Chance of showers, temps around 60

Broadcast: ESPNU

Boys in the Desert: Louisville -7.5, O/U 55 (opened at Cards by 10 so make of that what you will)

How We Got Here

The good vibes coaster in Harrisonburg has been in the shop for almost a month with broken parts. After winning their first five and becoming the first FBS newbie to ever be ranked in the AP Top 25, humility has returned the favor. The Dukes lost a heartbreaker in Statesboro, then lost QB1 Todd Centeio on the day before Homecoming and both tackles in a directionless learning experience against Marshall. They’ve had a MUCH-needed bye week to hopefully heal up, or at least get Billy Atkins and the backups on the line some proper work to prepare.

Louisville has been one of the weirdest and most inconsistent teams in the nation. Not bad, and a high ceiling, but just strange. They’ve managed to lose to Boston College but just blew the doors off a then-#10 Wake Forest this past week. National and Local media have been on hot-seat watch for Coach Scott Satterfield seemingly forever, but really the Cards have so far come through a strange season about where most would’ve predicted and had arguably their two best results the last two weeks.

How Louisville Can Win

Two ways. The first is simple: Todd Centeio and some combination of his two offensive tackles Tyshawn Wyatt and Nick Kidwell don’t play. But assuming at least two, and hopefully three, of those guys play, the Cards will need to work to win this. The second way is jumping out early and taking away any hope from the underdog Dukes. QB Malik Cunningham has been rumored to be the heir to the Lamar Jackson crown in Louisville for a couple of years, but so far only his running legs have been close to replicating the Ravens’ stars’ college days. The Cards have been inconsistent in the passing game all year and have had to rely on Cunningham getting outside and their defense, which has been a pressure-creating machine that has produced a few huge games in the turnover department. Last week Louisville forced EIGHT turnovers by the vaunted Deacons offense, including six in the runaway locomotive third quarter leading to 35 points in that frame to turn a tight game into a shocking blowout.

The other major factor for Louisville is not to overlook the Dukes (no matter who the QB1 is in purple). With a finishing stretch of Clemson, NC State, and rival Kentucky left after this, they need to avoid this trap that could turn a reasonably alright 5-3 into a 5-7 and a new coaching staff right quick.

How JMU Can Win

Hang in there early. Against this defense, JMU simply can’t afford to fall too far behind in first half and let the pass rush get into it. Controlling the clock and stealing any energy in Louisville’s crowd on a soggy night, at least early, will really help the Dukes regain their own belief and set up the passing game later. There will absolutely be chances for Brown, Green, and KT but we’d like to see JMU be conservative on those early.

Big plays. With two weeks to prepare, we’re certainly optimistic that the Dukes will have a few of the special things we saw the last time they had a bye (App St.). Not necessarily true “gimmicks,” but the double-move we saw to Green must’ve been a CB weakness noticed on film along with that weird two-point play that somehow ended up with a wide open Kris Thornton. That kind of preparation from Cignetti, Shanahan, and co. (especially if it’s Atkins and/or Barnett) could be key against an opponent that may be overlooking our boys.

A little luck wouldn’t hurt either. The announcement that JMU will playing in their “championship” uni set of White/Purple/White for the first time ever in a true road game, maybe things are starting to come up Millhouse again all of a sudden! In general, being on the positive side of the turnover margin for the first time in a few games would go a long way this week.

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Beer?! You must be kidding. The Dukes are finally making the trip to the heart of Kentucky’s best asset, its Bourbon Trail! And this week calls for something special, but still relatively accessible. We’re going with Angel’s Envy, as apparently it’s the “beer” of choice in-stadium as a major sponsor in Cardinals Stadium. It’s a great introduction when you’re making a half-step up in quality and price because it’s definitely on the mellower/lighter end of the spectrum. It’s also one of our “available” favorites (meaning you have a reasonable chance of scoring some at your local ABC store without the need for miracles or “knowing a guy”) alongside Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, many of the special offerings from Four Roses, and our absolute old standby, Woodford Reserve. But with a 7:30 kick on national tv (ESPNU) and unseasonably warm weather predicted back here in the Commonwealth, you can find something even more special from the Bluegrass State if that’s your thing and fire it up around your fire pit, at a watch party, or right in the JMU tailgate section at the stadium. Don’t drive, but otherwise this game’s kickoff time and exciting opponent don’t exactly call for too much responsibility. Sometimes even excess is good in moderation, particularly when it happens to be the one night you get an extra hour to sleep!

Official JMUSB Prediction

These Dukes ain’t done. It’s gonna take some good fortune for the Centeio/Wyatt/Kidwell/Walker foursome to all be out there and to all make it through this one upright, but after a crummy month, the sun feels like it’s due to shine on the Dukes again. Overlooked underdogs is the role JMU has performed best in (see MTSU, App) this year and now the boys in purple are back there. Make no mistake, Louisville is the most talented roster JMU will face all year and very few results would be worth getting upset or making bold pronouncements about the program for. But even with that bit of hedging, we LOVE the Dukes to find their belief, spark, and crispness of execution again after the bye and put the Sun Belt back in the national conversation for a showing out against a fancier conference’s team.

JMU 31, Louisville 30 (Wise at the buzzer FTW)

Oct 21 / Todd

Marshall @ JMU: Official JMUSB Game #7 Preview

Let’s get this resiliency back again this week!

The Basics

Matchup: Marshall Thundering Herd (3-3, 0-2 Sun Belt) at JMU Dukes (5-1, 3-1 Sun Belt)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. EDT. Saturday, October 22, 2022, Bridgeforth Stadium, The ‘burg

Weather: Sunny, warm, still a tad humid. 71. But cold early and late so get the options/layer ready.

Broadcast: ESPN+

Boys in the Desert: JMU -13, O/U 53.5

How We Got Here

The Dukes are 5-1 and have fallen out of the AP poll but despite last week’s crash landing are still very much a balanced and complete team that still has the nation’s best rush defense and a dynamic offense.

The Herd has(have?) been one of the weirdest teams to figure out this year. They have THAT win, an unforgettable 26-21 win over Notre Dame in South Bend back in the Sun Belt’s wild Week 2. Otherwise, they have two FCS wins; one a 28-7 affair that was closer than that score reflects against Gardner-Webb and the other a JMU-esque 55-3 drubbing of Norfolk St. Then they have three BAD losses. They followed up the ND triumph with a gag-inducing 34-31 OT loss to a putrid Bowling Green team. They’ve only played two Sun Belt games to date, a 16-7 loss at Troy and last week’s weird weather-effected 23-13 Wednesday night 23-13 loss at home to Louisiana.

How Marshall Can Win

Rockfight. Marshall has scored 20 points TOTAL in their two Sun Belt games. Their offensive line is massive and RB Khalon Laborn is outstanding. But they are extremely limited in the passing game and cannot afford to get into the kind of track meet JMU is capable of. Coach Huff suggested the Herd will have a two-QB system this week and we all know what it means when you have two QB’s – you really don’t have a QB.

But on the other side of the ball, as Coach Cignetti noted, and this wasn’t just coach speak, in this week’s Sun Belt presser, Marshall’s defense is extremely tough and talented. The Herd need to lean on them to muck this game up and force turnovers the way they did in the win over the Irish. Even in their losses to Troy and ULL, the defense was a pain. If Marshall wins, an ugly, physical contest where neither team exceeds around 20 points seems the most likely recipe.

Adding to this need to keep this thing a tight rockfight throughout, Marshall’s roster features 50+ transfers out of the portal in the new staff’s attempt to ride the university’s juco-esque tradition (not meant as a shot, just a fact) towards an ultra-fast turnaround. Early results had them rocking in Huntington on the way home from South Bend, but at 3-3, 0-2, what does this freshly-acquired group do if the Dukes start humming again? Like we said, the Herd need to avoid letting a Homecoming crowd at Bridgeforth start feeling itself.

How JMU Can Win

Cut down on big mistakes, be patient, and ride the Bridgeforth energy when they get momentum. Marshall’s strong rushing attack will be arguably the first giant test for a Dukes rush defense that has yielded basically NOTHING all season. But Marshall, who has yet to score more than 28 points in regulation against non-Norfolk St. competition (including another FCS game), seems unlikely to simply run away with this game if JMU can limit the huge mistakes that hurt so bad last week but had been uncharacteristic before that (keep in mind that JMU’s LOWEST point total of the year was 32 at App). Against Marshall’s tough defense, this may require some patience from both the offensive players and play-callers and a revved up Homecoming crowd. 10-3 good guys at the half would not be a disaster. But this week, if/when the Dukes ever stretch the lead to two scores and a Bridgeforth crowd that is fully ready to celebrate this fun-filled start to FBS life gets rocking, JMU has to lock in and ride that momentum. No letting anyone have hope like last week. A 14-point lead for a Dukes team with some wounded pride on defense and a more limited offensive team like the Herd is a formula for some rollicking good times in Section 210 and all around the happiest place on Earth this Saturday!

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Commonwealth Brewing Marvolo Imperial Chocolate Nitro Stout – This is the like the old man version of Hard Mountain Dew and perfect for Homecoming. Nitro coffee, chocolate, coconut, 8.7%. Let it rip.

Official JMUSB Prediction

The Dukes finally face one of the other Sun Belt newcomers this week when the Herd make the trip east on 64 across the Mountain State and up the Valley on 81 (Douthat! ifykyk). With all the excitement about renewing hostilities with ODU and App, and now unfortunately being reminded to hate Georgia Southern quicker than we’d hoped, the fact there’s a green team with a certain animal logo that’s not too far in a different direction has gotten a bit lost. But make no mistake, this one’s going to explode in multiple sports at some point and I don’t think we’re alone in being excited for a reasonably drivable and passionate fanbase in a new spot. Marshall’s time as a 1-AA power barely overlapped with JMU’s real ascendance. While the teams only met twice (both in Huntington), they were notable moments for JMU. In JMU’s first 1-AA playoff appearance, the Herd won in 87 and then in 94 a very good Dukes team (Jordan/Lee/Brooks/Jeter/etc.) lost in OT in the second round to the then #2 Herd (coincidentally after beating fellow SBC member Troy in the first round in Harrisonburg).

Our bet this week is the Dukes rally big-time after last week’s disappointment and meet what is certain to be a physical challenge in the last game before a break in front of a raucous BFS crowd. Marshall may be able to grind this game to a standstill for a bit, but we don’t think they can score consistently enough to hang with JMU for 60 minutes.

JMU 30, Marshall 16

Oct 14 / Todd

JMU at Georgia Southern: Official JMUSB Game #6 Preview

The SoulCrusher

The Basics

Matchup: #25 JMU Dukes (5-0, 3-0 Sun Belt) at Georgia Southern Eagles (3-3, 0-2 Sun Belt)

Kickoff: 4:00 p.m. EST. Saturday, October 15, 2022, Allen E. Paulson Stadium, Statesboro, Arkansas

Weather: Mainly sunny, high 78.

Broadcast: ESPN+

Boys in the Desert: JMU -12, O/U 67 (Vegas and the betting public finally catching up to the ATS darling Dukes)

How We Got Here

The Dukes are 5-0, ranked in the AP poll, are a balanced and complete team that also happens to have the nation’s best rush defense. They’ve smoked everyone they’ve played except for one fumbling debacle of a quarter in Boone. Exactly what everyone predicted before the season, right?

The Eagles have been up and down but their old-school, passionate fanbase has to be pleased overall with the seeds of a return to prominence being planted in Coach Clay Helton’s first year. They started out with a blowout FCS win and then the big shocker at Nebraska that got the Huskers’ coach fired. Then they struggled against a quality UAB team before beating a bad Ball St. squad to finish out their non-conference. In Sun Belt play, they’ve had two disappointing close losses to undefeated Coastal and last week in Atlanta to the hated “other GSU.”

How Georgia Southern Can Win

Stop turning the ball over and outscore the Dukes. The Eagles defense can only charitably be described as a work in progress. Aside from their FCS game, they’ve given up 42 (Nebraska), 35 (UAB), 23 (Ball St.), 34 (Coastal), and 41 (Ga. St.) points. That’s, uh, not good given the consistency we’ve seen from a Dukes offense averaging 44 points per contest.

But Southern’s offense has been prolific in Helton’s attempt to finally move them out of their storied triple-option past. Led by Buffalo transfer QB Kyle Vantrease and a slew of receivers (last week they had four guys with at least 5 catches), they throw it early and often. The Eagles throw to set up their surprisingly strong (at least statistically speaking) running game, but the O-Line has limitations. It’s worth noting that the Eagles attempt to overcome their O-Line by getting the ball out fast – they haven’t yielded a ton of sacks. They should move the ball and score against even JMU. But they HAVE to avoid interceptions as they’ve buried themselves under an avalanche of them in losses. Southern can absolutely hang with JMU offensively but they’ve got to stay ahead or even on the scoreboard to avoid letting JMU’s pressure crank up and force more of those daggers.

How JMU Can Win

Score early and consistently. The Dukes overall offensive stats give the surface impression of an unstoppable machine. But JMU has quietly started rather slowly in all three Sun Belt games thus far before exploding later on. The Eagles are probably too consistent on offense for JMU to start so slowly this week without falling into a big hole like the game at App. If JMU can put some points up earlier this week, then it can allow its explosive defense to go to work coming up with big plays even if it gives up a few here and there like last week in Arkansas, this could be a fun week for the Dukes. Defensively, just make tackles and don’t give up big yards after the catch.

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Starr Hill Northern Lights IPA – as Michael Scott said, “I’m not superstitious, but I’m a little stitious.” The last two road games – App and Ark St. – where we watched on tv, we grabbed one of these old Virginia standbys that are available everywhere out of the back of the fridge after slow starts for the Dukes. JMU immediately started scoring and we’ve never looked back. So this C’ville fave gets the nod this week.

Official JMUSB Prediction

In boxing they say “styles make fights.” In March Madness, you often hear coaches talk about a specific matchup more than how overall “good” the teams in their way are. We’re confident the Dukes are a better overall team right now than Georgia Southern, but we’re not nearly as sure from a pure “matchup” standpoint. This is likely the most pure passing-based offense JMU will see this year. And while Vantrease isn’t mobile, the Eagles get the ball out quick which helps their developing line and slows down their opponent’s pass rush. In other words, some of the things we’ve come to rely on about JMU (e.g. non-mobile QB’s struggle, JMU destroys running teams) may not apply this week. With a few players banged up and Homecoming on deck, this feels like the most “trappish” game left on the schedule. Still think the Dukes are just too damned good.

JMU 41, Georgia Southern 23