Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
Today marks two weeks until JMU football’s season opener. With the season nearly here, we’re almost done with our weekly countdown to the start of the season. Last week we looked at the three most underrated players on JMU’s roster. This week we’ll discuss two key positional matchups in JMU’s season opener at West Virginia.
JMU’s wide receivers vs. West Virginia’s secondary
Both teams face major questions in this matchup. JMU won’t have star wide receiver Riley Stapleton, as he sits out the first three games due to a suspension. West Virginia lost two standout safeties to transfer, and a third safety also entered the portal. Safety is a weakness for West Virginia, but can JMU’s inexperienced group take advantage of that weakness?
People have sung the praises of JMU’s Jake Brown, and we think he has great potential, but he’s still relatively inexperienced. Brandon Polk is another receiver with tremendous ability, but he saw limited action at Penn State. Kyndel Dean will assume the No. 1 wide receiver role with Stapleton out, but even Dean isn’t all that proven. He was very good last season, but it might be a stretch to expect him to dominate an FBS secondary in the first week of the 2019 season.
The Dukes’ wide receivers are more than capable of putting on a show vs. West Virginia, but it’s a leap to assume all of the receivers will click in the first week of a new offensive scheme. There’s talent at the position, but questions remain.
As for West Virginia, we know the safety spot is concerning. The cornerback position, however, is an area of relative strength. The Mountaineers boast four redshirt seniors at corner, including three guys with All Big-12 potential. Josh Norwood, Keith Washington Jr. and Hakeem Bailey are all quality corners with experience. On paper, they have an edge over JMU’s receivers.
If JMU wants to beat West Virginia, the Dukes’ wide receivers need to beat West Virginia’s corners a few times. If one of them can get behind a corner, the safety spot is an issue for WVU. There’s a chance for JMU to break a big pass play or two if JMU’s inexperienced receivers live up to their extremely high talent levels. It won’t be easy, however, as the Mountaineers are stacked at cornerback.
JMU’s defensive line vs. West Virginia’s offensive line
I’ve said some variation of “the Dukes’ starting unit can hold its own, but the reserves on the defensive line are unproven” about 100 times this summer. Let’s make it 101.
JMU’s defensive line features four unbelievable starters, but the backup unit is inexperienced and unproven. John Daka, Ron’Dell Carter, Adeeb Atariwa and Mike Greene should play well against West Virginia, even against a big offensive line. Daka and Carter are All-American caliber players, and Greene and Atariwa are two of the better defensive tackles in the CAA. It’s when those players leave the game that fans should worry.
After the starting unit, players like Bryce Maginley, Tony Thurston, Garrett Groulx and Antonio Colclough will take the field. Those four guys are talented and have some solid collegiate experience, but it’s not nearly as much as the four starters. Maginley has quality experience as a linebacker and special teams player, but playing defensive end against West Virginia is a different beast.
West Virginia’s roster includes 21 offensive linemen, and 15 of them weigh at least 300 lbs. JMU doesn’t have a defensive lineman above 285 lbs, and Daka is listed at 227 lbs. Daka makes up for a lower weight with his strength and speed, but there is a big size disadvantage between JMU’s defensive line and WVU’s offensive line. That’s going to be a factor in this game.
Again, JMU’s starting defensive line can hold its own and win one-on-one battles with WVU’s offensive line despite a size difference. The Dukes are extremely talented along the defensive line and have multiple guys with NFL potential at that position. Daka’s speed is going to be a huge concern for the Mountaineers. When the starters exit, however, the Dukes face a major size discrepancy with unproven players. That’s a difficult situation for JMU. Stopping the run is going to be a major challenge.
If JMU beats West Virginia, there will be 2-3 defensive linemen who step up off the bench. Those reserves don’t need to be dominant, but they do need to give JMU solid reps.