Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
JMU’s redshirt senior quarterback deserves more respect on a national level.
“Bennett, you’re a homer!”
“Did you even watch the Colgate game?!”
“I have five reasons why he’s not any good!”
I imagine those are things people yelled at their screams after reading the headline and first sentence. Hang with me, folks.
Not only does DiNucci not deserve hate, he deserves to be considered one of the best quarterbacks at the FCS level.
He won’t post mind-boggling stats because of JMU’s offensive philosophy, but he’s on the same level as NDSU’s Trey Lance, UC Davis’ Jake Maier, Eastern Washington’s Eric Barriere, Samford’s Chris Oladokun and Towson’s Tom Flacco.
Among quarterbacks who have played at least three games, DiNucci leads the country in completion percentage at 74.2%. Granted, JMU’s offense is built to give a quarterback easy completions, but DiNucci is doing what he’s supposed to do and then some.
He doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards a game or make hero plays on a regular basis. Between Brandon Polk, Kyndel Dean, Jake Brown, the Stapleton brothers and an array of running backs, DiNucci has enough weapons at his disposal to serve as the facilitator of JMU’s offense. He needs to put the ball in their hands in open space, and he’ll do well.
He’s done that through four games, but he’s also stretching the field vertically and making plays with his legs. His deep ball touch looks improved from last season, and Brandon Polk gives JMU its most electric downfield threat in years. With Polk and Riley Stapleton both potentially playing on the outside, CAA defenses will need to watch for deep shots instead of crowding the box.
DiNucci has 1,052 total yards through four games, and he’s posted seven passing touchdowns to just one interception. DiNucci is averaging 5.9 yards per carry, which includes the lost yardage from sacks. He’s actually leading all JMU ball carriers in total yards gained, which excludes sacks and negative runs. On a team with Percy Agyei-Obese, Jawon Hamilton and Solomon Vanhorse, DiNucci might be the team’s most efficient and effective rusher.
Tom Flacco has better stats, but he’s also completing fewer than 60% of his passes for Towson. He completed just 50% of his attempts in a recent loss to Villanova. He accounted for over 400 yards because he’s a great player who is asked to do a lot and Towson doesn’t care quite as much about completion percentage.
DiNucci is a great player who isn’t asked to do nearly as much for his team. That doesn’t make him any less effective. The stats that matter for DiNucci are different than the stats that matter for Flacco.
Eric Barriere is averaging nearly 350 passing yards per game, but Eastern Washington’s star has more completions than DiNucci has passing attempts. He plays in a different offense than DiNucci, and fans and media members get wide eyes when they see gaudy stats.
JMU asks Ben DiNucci to be efficient. The Dukes want him to complete passes, limit turnovers and make plays when needed. Through four games, DiNucci is completing passes at the highest clip of any quarterback in the country. He’s only thrown one interception, and he’s made a handful of flashy plays with his legs and his arm. He’s doing exactly what JMU asks.
That’s not to say he’s a perfect quarterback, and the Colgate game still happened, but it’s ridiculous to judge a quarterback on the worst game of his career. DiNucci struggled last December. He’s not struggling now.
There’s a lot of football to be played, and DiNucci won’t post the same stats as a few of the nation’s best signal callers, but don’t count him out in the CAA Offensive Player of the Year race. He’s surrounded by talented weapons, much like the other top quarterbacks in the country, and he’s going to post a solid season if he keeps using them.
The ceiling for DiNucci goes much higher than it has through four games. DiNucci wasn’t needed in the second half of the Dukes’ second and third games, and he’s missed a few throws. He’s also had receivers drop a few passes.
Riley Stapleton, one of the top receivers in the CAA, returned to action Saturday. That only makes DiNucci more dynamic.
I’m not saying DiNucci is going to win the Walter Payton Award.
I am saying the argument that JMU’s quarterback play is a step below NDSU’s or EWU’s or even Towson’s is false. Ben DiNucci can lead JMU to a national championship.
That doesn’t mean he will, but it’s about time we recognize DiNucci as one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
Solid article, and I’m cheering for Ben, but we’ve seen Ben dominate average to below average teams before – once bitten… I won’t fully trust Ben until I see him deliver a clutch performance. Name a single game-winning drive since Ben has taken over the starting job – you can’t. Name a single time we’ve needed a critical two-minute type of drive for a score that he’s engineered against a good defense- NC State, WVU, Stony Brook, Elon, and Colgate – hasn’t happened. Last year at this same time, everyone was saying he was better than Schor. I think you need to step back and be a little more objective as to his performance to date in big games against quality defenses. You can say he started off great against NC State and WVU but he didn’t deliver when it really counted at the end. I’m not a hater, but I’m not going to be a believer until I see him show he can be a clutch performer that will be essential when the playoffs roll around. Great stats against St Francis and Morgan State isn’t going to convince me of anything.
Because players cant improve year to year right Steve? Let’s not get into the details of how all the games you listed had plenty of other reasons we lost (we actually beat stony brook in case you forgot). Didn’t know Ben played defense as well. You claim you’re not a hater but everything you just said says otherwise. Objectively he looks better, a much improved deep ball, and is making more of the right reads. Those things are not dictated by opposing defenses
Really not a hater- I am hopeful that Ben has improved and encouraged by how he has played. I am not blaming those loses on him, just saying that when it came down to a crucial drive in each of those game, none of which had anything to do with our defenses, he didn’t come through and in most of them he threw interceptions. I’m simply not ready to anoint him as one of the best FCS quarterbacks in the country until I see him come through in the clutch like Schor did over and over. I applaud your enthusiasm and will be cheering for Ben to continue to lead the team to a great season but feel I’m being a bit more objective in my assessment.