Oct 9 / Todd

JMUSB 2021 Preview: Villanova at JMU

2019 JMU Football-Morgan State

The Dukes come home to finish their trio of matchups against Wildcats (Weber, UNH, Nova). With injuries to QB1 at Delaware and Richmond, this is shaping up to be the toughest game of the year and Villanova is not to be overlooked in any way.

The Basics

Matchup: #3 JMU Dukes (4-0, 2-0 CAA) vs. #11 Villanova Wildcats (3-1, 1-0 CAA)

Kickoff: 2:00 p.m. EST. Saturday October 9, 2021, Bridgeforth Stadium, The ‘Burg

Weather: Mostly Cloudy high of 65 (actually only 15% chance of rain between 2-5 p.m. so looking better and better)

Broadcast: NBC Sports Washington or you can Go with the Flo

How We Got Here

Villanova is 3-1 and coming off a bye before taking on the Dukes (somehow this is about to happen to JMU two weeks in a row thanks Joey D!). The Cats destroyed two Patriot League team (Lehigh and Bucknell) early and beat Richmond 34-27 in their CAA opener before falling respectably at Penn St. a couple weeks ago. The Dukes made all the mistakes and were fortunate to sneak out of Durham with a win last week but remain perfect on the year.

How the ‘Cats Can Win

Make the game’s biggest play. Villanova is super-experienced, deep, and we’d have to think highly motivated to go after the team that’s given them fits lately. But the one thing that they haven’t been able to come up with the last few meetings has been that game-flipping play that tends to mean the difference in close games between these CAA heavyweights. That killer interception, special teams penalty, and backbreaking long run have always gone the Dukes way. The Wildcats are good enough to win this game, but they have to make the biggest play.

QB Daniel Smith is quite a bit Flutie-like. Small but crafty and more than capable with his legs. RB Justin Covington is back after dealing with injury last year. Villanova has scored 34, 55, and 47 points in their non-Penn St. games this year so they can light it up more than past years. On the other side, JMU has always talked about how awkward it can be (especially for OLines) to play against their traditional 3-3-5 stack defense with identifying the “front four” always a challenge. But Coach Cignetti mentioned this week that Nova is mixing things up more than ever from a scheme standpoint on D this year. With Malik Fisher (DL) and Owen Thomas (LB) entering the Semenov-zone of career-length with the Covid flexibility and Christian Benford (CB) probably as capable as anyone the Dukes will see all year at matching up with Wells, Jr. it will be a major challenge for Cole and co.

How the Dukes Can Win

Win on third down and learn from last week and don’t screw around or think this is ever over. Richmond was up two scores before Villanova dropped 21 unanswered to beat them a few weeks back. They’re 10x better offensively than UNH. Most important, the Dukes need to win on third downs. They left a few conversions out there last week (hate to see Harry punting on 4th and 1 or 4th and 2) that they have got to make this week to keep the Wildcats offense off the field. And defensively, Smith and Covington are such swiss-army knives that it’s vital that the Dukes find a way to not allow a bunch of frustrating 3rd and medium conversions. It’s be nice if JMU can ride the momentum of the first sold-out stadium in a couple years.

JMUSB Beer of the Week (BOTW)

Leffe Brune – Every year we search for great non-pumpkin Fall beers and this year we finally asked ourselves “why are we skipping one of the goats of fall beers?” There’s a reason this bad-boy Belgian has been made the same way for almost eight centuries. And InBev or not, it’s an outstanding choice for a chilly, wet fall day.

Official JMUSB Prediction

Villanova is good and this will not be easy. But the Dukes are home and should be locked in after a bad outing last week and some long road trips. JMU 27, Villanova 23

Sep 30 / Rob

Official JMUSB 2021 Preview: JMU vs. UNH

It’s 2021. While it’s unquestionably better than 2020, things are still in a precarious state. The world is still trying to fight through the pandemic. People all over are struggling in a number of ways. Politics seem more partisan than ever. And as of right now when I’m writing this, the Yankees appear to be on the verge of making the playoffs. Times are tough. With all this sadness in the world, it seems kind of ridiculous to do our regular schtick where we mock the Dukes’ next football opponent. So we’re not going to make a bunch of cheap jokes at New Hampshire’s expense this week. That would be insensitive and inappropriate in the current climate. We’re going to focus on a topic that unifies people, instead of dividing them.

Richmond sucks. We’re not sure if the RU campus is still littered with creeps in sweater vests. It might be or it might not now. That’s a tired old trope at this point anyway, so maybe we should retire it and replace it with whatever the modern day douche-signifying uniform is. (Someone get on that.) In the meantime, let’s all relish in the fact that the Spiders suffered one of the most painful losses in recent CAA memory two weeks ago. On September 18, the same day JMU defeated Weber State, RU went on the road to face Villanova. Things started off well. The Spiders quickly fell behind 13-0. But the joy was short lived. RU stormed back with 27 unanswered points. After 18 of the most emotionally trying months ever, citizens of Earth were facing the unimaginable horror of an emphatic and potentially momentum building win for the Spiders. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. On this day, evil would be defeated. Villanova rallied to tie the game at 27 in the fourth quarter. Then with only 38 seconds left, Nova connected on a 47 yard pass for a touchdown. And just like that, light triumphed over darkness.

The Basics

Matchup: #3 JMU Dukes (3-0, 1-0 CAA) vs. #25 New Hampshire Wildcats (3-1, 2-0 CAA)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. EST. Saturday October 2, 2021, Wildcat Stadium in Durham, NH

Weather: Partly cloudy with a high of 67

Broadcast: NBC Sports Boston or you can Go with the Flo

How We Got Here

JMU had last week off after an impressive road win at Weber State. In the victory, the Dukes offense ran for over 5 yards a carry and Cole Johnson continued his stellar play, completing 70% of his passes. Through 3 games, JMU has shown that it has a balanced offense with enough weapons to create matchup nightmares for the opposition. And the Dukes have an extremely physical defensive unit, with plenty of depth. The team has yet to be seriously challenged, but now heads into the meat of the CAA schedule.

UNH virtually took the last week off, hardly going through the motions in a 77-7 loss at Pittsburgh. Yes, Pitt is an ACC team, but 77 points is 77 points. And college football fans expected more fight from UNH after the Wildcats opened the season 3-0 with wins over Stony Brook and Towson in conference play, and an out of conference defeat of Lafayette. Granted, Stony Brook and Towson are probably middle of the pack (at best) CAA teams, and Lafayette is in the Patriot League and not Holy Cross, so we know the Leopards are not good. Still though, UNH didn’t even show up against Pitt. The Wildcats gave up 455 yards passing and 707 yards overall. That’s…not great.

How the ‘Cats Can Win

By taking care of the ball and turning it into a slugfest. The Wildcats have fumbled the ball 11 times in this young season, with 10 of them coming during their 3-0 start. That’s playing with fire. The UNH defense is probably better than last week’s performance indicates, but it’s not so good that the Wildcats can count on shutting down the Dukes all day. They’re going to need to keep JMU’s offense on the sidelines and limit the Dukes’ possessions. And while New Hampshire has a solid passing attack, these are not the QB1 Ricky Santos era Wildcats that could sling it as well as anyone. In short, they’re not built to win a shootout. Their best bet is to turn the game into a grinding affair and capitalize on mistakes. If they can run the ball just enough to keep the Dukes D-Line from pinning their ears back and attacking the QB, they could move the ball.

How the Dukes Can Win

Just do their thing. It would be smug and dismissive to say something like the Dukes would need to beat themselves in order for New Hampshire to win. We know that. Here’s the thing though, the Dukes would need to beat themselves in order for New Hampshire to win. That’s not to say this is a guaranteed victory. It’s not. New Hampshire absolutely can win. The fact is that if the Dukes play up to their potential, they’re better and they’ll win. JMU has a stable of studs running the ball, a QB who is playing with confidence, and the most dangerous receiving corp New Hampshire will see for the rest of this season. Defensively, they’ve got the sort of pass rush that can make things very difficult for a talented, but relatively inexperienced QB like UNH’s Bret Edwards. So if they stick to their gameplay and limit mistakes, the Dukes will win. But we’ve seen the wheels come off for JMU in Durham before. And it’s still too soon to talk about it.

JMUSB Beer of the Week (BOTW)

LazerSnake by 3 Floyds Brewing. The world has plenty of hazy fruit bombs New England IPAs. This is not one of them. It’s a good old fashioned throwback IPA. It’s not overly bitter and it goes down smooth. 3 Floyds has been known by craft beer fans for years, but has only recently been distributed near us. It was worth the wait. They make great beers and LazerSnake is worth trying. And at 7% ABV it will take the edge off for those of you forced to reckon with the sad reality of paying FloSports to watch this game.

Official JMUSB Prediction

The run game goes wild, another crisp day from CoJo, and the D creates a few turnovers. JMU rolls 35-17. New Hampshire caught a bad break playing a Pitt team motivated to play its best football after suffering an awful loss to Western Michigan. They’re better than last week’s result indicates. But JMU is coming into this game rested and focused. The Dukes train keeps marching with another road win this weekend.

Sep 19 / Rob

Dukes Pick Up Impressive Road Win at Weber State

The JMU Dukes took their longest road trip ever, flying all the way out to Ogden, Utah. And boy was the trip worth it. JMU took down a very strong Weber State team defeating the Wildcats 37-24. It was a hard fought contest between two very tough teams. Weber put together a couple of scores in garbage time, but the truth was that JMU pretty much dominated in the second half. Cole Johnson continued his hot play, completing 20 of 28 for 177 yards and 2 TDs. He wasn’t flashy, but he was efficient. Antwane Wells Jr. got banged up a little bit, but still managed to haul in 8 catches and score 2 touchdowns. The Dukes got contributions from all over in the running game behind some spectacular offensive line play. On defense, it was a physical effort that reminded a lot of fans of some of the “bend, but don’t break” Dukes D of the recent past. Overall though, the defense was pretty good and put the clamps on Weber before a couple of late touchdowns made the game look closer than it really was. Here are a few quick thoughts on the win.

O-Line Stepped Up

The offensive-line was the one position group that JMU fans were concerned about heading into this season. Of course, most people didn’t think the line would play poorly. It was more a concern about the depth and reliance on several younger players. Against Weber State, in a game that tested JMU’s depth at multiple positions, the offensive line had a fairly impressive performance. The guys opened up huge holes for the JMU running backs to push through and thoroughly dominated in the third quarter when JMU put the game away. When Liam Fornadel went down for the season, it created an opportunity not just for Tyler Stephens, but for the entire line to elevate its play. Through three games they have. And yesterday on the road against a top 10 team, they anchored the big second half push to secure the win.

Tough Opponents Mean Tough Games

The majority of the fanbase has complained for years about the Dukes’ lopsided affairs in out of conference play. The cries for more competitive games against top teams from other conferences have been pretty loud for a wile. Everyone says they want the Dukes to player fewer FCS minnows and more FCS powers. Well it turns out that playing tough teams make for tough games.

We realize that sounds pretty obvious, but based on the general anxiety of JMU twitter during the first half, it had to be said. The bar has been set very high for JMU football. Weber State is a top 10 team. This was arguably JMU’s best FCS regular season opponent since playing App State in 2008. Fans say they want competitive games, but it sure seems like what they really want is blowouts against more competitive teams. JMU was far from dominant in the first half, but the Dukes took advantage of some key Weber mistakes and held a comfortable 14 point lead at the break. A significant portion of JMU fans seemed underwhelmed though. And it wasn’t even particularly close. JMU turned it into a laugher after the break.

It’s great to have high standards. Football games are 60 minutes and there are no style points in the standings. And the Dukes did exactly what top teams do. They took everything a top opponent threw at them, persevered, and eventually pounced on opportunities to march to an easy victory. They’re not all going to be wire to wire blowouts.

The Bye Week Seems Pretty Clutch

JMU having it’s bye in September didn’t seem ideal when the schedule was published. It seems pretty ideal now. The Dukes took some serious lumps yesterday. Antwane Wells Jr. was hobbled and it looks like Kaelon Black could be done for a while. And the Dukes were missing several key players heading into the game. JMU has an old school CAA gauntlet on tap, with games against New Hampshire, Villanova, Richmond, and Delaware coming up. All four to those teams look good enough to make the playoffs, if not make a run. JMU needs to get healthy and stay focused in order to emerge from that upcoming four week stretch unscathed. The bye week is early, but it seems pretty perfect right about now.

Sep 16 / Todd

Official JMUSB 2021 Preview: JMU @ Weber St.

The Basics

Matchup: #3 JMU Dukes (2-0, 1-0 CAA) at #9 Weber St. Wildcats (1-1, 0-0 Big Sky)

Kickoff: 8:00 p.m. EDT. Saturday, September 19, 2021, Stewart Stadium, Ogden, UT

Weather: Cloudy, chance of a stray shower or storm. Probably in 60s at kickoff.

Broadcast: ESPN+, it’s a miracle.

How Weber St. Can Win

Avoid a shootout and get at least two big defensive/special teams plays. The fall 2021 Wildcats are still a bit of an unknown after losing respectably but about as expected to FBS Utah and then boatracing transitioning-from-D2 Dixie St. last week. But having seen them go absolutely toe-to-toe with the Dukes twice – with even bigger stakes – in the last few years, we all know what Weber does well. First, they compete every play and are extremely well-coached. They’re one of the few teams in the Houston/Cignetti era that has truly competed in the trenches with JMU and we don’t expect anything different here. But the top-end offensive talent has always favored the Dukes with Riley Stapleton, Marcus Marshall, etc. eventually finding ways to break through. That said, the Spring JMU team struggled mightily on specials where Weber excels and if they got a runback (as they did vs. Utah in Week 1) and maybe one other huge defensive turnover or score, this could get as dicey as the 2017 game in a hurry.

Player to Watch: QB Randall Johnson – all eyes will be on the former dual-threat juco standout in his first start. He threw a game-winning hail mary back in the spring and performed well last week when starter Bronson Barron went down, but he hasn’t seen anything like the JMU defense and decision-making will be crucial to the Wildcats’ chances.

How JMU Can Win

Force turnovers and don’t leave this till the 4th quarter. There’s been a whole lot of talk among JMU fans and media this week (and even through this summer as we got excited for this matchup) about the elevation in Ogden and how best to prepare for it. But the best way to handle it is truly to not have to rely on a huge fourth quarter to win this thing. The longer this one is close and cagey, the more that favors a motivated-by-two-tough-playoff-losses home team. But if the Dukes defense can make some big negative plays early-ish (think sacks or even better forced turnovers), any extra and/or gift-wrapped opportunities for this JMU offense will go a long way towards forcing Weber’s gameplan towards speeding up in a way that probably tilts the field towards the Dukes.

Players to watch: WR Scott Bracey – If the Wildcats roll their safety towards Wells as we think they will (and as they did towards Brandon Polk in 2019), Bracey will need to step up on the opposite side. LB Kelvin Azanama – LB may not be the Dukes deepest group on defense and the leader will need to hang in there for as long as possible at altitude.

Record Breakers

JMU K Ethan Ratke will break the all-time FCS record for field goals made with one good kick. On the other side, Weber St. kick returner Rashid Shaheed will be looking for his astounding 7th kick return TD.

JMUSB Beer of the Week

The rare 8 p.m. kickoff means you can go about as big and heavy as you want to this week. And since it’s Utah, those of you lucky enough to be there may be able to get your hands on some western beers we don’t see back here. Among those, New Mexico’s La Cumbre Brewing’s Malpais Stout is the best of the lot the darker beer folks out there. This one is just stunning.

Official JMUSB Prediction

Dukes 31, Wildcats 20. This is no easy prediction or game but we haven’t seen anything from Weber to think they’re going to pile up points against the Dukes. The QB uncertainty only adds to that even if there’s a special teams big play somewhere along the way. We might actually be a little higher on the Dukes offensive prospects but the Wildcats probably know a shootout is unwise and Cignetti and company never play for style points. If JMU can ever get clear by more than a score, we’re thinking they salt the earth with Latrelle as long as they can.

Sep 12 / Rob

Dukes Roll Over Maine 55-7 in CAA Opener

JMU moved to 2-0 in the 2021 season with a dominant win over the Maine Black Bears. The game was as one-sided as the score indicates. JMU did a lot of things well. A lot of things. We’re sure there are fans out there who have complaints or manage to find things to get worked up about. But we don’t. It was one of the most impressive CAA openers we can recall seeing JMU play in years. They outgained Maine 512 yards to 194 yards in total offense. Cole Johnson marched the team down the field for a touchdown on the opening drive and that was pretty much all she wrote. The outcome was never in doubt. Here are three quick thoughts on the win.

Cole Outstanding Again

Cole had a terrific performance in week one. It was hard to read too much into it, given the quality of the Morehead State team. Maine is a CAA program that gave a Top 10 Delaware fits last week. And Cole carved them apart. He completed 25 of 30 attempts for 379 yards and 4 touchdowns. And he made it look easy. Ever since he returned after losing his job to Gage Moloney, Johnson has looked like a completely different player. He’s confident, poised, and making nothing but good decisions. In the beginning of Spring ball, he looked like the game was too fast for him He looked like a deer in the headlights and was crippled by poor decisions and a fear of making mistakes. Now he’s dropping dimes into receivers hands with ease. It literally looks like he and receivers are running routes without defenders sometimes. His transformation is remarkable. And we love it.

Appreciate What We’re Seeing With Antwane Wells Jr.

This kid is special. Just plain and simple. Maine could not cover him yesterday. They could not. He went off hauling in 8 catches for 179 yards and 2 TDs. Most receivers would be thrilled to beat their defender and create 3 or 4 feet of separation once or twice a game. Wells seemed to do it on 75% of his routes yesterday. There was nothing Maine could do to slow him down. One one route the defender attempted to initiate contact and wrap him up. All he did was shed the guy, catch the ball, and scamper in for a 53 yard touchdown. It is very hard to watch Wells play and not get overly excited about his potential. JMU has been blessed with a number of outstanding receivers in its history. Wells really could end up being better than all of them.

Defense is Clicking

We were optimistic that the Dukes D would hit its stride earlier this season due to playing in the Spring. Through two games, that certainly appears to be the case. Yes, we could pick nits about the number of penalties on that side of the ball, but all things considered, the unit looks great. In week one against Morehead State, JMU’s talent advantage was overwhelming. The Dukes were perhaps even more dominant against a solid Maine squad however. Maine caught a bad break with starting QB Joe Fagnano getting knocked out early. But as distasteful as it might sound to point this out, his injury was a sign of how relentless the JMU defense was all game. They managed 11 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. The D-line was getting penetration consistently and Heatherman created pressure with blitzes all day. There’s a ton of depth. And we’re seeing guys who’ve patiently waited for larger roles, take advantage of the reps they’ve earned this season.

Sep 10 / Todd

2021 Maine at JMU Official JMUSB Preview

The Basics

Matchup: Maine Black Bears (0-1, 0-1 CAA) at #3 JMU Dukes (1-0, 0-0 CAA)

Kickoff: 4:00 p.m. EDT. Saturday, September 11, 2021, Bridgeforth Stadium, Rocktown, VA

Weather: Beautiful! Sunny, high 79

Broadcast: NBCSportsWashington+ (and Flo :()

How Maine Can Win

Throw it around the yard for big plays and outscore the Dukes. Maine played a strange game last week. They were hammered by Delaware in three quarters. But oh that one quarter was special. A bevy of deep passes connected against a strong Hens defense and they blocked a punt to score 24 unanswered in the 2nd quarter and take a 24-17 lead into the break. Those sound like exactly the kind of things that JMU has been vulnerable to throughout 2021, including the Spring season’s special teams issues and last week’s flurry of PI and holding calls against the back end of the defense. But the Black Bears also gave up 34 points to a UD offense that may be rather pedestrian and is certainly not JMU. Our guess is that if Maine is going to win this thing, they’ll need to keep scoring throughout and make this a shootout. Like many teams this year, Maine returns 20 starters from the Spring, including veteran QB Joe Fagnano. On defense, the Bears got a huge boost from graduate transfer LB Ray Miller, who came straight from Campbell to have 12 tackles last week.

How JMU Can Win

Pressure the QB and avoid penalties. Maine was feast or famine on offense last week. If they hit a couple big plays, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise. But JMU just needs to stay away from helping them out with more penalties on defense. If the rush can get home, or even just speed the Bears up, there should be huge plays available for the defense at some point. Our money is on something big from Que Reid again. On offense, just keep building on last week’s performance. Oh yeah, protect your kickers!

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Brothers Craft Brewing’s Proud and True Dukes Lager. I know we’ve had a long-standing kinship with another Harrisonburg brewery, but for our first preview this year, how can we pass up this obvious and wonderful choice. It’s odd to say, but thankfully this is a straightforward, no-frills lawnmower beer. In other words, perfect for a tailgating session. Folks will argue over quality no matter what, but the marketing, licensing (tee shirts in the bookstore!), and artwork for this one just crush us right in the feels. And mainly we’re just so glad that our local Giants, Total Wines, etc. have a purple alternative to that icky maroon/orange beer Hardywood swill that’s been coming out of RVA.

Official JMUSB Prediction

Dukes 38, Maine 17. We’re tempted to go bigger on this because we really feel good about this Dukes team regardless of the doubters that are creeping around with the injury report, but this is important conference play already and if JMU opens a lead up at all this week, just seems more likely they’ll salt this away rather than going for fireworks like last week.

May 9 / Rob

Dukes Drop Heartbreaker to Sam Houston State

There’s no easy way to start this, so let’s just rip the band aid off and go. JMU blew a 21 point second half lead and fell to Sam Houston State by the score of 38-35. It’s a loss that sent many fans over the edge. It’s unclear if or when they’ll return to sanity. There’s no sugarcoating it. It was a devastating loss. There’s no good way to spin blowing a three touchdown lead. There’s no rationalizing it away. It was ugly and it’s going to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths for a long while.

While it was definitely brutal, one loss does not define a program. One loss, even one featuring a catastrophic collapse, does not invalidate everything JMU accomplished in this pandemic season. One loss, does not mean the program has plunged from previous highs and charted a course for mediocrity. It probably just means that they got beat. It happens. We don’t like it when it does, but it’s not the end of JMU football as an FCS power.

There is much to like about the JMU fanbase. But there has been a discouraging trend toward more and more JMU fans being pathologically opposed to giving opponents any credit whatsoever. Every loss is due solely to JMU’s failures. Plays fail not because the other team does something well, but because the Dukes’ coaches are clueless. In too many fans eyes, the Dukes win because the competition isn’t good enough, and lose because they beat themselves. Things aren’t always so black and white. Sometimes there are shades of grey.

In the loss to Sam Houston State, JMU jumped out to a big halftime lead. The Dukes looked like they were Frisco bound. They were sitting on a comfortable 27-10 lead late in the third quarter. Then bad stuff happened. Lots of very bad stuff. It was the single most frustrating stretch of football that I can remember watching. Jequez Ezzard put the JMU secondary on skates, as he scampered for a 69 yard TD. Not even two minutes later, he took a punt back to the house. The ensuing kickoff got caught up in the wind, landed in between the returners and the up men, and then bounced straight up in the air and Sam Houston recovered. The Bearkats promptly punched it in for six. But they weren’t done. On JMU’s next possession, a pass bounced off the receivers hands and right into the arms of the Sam Houston defender. They punched that one in for six as well. In approximately five minutes of game time, Sam Houston had turned a 27-10 deficit into a 38-27 lead. JMU punched back and scored another TD, but then missed a desperation FG into the wind and Sam Houston held on. Oh, and Cole Johnson got hurt on the last drive, forcing a cold Gage Moloney to come in to try to finish a potentially game winning drive.

Mistakes were made people. We’re not denying that. The special teams were not very special. The coaches wasted timeouts. Defenders missed tackles and committed terrible penalties. JMU battled back instead of laying down though and could have won it. But they didn’t. They lost. They lost in excruciating fashion. However, as bad as it was, the overreaction by much of the JMU fanbase might have been even worse.

JMU is a program that expects to compete for championships. The Dukes fell short this year. Not that short, but short. And apparently losing on the road in the semi-finals is a fireable offense to a lot of fans. Fortunately, the JMU athletic department is not run by a bunch of drunken troglodytes with Twitter muscles, so Coach Cignetti will be back in the Fall. As he should be. He didn’t have a perfect game. He’ll take some deserved criticism for the collapse. He needs to overhaul special teams. But he also deserves a hell of a lot of credit for the job he did this season.

JMU lost a lot of talent due to injuries, transfers, and graduations. Cignetti still managed to lead a starting lineup filled with backups all the way to the semi-finals. He coached up a QB who was so shaky he probably would have lost his starting job forever if not for Covid, and helped him play the best football of his life in the playoffs. He successfully lead his team through multiple cancellations and pauses during a global pandemic. But he’s too conservative offensively, so let’s fire him. Never mind that his “conservative” approach helped JMU out-gain Sam Houston 430 yards to 332 yards while averaging over 16 yards a completion. And he inherited a machine that could coach itself, so let’s fire him. Nevermind that the “machine” he inherited was coming off a season where it followed two losses (including one to his Elon team) in CAA play by bowing out to Colgate in the second round of the playoffs. Cignetti has flaws. So did Mike Houston, Everett Withers, Mickey Matthews and every other coach ever. Like a lot of other successful coaches though, Cignetti happens to have a great many strengths as well.

JMU let one get away yesterday. There’s no denying it. And it hurts. Badly. But let’s take a deep breath. There is a lot to be happy about with the season JMU just had. There were struggles early, but the players responded. Young guys and backups worked through some challenging circumstances and improved. That’s typically a sign of good coaching. So we can look at everything that went wrong yesterday and ignore the good that came before it, and conclude the program is a dumpster fire. Or we can look at the total body of work, be mad/frustrated/despondent about yesterday, and still be excited about the state of the program heading into the Fall.

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

May 1 / jmusport

Guest Post: A Small JMU World

Dukes4 is a 1979 JMU grad, (with honorary JMU rooting wife) and their three gainfully employed, JMU alumni kids. He won the prediction contest for the VMI game and sent in this fun guest post reminding us that it’s a small world when it comes to JMU sports.

Thanks again to Andrea Clay for sharing her poignant guest post last week. During the podcast Rob and Todd noted they had the opportunity to meet Andrea and her husband and how it’s been cool to engage the JMU football nation over the years as the face of the JMU sports blog.

That comment got me thinking about the friends we have made and how we missed the 2020 fall tailgating season. Moreover, we looked back at some interesting people and characters who crossed our path while enjoying JMU football. We are at a point in our lives that allows for travel to away games and spending Saturday night in the burg. This offers more opportunity to chat-it -up all things JMU and especially football.  Here is a smattering of people we’ve met.

read more…
Apr 30 / Todd

Official JMUSB Quarterfinal Playoff Preview: North Dakota at JMU

2019 JMU Football-Morgan State
WPW – the Championship Combo

The Basics

Matchup: #7 North Dakota Fighting Hawks (5-1, 4-1Missouri Valley) at #3 JMU Dukes (6-0, 3-0 CAA)

Kickoff: 6:00 p.m. EDT. Sunday, May 2, 2021, Bridgeforth Stadium, Rocktown, VA

Weather: Mostly Cloudy, high 82 heading down to 57 but humidity increasing throughout the game from 41 to 61%

Broadcast: ESPN2!!!

Boys in the Desert: JMU -2.5, O/U 52.5

How UND Can Win

Hold up in the trenches and play with their usual near-flawless execution. UND is an upgraded version of VMI. Extremely well-coached and creative in all the ways that have given JMU problems against that other team from North Dakota but with better players than the Keydets had last week. If they execute as normal, it seems almost guaranteed they’ll catch JMU out with big plays on offense and special teams at least 2-3 times. The key for the Hawks is not letting JMU do what that other team did to them early in the season – namely just bully them on both lines and grind them to dust.

How JMU Can Win

To paraphrase Virginia’s own former NASCAR star Ward Burton, “Hammer Down!” (and if you remember the accent with which that was said on the last lap at Daytona, it’s even better). If ever a game called for the Dukes to bow up and push people around, even at the expense of aesthetics and salty fans who still want to #passmore, it was this one. JMU needs to grind and limit mistakes. This could be the rare exception where less possession is better for JMU than its opponent – particularly if that means JMU is methodically running the ball and controlling clock and the ball. Defensively, the headline matchup is JMU’s strong run defense versus UND’s star RB Otis Weah, but it’s the Dukes ability to not get caught too many times in mis-direction and play-calling on the back end that will dicate their success.

And Special Teams! At the very least not losing the specials matchup is critical this week. Last week’s onside kick fiasco, which of course was a repeat of previous fiascos in big games, simply cannot happen. That NDSU fake FG from the last title game – UND will have watched that tape and it simply cannot happen. Coach Cain needs to have his group ready with no excuses for mental mistakes more than ever.

JMUSB Beer of the Week

Three Notch’d I’d Rather Beer Fishing Lager – Three Notch’d (you know the one local brewery you can get at BFS) has a collaboration beer with our friends over at Mossy Creek Fly Fishing and it’s perfect for this unique Sunday Night Football experience. It’s an easy-drinking, low ABV lager released this spring that you can enjoy during the FCS national-tv triple-header and still be ready for work on Monday. And you can find them around the Valley (the real Valley) now! This one is legit.

Official JMUSB Prediction

No logic this week. Just mindset and motivation. We think the Dukes are finally ready to uncork one of those vintage JMU performances after this insane year.

JMU 42, UND 20