Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
After a narrow defeat to West Virginia, JMU football’s schedule gets substantially easier the next two weeks. The Dukes aren’t facing a Power 5 squad this week, but rather an NEC squad coming off consecutive losing seasons. It’s the home opener, and the Dukes should win.
I know this game doesn’t draw the same excitement as a matchup with West Virginia, but I still want to provide a game preview. As I mentioned last week, I like creative game previews. Instead of looking through the Xs and Os of a game expected to be a blowout, I’ll share three predictions for Saturday’s game.
JMU wins big
The Dukes enter the game as roughly 30-point favorites. I like JMU to win by well more than 30. The Dukes absolutely destroy nonconference FCS foes, and I’m expecting a similar showing on Saturday.
JMU has a history of blasting its nonconferences FCS foes, and the Dukes have won plenty of games by 30+ points since Mike Houston came to JMU. The Curt Cignetti era may play out differently, but the talent disparity between the Dukes and Red Flash is large.
I also expect a motivated JMU team. The Dukes expected to beat West Virginia and lost. They’ll enter this game angry. It’s the home opener, which should get the players fired up. This is the first time they’ll play in front of the home crowd since an opening round playoff victory last season against Delaware.
The crowd should be much bigger Saturday than it was last November against the Blue Hens, and I’m guessing JMU jumps out to a multiple touchdown lead in the first quarter. The backups should be excited to see the field and should play well in front of home fans with minimal pressure.
It’s also worth noting that St. Francis hasn’t posted a winning record on the road since 2007. The Dukes win big Saturday.
Final: JMU 66, St. Francis 7
JMU scores a touchdown on defense or special teams
Here’s a fun stat for you …
The Dukes score touchdowns on special teams and defense against nonconference FCS opponents. It’s what they do.
With D’Angelo Amos at punt returner, Rashad Robinson at corner and guys like Brandon Polk and Jawon Hamilton at kick returner, I like the Dukes to find the end zone on special teams or defense. I wouldn’t be stunned to see a strip sack/fumble recovery return for a touchdown, either. Expect John Daka and Ron’Dell Carter to get to the quarterback at will during this game.
JMU’s special teams unit struggled last week. Harry O’Kelly did fine as a punter, but a field goal was blocked, a punt was muffed and the kick return was average at best. The Dukes aren’t used to poor special teams showings.
Look for JMU to be motivated to perform effectively on special teams after a lackluster showing. I expect a good outing from Ethan Ratke and Harry O’Kelly, and I think there’s a good chance Amos returns a punt for a touchdown. If the Dukes don’t score a touchdown on special teams, expect the defense to put the ball in the end zone.
6 Dukes combine to rush for over 400 yards
After rushing for just under 200 yards against WVU, the Dukes will want to build on a few nice runs by dominating the point of contact Saturday. I think JMU’s offensive line sets the tone for Ben DiNucci, Solomon Vanhorse, Percy Agyei-Obese, Jawon Hamilton, Austin Douglas and a few other rushers (CJ Jackson and Latrele Palmer might see their first collegiate action and Eric Kirlew could see the field as well) to eclipse 400 yards on the ground.
Cignetti wants to run the ball, the Dukes have a size and talent advantage against St. Francis’ defensive line and JMU’s running back group is deep. Even if the Dukes jump out to a 3-5 touchdown lead in the first half, the reserve options at running back are all extremely talented and capable of playing (and starting) at other FCS schools. The Dukes should rack up massive yardage on the ground throughout each quarter.
The starters should run wild, with Agyei-Obese wanting to make up for his fumble last week. Hawilton’s speed makes him a likely threat for a 30+ yard touchdown rush, and the other backs are all electric as well. DiNucci is a dark horse candidate for 100+ rushing yards, as he should find room with his scrambles and an occasional designed run.
Due to the game likely being a blowout, JMU should run the ball on at least 60% of its plays. I think that leads to a lot of yards on the ground. I see JMU going for at least 400 yards on the ground with at least six players getting one carry.
Editor’s note: What are your predictions for the game? Share them in the comment section below.