Photo Courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
A year ago, JMU fans likely didn’t know much of anything about Ben DiNucci. The former Pittsburgh quarterback was out of sight and out of mind, as Bryan Schor led the Dukes on a deep postseason run. After the season, Cole Johnson was expected to lead the Dukes in 2018.
The gunslinger came to JMU without any promises. There were no guarantees of playing time or the starting quarterback gig. After a heated battle with Johnson across the spring and summer, DiNucci won the spot. He’s had an up-and-down 2018 season, from taunting NC State players in a dazzling performance against the Wolfpack to getting benched after struggling mightily against New Hampshire.
After his benching on Nov. 3, DiNucci has been exactly what JMU could hope for. He’s turned the ball over just three times, while scoring nine touchdowns and averaging 269 total yards per game. For JMU to beat Colgate and set up JMU-NDSU Round 3, DiNucci needs to be at his best.
In 10 games this season, only William & Mary eclipsed 200 passing yards against Colgate. The Tribe failed to score in the game despite racking up 251 yards through the air. Of Colgate’s 10 opponents, seven have failed to surpass 150 yards passing. More importantly, the Raiders have given up just two passing touchdowns all season. That’s the best mark in the country.
DiNucci doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns for JMU to win, but his ability to pass and scramble when passing plays break down is the key to this game. The Dukes are an inconsistent running team, and Colgate sells out to stop the run. DiNucci needs to make plays through the air, and with his feet on scrambles, for the Dukes to win.
When Ben DiNucci records multiple touchdowns, the Dukes are 5-0 and averaging 54.6 points per game. When he doesn’t score two touchdowns or more, JMU averages 21.8 points per game and is 3-3. I’m excluding the Norfolk State game because the game only went one quarter, so the statistics are misleading.
I’ll be honest, this statistic is a little obvious. JMU scores more points when its quarterback scores multiple touchdowns, compared to when its quarterback doesn’t score a multiple touchdowns. So … JMU scores more points when the guy who has the ball in his hands the most scores a lot? Yes. Here’s why it’s relevant: JMU averages over 30 more points per game when DiNucci scores two or more touchdowns.
When DiNucci doesn’t have a great game, JMU’s running backs aren’t picking up the slack. At all. DiNucci only scored one touchdown against Villanova, and D’Angelo Amos picked up the team by taking two punts back for touchdowns. Amos is explosive, but the Dukes can’t rely on defensive and special teams touchdowns against teams like Colgate and potentially North Dakota State. The Raiders and Bison can easily avoid Amos by kicking the ball out of bounds on punts. You can’t stop DiNucci from touching the ball.
With an inconsistent rushing attack, JMU needs DiNucci to be the best player on the field. Again, he doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards and 4-5 TDs, but the Dukes need 200+ total yards and multiple touchdowns from their quarterback to beat teams like NDSU. Against Colgate, DiNucci can likely get away with a one-touchdown performance as long as he limits turnovers and JMU’s defense dominates. But for JMU to keep this game out of Colgate’s reach, DiNucci needs to bring his A game. A multiple touchdown performance against a Colgate defense would be massive. When JMU gets great quarterback play, it’s nearly impossible to beat the Dukes.
The Dukes are undefeated dating back to the 2016 matchup with North Carolina when their quarterback scores multiple touchdowns. The last time JMU lost to an FCS school when its quarterback found the end zone twice came in the 2015 FCS playoffs against Colgate.
Getting two touchdowns from its quarterbacks has been a huge boost for JMU under Houston. The Dukes are undefeated against FCS competition since Houston’s arrival when their quarterbacks tally more than two scores.
If DiNucci excels against Colgate and potentially North Dakota State, JMU can make a deep playoff run. If he doesn’t, the season won’t go past the FCS Quarterfinals.