Photo Courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
JMU football heads to Maryland Saturday for its biggest game of the season. The Dukes face Towson with a playoff seed likely on the line. Win, and you’re 8-3 eating Thanksgiving dinner with your family and getting a week of rest. Lose, and you’re playing on Thanksgiving weekend with a road game awaiting the winner of first-round matchups. The winner of JMU-Towson is positioned for a deep playoff run, while the loser stares a difficult path in the face.
I’m watching for three things in Saturday’s showdown.
JMU’s defense vs. Tom Flacco
Regardless of Flacco’s performance, he’s the likely winner of CAA Offensive Player of the Year. He averages over 300 total yards per game and is the most dynamic quarterback in the entire conference. He’s tossed 25 TDs to 11 INTs and has four rushing touchdowns. Using my nonexistent math degree, that’s an average of nearly 3 TDs per game from Flacco alone. Add in dynamic running backs, Towson ranks third in the CAA in rushing, and you get the top scoring offense in the conference.
With JMU showing weaknesses defensively the past few weeks, Towson’s best bet to win this game is to ride the offense and Flacco to the finish line. If the Tigers reach 35+ points, the Dukes will need an offensive explosion to pick up the important win. If JMU keeps Towson under 20 points, the Dukes have a great chance of blowing Towson out of the stadium. JMU doesn’t need a heroic defensive performance to win given Towson’s weak defense, but the Dukes’ secondary needs to be better to slow down Flacco. If JMU’s defense limits Flacco to under 250 total yards, the Dukes will win.
JMU’s offensive line vs. Towson’s defensive front
No JMU running back has tallied 100 rushing yards in a game this season. If the Dukes can change that this week, they’ll likely come out on top. JMU needs a push up front to come out victorious in this game. Luckily for the Dukes, Jahee Jackson might be on his way back this week.
Protecting DiNucci is also critical. If DiNucci has time to scan the field and make the correct reads, the Dukes can get him into a rhythm and build his confidence early in the game. When DiNucci plays with confidence, he’s just as dynamic as Flacco. When DiNucci lacks confidence and gets down on himself, he’s a below average CAA quarterback.
If JMU’s offensive line wins the battle in the trenches, this game could get out of hand in a hurry.
JMU lost to New Hampshire two weeks ago because of turnovers. DiNucci and Cole Johnson did their best impression of Santa Claus as they gifted the Wildcats a whopping six turnovers in the game. Turning the ball over six times makes it tough to win. Neither team has a great turnover margin this season, as Towson’s margin sits at +2 and JMU ranks closely behind with a +1 margin. The team that takes advantage of turnovers gains an edge in what’s expected to be a close game.
The Dukes are very talented and a quality team, but they can’t afford to lose the turnover margin in contests against ranked teams. This game looks like a potential shootout, and every possession is going to matter. DiNucci playing aggressively and tossing an interception or two won’t doom the Dukes, but the defense needs to keep pace and get a big turnover of their own.
Prediction: JMU wins 38-35
The top two scoring offenses in the country go blow for blow, but JMU’s special teams unit, coaching staff and defense give the Dukes a slight edge over Towson. Expect a large gathering of JMU faithful to help provide an additional boost of fan support. I expect a close game, but I don’t see Towson’s defense playing well enough to give the Tigers a win.