JMU Secondary Struggles Against the Seawolves

Featured image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Jack Fitzpatrick

JMU couldn’t seem to stop the pass on Saturday. There is no hiding it, almost every time the Dukes needed a stop, Stony Brook seemed to find a wide-open receiver running downfield. All season the secondary has been shaky and a question mark for JMU, and Saturday it was almost their downfall. 

So let’s get right into it, what happened Saturday that hasn’t happened all season. JMU had not struggled that much defending the pass, and this Monday, JMU Nation has more questions than answers moving forward. 

The first answer: There was no Rashad Robinson playing. After suffering an injury against Elon but finishing out the game, there must have been an aggravation of the injury during the week’s practice, (this is PURELY speculation this is not confirmed). That is the only reason I see Curt Cignetti holding out his best defensive back in this game. With no Robinson, Taurus Carroll and Wesley McCormick got the start, and they struggled. Combined they had three tackles and just one pass break up and they were continuously targeted. 

The second answer: it seemed JMU was really keyed in on the run, any time a play-action occured the safeties would bite leaving the corners all alone on their own little islands. There was also a solid amount of man coverage played, with no safety help, again probably to load the box and really stop the run. Normally when playing man coverage in a cover 1 or cover 2 the corners will be a little more physical at the line with more bump and run coverage to disrupt timing, but this week JMU allowed Stony Brook receivers to practically run free.

A few plays during the game really demonstrated what Stony Brook was doing effectively and how they were able to pick apart the Dukes’ defense. Here are the plays that I think are the best examples with an explanation of what I saw.

Early in the first quarter, play-action pass to Nick Anderson for 28 yards.

On this play, the play-action does the job perfectly. The Dukes look to be playing a mix of zone and man. The play-action run gets the linebackers to cheat forward to try and stuff the run, and Taurus Carroll comes crashing in from the edge which leaves the crossing route wide open. Since Landan Word came in to play the run, Anderson slips right on past and finds his way to the near side where there is no corner to pick him up since Carroll had crashed in to stop the run. Results in a big-time gain for the Seawolves.

Tyquell Fields pass to Jean Constant for 19 yards for a touchdown.

Here the Dukes stack the box with eight men. They bring Amos down to help against the run and they leave Adam Smith as the lone safety to play against the pass. On the play-action, it pulls in Smith and Amos in which leaves the middle of the field wide open. The receiver is able to beat the corner on the post route for the easy touchdown.

Fields pass to Anderson for 26 yards for the touchdown.

On this play, JMU blitzes six which leaves everyone in man coverage with Amos as the deep safety. The blitz does its job and forces Fields out of the pocket to make a throw on the run, but he finds an open Anderson in the back corner of the endzone after he beat his man. It looks as if Amos bites up on the hook route in the middle of the field and doesn’t notice the deep route until it is too late.

Fields pass to Nick Anderson for 29 yards to get out of the shadow of their own goal post.

Again, JMU stacks the box thinking it is going to be a run leaving the corners on their own little islands with only one safety to help. The safety, Adam Smith, plays it well, reading the QB’s eyes and shifting to the far side of the field. Here the corner just doesn’t play all that physically at the line and expects a go-route and wasn’t prepared for when the receiver breaks it off to the inside, which gives Anderson fantastic yards after the catch.

Fields pass to Delante Hellams for 40 yards to the JMU five.

The Dukes were blitz heavy all game, and here is another example. JMU blitzes seven, which leaves the corners with one on one matchups with one over the top safety. On this play Amos, the lone safety, plays to the middle of the field instead of cheating over to the near side where there were two receivers. The corners played seven yards off the receivers which allowed Stony Brook to get into stride and just blaze past the JMU corners. Smart throw here by Fields to go to the outside receiver since that was purely one on one coverage with no threat of the safety.

Fields pass complete to Peter McKenzie for 21 yards to the JMU 29, setting up the field goal.

Here the Dukes know the situation and play it accordingly, however, the Seawolves still find the weakness in the secondary. The Dukes send three on the pressure and keep the fourth to spy Fields, which is very smart since the week before he ran it for a 51-yard go-ahead touchdown in the waning seconds against Rhode Island. With that setup on the front, it puts the defense in a cover 2. Everyone in man with two safeties who are playing very deep to save the touchdown. If you watch the JMU player circled, Mike Cobbs 38, you see him lose his man. He is playing slightly inside of his man and the Seawolves run a beautiful natural pick play and Cobbs takes the wrong angle to try and chase him down. On the edges, the receivers are running gos which force the safeties to stay deep and slightly to the outside in case Fields tests it deep which leaves the middle of the field wide open. Cobbs can’t make up for getting hit with the natural pick play and Adam Smith comes from his deep safety spot to make the game-saving tackle.

Coming into this game it was thought that both teams would try to keep the ball on the ground and win in the trenches. JMU showed that they were the better run team, they held Stony Brook to just 118 yards on the game with just 2.8 yards per attempt. JMU, on the other hand, dominated the run game, they racked up 329 yards on the ground, averaging a whopping 5.9 yards per attempt. Like JMU has done all season they ran the ball over and over and over and over and over again for big gains. Running backs, Jawon Hamilton and Percy Agyei-Obese combined for 201 yards on 26 carries and four touchdowns between them. 

JMU won the ground game, and that was evident early on, but that may have hurt the Dukes in the long run. The Dukes seemed to be ready to stop the run every play, no matter the situation, which opened up the play-action game for the Seawolves and they took big-time advantage of that and shredded the Duked in the air. Stony Brook threw for 318 yards and found the endzone twice through the air. The really eye-popping stat is that they averaged 21.2 yards per completion. When they caught it, it was normally far downfield and they could rack up the yards after the catch. 

Looking forward the Dukes need a healthy Robinson and to clean up the mistakes especially against the play-action. For the Dukes the games don’t get any easier and now there is a blueprint on how to shred this defense through the air. That question mark is now a an entire sentence, as fans are left with more worries and wonders then they are with anything else.


  1. Great article and mirrors my feelings. Question I posted to the board – is there a schematic/play calling change the coaches can/will have to make to change this up? I think we win out the regular season despite this shortcoming but come playoff time it will cost us.


    1. I believe that the coaching staff will get this fixed by season end. If/when Rashad Robinson comes back he will shut down an entire side of the field, and if the safeties can stay at home and if the other corners can be a little more physical, this problem will be mostly fixed.


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