Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
JMU football concludes its three-game road trip Saturday when the Dukes play at Stony Brook at 6 p.m. The Seawolves are 4-1 and ranked 24th. Chuck Priore’s squad leads the CAA in rushing and has multiple players capable of rushing for 100 yards on any given Saturday. It’s a good opponent.
The Dukes, on the other hand, look great through five games. They enter this matchup as the No. 2 team in the country, and they’re clicking on both sides of the ball. Curt Cignetti’s offensive philosophy seems to be working, and there’s plenty of reason for optimism among JMU fans.
Unleashing Ben DiNucci
Stony Brook allows the second-highest completion percentage in the CAA, and the Seawolves rank 10th in the conference in passing defense. Ben DiNucci leads the CAA and ranks third nationally in completion percentage.
Stony Brook ranks second in the CAA in rushing defense, holding opponents to 88.8 yards per game. Only JMU has a better mark.
While the Dukes are going to run the football on Saturday, the Seawolves’ passing defense is easily their biggest defensive weakness. JMU needs to attack the Stony Brook secondary throughout Saturday’s matchup.
DiNucci manages games effectively, but offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery should turn him loose this weekend.
Give one of the country’s most accurate passers an opportunity to shred a weak secondary. Brandon Polk, Riley Stapleton, Kyndel Dean and Jake Brown are matchup nightmares for every CAA defense, and Stony Brook doesn’t have the personnel to stop the Dukes’ passing attack. If JMU opens up the passing game and lets DiNucci throw downfield, the Dukes should score in bunches.
I’m not certain Montgomery and the offensive staff will allow DiNucci to sling the ball 30+ times against the Seawolves on what should be a chilly Saturday night road game, but JMU’s best offensive strategy involves play-action passing and a lot of DiNucci. He can carve up Stony Brook’s defense if given the chance.
All season long we’ve heard about the importance of this three-game road stretch. The Dukes had to play at Chattanooga, at Elon and at Stony Brook.
Through two weeks, the Dukes passed those tests with flying colors. They outscored the two teams 82-24. JMU faces No. 24 Stony Brook this week, and it’d be easy for the Dukes to look ahead to next week’s home matchup with Villanova.
Yes, Stony Brook is ranked, but Elon was ranked 24th last week and look how that turned out. With fans and media members hyping up a potential top-5 showdown in Bridgeforth on Oct. 12 with the Wildcats, JMU needs to focus solely on this game.
This year’s Stony Brook game feels a lot like last year’s game with Elon. The Dukes are 4-1 with four dominant FCS victories. People are hyping up this JMU team with talk about national championship possibilities.
On Oct. 6, 2018, JMU fell to Elon and the entire season changed.
The Dukes don’t want Oct. 5, 2019, to have a similar ending.
Getting through this game goes a long way toward JMU winning a CAA title and putting themselves in position to earn a seed in the FCS playoffs. A loss to Stony Brook puts the Dukes in a tough spot with two losses and Villanova and Towson still left on the schedule.
Even though it’s not getting a ton of publicity for its importance, Saturday’s game matters. If the Dukes stay focused and take care of business, they’re in the CAA driver’s seat heading into a fun battle with Villanova.
Controlling the line of scrimmage
JMU and Stony Brook share similar philosophies, but the Dukes tend to execute better with superior athletes.
Both teams want to run the ball and stop the run. Through five weeks both teams rank in the top 2 in the CAA in rushing offense and defense. The team that is better able to control the line of scrimmage will emerge victorious on Saturday.
Last week, JMU’s offensive line played arguably its best game of the season. The Dukes rushed for 336 yards and six touchdowns against a ranked Elon squad. A similar performance Saturday will result in a blowout victory.
If Stony Brook can hold its own at the line of scrimmage, however, it stands a chance. JMU’s secondary isn’t perfect, and the JMU passing game hasn’t been tested all that much.
I still think DiNucci’s passing will turn this game into a rout even if Stony Brook plays well up front, but offensive and defensive line control is the only hope the Seawolves have of pulling off the upset.
It’s a key for JMU in nearly every game, but controlling the line of scrimmage feels even bigger this week.
Given the talent and size up front, the Dukes should control the line of scrimmage on Saturday. Stony Brook is a competitive team with good pieces, but the Dukes have an FBS caliber defensive line and an offensive line that doesn’t look far behind.
JMU should dominate in the trenches.