JMU Football Roundtable: William & Mary Edition

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Jack Fitzpatrick, Bennett Conlin and Chase Kiddy

As we gear up for another week of JMU football, Bennett, Chase and Jack once again gather ’round a fictional table to discuss then Dukes.

Can William & Mary actually beat the Dukes? Will we see Latrele Palmer receive meaningful snaps the rest of the season? We discuss that, and more, in this week’s roundtable.

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JMU beat Villanova behind a fantastic fourth quarter. What’s your biggest takeaway from last week’s win?

Jack Fitzpatrick, JMU Sports News: This is a tough one because it could be a plethora of things, like Latrele Palmer absolutely shining and being the spark the Dukes needed to get on that fourth-quarter roll, to the secondary and defense as a whole forcing FOUR, count ‘em, FOUR, turnovers in the fourth quarter. Neither of those things are my BIGGEST takeaway though, it is the fact JMU committed no turnovers itself. 

We’ve talked at length about the turnover problems the Dukes have, and how that problem always seems to come up in the biggest games in some of the most important moments. I mean, look at Elon and Colgate and New Hampshire last season, or West Virginia and Stony Brook this season.

The Dukes have always had their turnover problems, but it was usually masked by the defense forcing turnovers themselves, and we hadn’t seen that in a while. Finally, that came back on Saturday and the Dukes finished +4 in the turnover category and that right there is how they posted a 21-point fourth quarter and sent Villanova home with its first loss of the season. 

Bennett Conlin, JMU Sports News: JMU is resilient. We saw it against Stony Brook, but the Dukes never actually trailed in that game. They faced their first fourth-quarter deficit since the season opener at West Virginia, and they responded beautifully. 

JMU forced four turnovers in the final 15 minutes and outscored Villanova 21-0 to turn a seven-point deficit into a 14-point win. Last year JMU didn’t seem comfortable when trailing in the second half. That doesn’t appear to be the case this season. While it’s fair to critique JMU’s secondary, the Dukes beat a top-5 team despite allowing nearly 400 passing yards. That’s a positive sign, especially if the pass defense improves in the second half of the season. 

Chase Kiddy, Part stand-up comic, part sportswriter: That Villanova is legit. We all know that JMU is good, so I think many of us are unsurprised that the Dukes pulled a win out of the furnace. I knew Villanova was a deserving top-10 team, and I knew Daniel Smith was a spectacular quarterback, but until you seem them line up against one of these established, elite teams, you just don’t know how close they are to national championship relevance.

Right or wrong, the Dukes are the gold standard for FCS Football on this side of the Mississippi, so other programs are graded against the purple and gold. Even in a loss, we learned that Villanova was totally up to the task of facing JMU. I don’t think a ton of teams can say that.

Latrele Palmer excelled against the Wildcats. How big of a factor do you think he’ll be for JMU down the regular-season stretch?

Jack: I think Palmer is the best back on JMU’s roster.

He has a set of skills that make him fun to watch and scary to game plan against. He can run you over, he can juke you out of your socks in the hole, he has the patience that you normally see out of veteran FBS backs, and he has great top-end speed that was evident on his 60+ yard run to the house.

With all that being said, I don’t think he will be all that big of a factor down the regular-season stretch, if you had asked this question in terms of rest of season then my answer would be different, but regular-season, we won’t see him be that big of a piece on the offense. 

The remaining schedule has the Dukes facing off with William & Mary, Towson, UNH, Richmond and Rhode Island which rank 8th, 11th, 4th, 7th and 12th respectively in the CAA in rush defense. I really do believe that Cignetti will keep Palmer’s carries low and put him in every now and then, keep him in a rhythm until the playoffs. Then we will see him explode. The Dukes are in good hands for these next five games with Percy, Jawon and Vanhorse. 

Now, ask this question again in five weeks when we are gearing up for a postseason run because this answer will be wildly different. 

Bennett: JMU uses a running back by committee approach, so I imagine every back on the team will be a factor the rest of the way. I don’t, however, expect any of these running backs to break free from the pack to become the Dukes’ feature back. 

If a player does become a feature back, I’d lean toward Percy Agyei-Obese getting that nod. Latrele Palmer is a stud, but he is still a freshman, and the Dukes are loaded at running back. I expect Palmer to contribute in the regular season and in the postseason, but I’m not expecting him to replicate his Villanova performance on a regular basis. Breaking off a 69-yard touchdown run is fantastic, but it’s also not going to be a weekly occurrence. 

I’d look for Palmer to play a larger role in short-yardage situations. 

Chase: I’m not sold that he’s going to be a huge factor just yet. Palmer is undoubtedly a gifted tailback, and the Marshawn Lynch comparisons are fun, but this is still a team that has four or five legitimate options at the position. Every couple of weeks, it seems like the team has a new No. 1 most-talented back. Palmer could be a future all-CAA or All-American kind of guy, but with the crowded queue in the backfield, I’m not convinced that Palmer is in position to earn favored status — just like I wasn’t sold on VanHorse as the definitive go-to guy this time last month.

Chase tweeted that he thinks William & Mary is JMU’s toughest challenge left on the schedule. Everyone please list the team you think is the toughest challenge left on JMU’s schedule and share why.

Jack: Okay, this is a tough one but I will go with New Hampshire for its defensive abilities and that alone. Ever since UNH’s loss to Holy Cross (which may be the Patriot League champion by season’s end, which I know isn’t amazing but it is something) it has fought its way back to a 4-2 overall record by winning its last four and the Wildcats are the only team outside of JMU that is undefeated in CAA play (3-0). William & Mary is solid and a growing program I think will be good for years to come, but that doesn’t start this week or this year. So, I don’t see this as JMU’s toughest challenge. 

Looking at UNH from a statistical standpoint, it is going to be a challenge for DiNucci & Co. It is fourth against the run, allowing only 828 yards on the ground so far this season, and it is the No. 1 scoring defense in the CAA, allowing just 16.2 points per game. The Wildcats are third in pass defense and second in team total defense. New Hampshire is a stout defense and will give JMU trouble both through the air and on the ground. 

Looking at the flip side of the ball, though, New Hampshire really doesn’t have a potent offense. It’s ranked dead last in scoring offense and eighth in total offense. The Wildcats aren’t going to keep the JMU defense up at night, but their defense is good enough for me to say this is the toughest game remaining. 

In all honesty, none of them really scare me since three of the last five games are at home and JMU has lost just one home game since 2016.  

Bennett: I agree with Jack that none of the final five games look all that tough on paper. If I’m forced to pick one, I’ll take Towson. Yes, the Tigers are 0-3 after starting 3-0, and they’re not nearly as healthy as they’d like to be, but Tom Flacco is the most dangerous quarterback left on JMU’s schedule. Rhode Island wide receiver Aaron Parker is probably the most dangerous player left on JMU’s schedule, but I don’t think Rhode Island’s team is anywhere near the Dukes’ level.  

Towson’s offense can score with the best of them, and the Tigers have lost to Villanova, Florida and Albany. The Great Danes are better than people think, and JMU fans should be aware of how good Villanova is. Florida is a top-15 team at the FBS level. 

With Towson facing a beatable Bucknell team at home this week, I think it gets back in the win column with an easy victory before next week’s game at JMU. I think there’s a chance JMU overlooks Towson just a bit considering the Tigers are a .500 team at the moment and it beat Towson 38-17 last season. If Towson enters this game 4-3, it will be desperate for a victory to keep itself in the playoff picture. A desperate Towson team with a potentially overconfident JMU team might make for an interesting game. 

Chase: *stares pensievely at his laptop, while quietly humming melody of Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror to himself* 

So just to add a little background on my thought process here, I was looking at JMU’s schedule for no particular reason and wondering where the landmine was in the final five games. I’m not prepared to consider Rhode Island or Richmond as serious schematic threats to beat JMU, though with the Ticks, you do always have to consider the rivalry element. Towson I think is actually heavily overrated right now — it’s not even necessarily the Tigers’ own fault. They’re just really banged up, and I’m starting to think it’s going to keep them out of the playoff field. Tom Flacco versus this JMU secondary might be a vulnerable matchup on paper, but I like the Dukes to handle business next weekend.

There are only two other games on the schedule: New Hampshire and the pantless gryphons.

UNH is definitely exceeding expectations this year under Santos, but after last year’s turnover-fueled throttling, I really think DiNucci and the Dukes will show up big for that game — particularly considering there could be some serious de facto championship vibes, depending on how the next few weeks unfold.

That leaves William & Mary, in all its trap game glory. JMU has to go on the road to an in-state rival that suddenly has a new lease on life with new coach Mike London and a faster style of play. I still think JMU wins this game because of a serious athlete advantage at the line of scrimmage, but this is one of those games where the Dukes have to take extra care to show up and play, lest the tide turn against them.

Who wins this week and what’s the final score?

Jack: JMU wins easily this week. JMU is better at every position on and off the field. I think the Dukes will run the ball heavily and put up the best rushing stats we have seen all season. 

The Dukes will leave Williamsburg with a 35-7 win. My bonus prediction is that the secondary will look scary good (because the Tribe are ranked last in pass offense) and have three picks again, but don’t get too excited, their problems aren’t fixed just yet. 

Bennett: I think we’re all on the same page with this one. JMU is the better team, although William & Mary could prove to be a tricky opponent. Look for the Dukes to race out to an early lead before cruising in the final 15 minutes. JMU wins 38-14. 

Chase: JMU blows it open in the third quarter and coasts to a win, 45-20.

Fun question of the week: If you could create a rivalry between JMU and one other team, who would it be? It can be FCS or FBS, and for the sake of this argument both fanbases are on board with the rivalry. 

Jack: UVA, easy. 

I mean the jokes about JMU standing for Just Missed UVA have created a lowkey animosity between JMU and UVA, more so JMU toward UVA, as the Cavaliers could care less. The teams match up well and the games would be fun to watch. Not to mention the geography behind it all, being an hour apart. I would absolutely love to see both teams schedule each other more and create a real I-81/I-64 rivalry.  

Bennett: I like Jack’s UVa pick, and I think Virginia Tech would be fun as well, but I’ll take East Carolina. Even if Mike Houston doesn’t stay in Greenville long term, that’d make for a fun football rivalry with an AAC team. JMU smoked ECU 34-14 under Houston’s watch, but the Pirates appear to be improving with Houston in town. 

The Dukes also beat ECU in men’s basketball and softball last season, and JMU plays the Pirates in several sports. ECU excels on the baseball diamond, and that could be a fun annual matchup. The Dukes and Pirates are fairly even in a number of sports, and a regular football clash between JMU and ECU could be a blast. 

Chase: Marshall. It’s reasonably close by, and I honestly think both football programs are probably about at the same level right now. The downside to this is that visiting Huntington is far less fun than a trip to the West End of Richmond.

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