Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
JMU football hosts its homecoming game this Saturday. The Towson Tigers come to town just a game above .500 and desperate for a win to remain in the playoff push. JMU wants a win to stay undefeated in the FCS heading into the bye week.
Towson brings a potent offense into this matchup. Led by quarterback Tom Flacco, the Tigers can score in bunches. Unfortunately for the Tigers, its defense gives up points in bunches.
JMU is a more complete team and enters this game as roughly a 17-point favorite a year after beating the Tigers on the road by 21. The 17-point spread might be a bit small.
This week’s roundtable features just Jack and Bennett. Let’s get to it.
JMU beat William & Mary by 28 last Saturday. On a scale of 1-10, how impressed were you with JMU’s performance? Explain your reasoning.
Jack Fitzpatrick, JMU Sports News: Just to be different from Bennett, I’m going to go with a 6 out of 10. A solid D. Kind of like what they played on Saturday. I mean their defense was outstanding and they had some great special teams plays, however their offense seemed to sputter at times and DiNucci even said it wasn’t his best game of the season.
I think two out of the three phases of the game came together and did well, but because of the sputtering against an inferior team, I’ll dock them four points.
Bennett Conlin, JMU Sports News: I’ll go with 7. JMU didn’t play its best game but it beat a competitive William & Mary team 38-10 and racked up 15 tackles for loss. Even if the Dukes don’t bring their A-game, they’re so physically gifted that it doesn’t matter much.
I still want to see JMU play a complete game prior to the postseason, but the Dukes are trending in the right direction in all three phases of the game. JMU looks like a top-2 team right now.
Towson comes to town Saturday for homecoming. What do the Tigers need to do to keep this game competitive?
Jack: Win in the trenches. That’s it! It is that simple, just control the lines and you win.
I know that is actually really damn hard against JMU. You don’t win the trenches against this team, but that is really the only way you can win. Make DiNucci uncomfortable in the pocket and bring the pressure. On the flip side, keep Carter & co. out of your backfield. If Towson can do that, it has a good shot at winning this game. But it will be a VERY tough task for the Tigers.
Bennett: If Towson’s defense can hold JMU to fewer than 30 points, that’d be a massive victory for the Tigers. Tom Flacco and company should move the ball fairly well against an inconsistent JMU secondary, but it’s the defense that is cause for concern. If JMU can control the clock by running the ball and mixing in play-action passing, the Dukes could legitimately drop 50 points on Saturday.
For Towson to limit JMU’s offense, the Tigers probably need to take a page out of Stony Brook’s playbook and force multiple turnovers while taking care of the ball offensively. Towson has talent, especially on offense, and it’s desperate to return to the playoff hunt. I wouldn’t rule out a competitive game, but it will take a better effort from Towson’s defense than what we’ve seen through seven games.
Are you surprised by how much success Penn State transfer Brandon Polk has had this season?
Jack: Yes, I wasn’t expecting him to be this impactful at all. I was expecting almost a Terrence Alls (who was a transfer from Duke) or David Eldridge (a UVA transfer) type of impact. I thought he had the big-play ability and top-end speed, but I didn’t realize he was this good.
The offensive coaching staff has done an amazing job of bringing him into the fold and finding ways to get him the ball. He is almost a sure-fire catch and run for 10 yards each time he touches the ball. The fact Riley Stapleton missed the first few games also has helped him. Polk got on the same page as DiNucci very quickly and seems to be the go-to guy for the Nooch.
Bennett: Yes and no. I knew Polk was talented, but I had no idea he’d perform this well. He’s on pace to become the first JMU receiver to eclipse 800 receiving yards in a season since Earnest Payton in 1998. He’s playing incredibly well.
I expected him to be a solid option in the intermediate passing game, but Polk is also a solid red-zone threat and an elite downfield burner. He has good hands — although he has a few drops — and runs clean routes. He doesn’t have many flaws in his game, and he’s an ideal complement to Riley Stapleton. I’m surprised at the level of success, but I’m not surprised that he’s found success.
What’s your score prediction for Saturday?
Jack: JMU will control the trenches. They will get in Flacco’s face and force some bad plays. With that being said, I still think JMU’s secondary will allow about 400 yards through the air. I think we will see how JMU’s secondary has more holes than Swiss cheese this week.
BUT, JMU will still win by three scores because they will have a fourth-quarter similar to the Villanova game. JMU 37, Towson 20.
Bennett: JMU’s defensive line is dominant, and I’m not sure Towson can hold up for a full 60 minutes against the front four. The Dukes are also rolling on offense, leading the CAA in scoring. It’s homecoming, and Bridgeforth should be packed. I like JMU to win 45-17.
If South Dakota State beats North Dakota State this weekend with College GameDay in town, should JMU take over the No. 1 ranking or should the Jackrabbits earn the nod? (Assume JMU beats Towson)
Jack: If (when) JMU beats Towson the Dukes will have big-time wins against a No. 24, No. 24, No. 5 and No. 16. SDSU, in all honesty, might be the better team, especially if they take down the Bison, but then why aren’t the Jackrabbits the No. 2 ranked team right now? JMU has a better resume and will cement that this weekend with the win. With both teams winning, JMU will stay ahead of SDSU and move to No. 1. The Jackrabbits will be No. 2 and NDSU will most likely just slide to No. 3.
Bennett: I would give JMU the No. 1 ranking. I’d move SDSU to No. 2 and NDSU to No. 3. That’s my opinion based on how the Dukes have performed this season, but a close game between NDSU and SDSU could actually create a scenario where SDSU moves to No. 1, NDSU only slides to No. 2 and the Dukes drop to No. 3. I like SDSU to win this weekend, so I’m interested to see how this scenario might play out.
JMU’s wins over Villanova and Stony Brook are strong enough for me to think the Dukes deserve the No. 1 spot should NDSU lose. The Dukes also have a pair of CAA blowout wins and a win over Chattanooga that is starting to look a lot better now that the Mocs have a winning record.