JMU Football Roundtable: Rhode Island Edition

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin, Jack Fitzpatrick and Chase Kiddy

The Dukes hammered the Spiders last week to improve to 10-1 on the season and 7-0 in the CAA. JMU hopes to finish a perfect CAA season with a win this weekend at 2-9 Rhode Island.

Per usual, Bennett, Chase and Jack discuss the Dukes and other various nonsense.

JMU beat Richmond 48-6. What’s your biggest takeaway from the win?

Jack Fitzpatrick, JMU Sports News: This JMU team is not messing around and that they are the cream of the crop in the FCS. Last year, at the end of the season we could look back on the 63-10 Richmond beat down and chalk that up more to Richmond being a very bad team more so than JMU being dominant.

This year I don’t think we can do that.

This was a Spiders team still clinging on to some playoff hope and were playing hard, and JMU still absolutely destroyed them. Early in the first quarter when JMU stripped the Richmond receiver then on the ensuing drive DiNucci hit Polk for an 80-yard touchdown pass with a beautiful deep pass into the wind, that is when I sat back and was fully sold on this Dukes team. 

This is a good team that is dangerous in every single facet. Their defense is elite, their quarterback and offense is elite and this is a team that can win any game during this playoff run. They are even better than NDSU and I believe on the neutral field in Frisco, JMU can win that game by a score or two. *Ducks from NDSU fans insulting comments*     

Bennett Conlin, JMU Sports News: The Dukes are the best team in the best FCS conference. Analytics back up the idea that the CAA is the best FCS league, and the Dukes are far and away the best team in the league. 

New Hampshire and Richmond were both near the top of the league standings when they faced JMU. The Dukes beat the two squads by a combined 102-22. That’s unreal. JMU’s offense is clicking with Ben DiNucci under center, and the defense is playing some of its best football of the season. 

There’s reason to believe the Dukes are better than NDSU, and it’s hard to envision anything other than a national championship being disappointing for this group. 

Winning the CAA is a major accomplishment, and the Dukes won the league outright before reaching the season finale. Goodness gracious.  

Chase Kiddy, Master of None: Jack is brave to say what I suspect many JMU fans want to believe, but maybe can’t bring themselves to say out loud just yet. I talked about this in the most recent episode of my podcast, Master of None: JMU’s play for much of the year (and specifically in November) really does support the idea that the Dukes have a case to make No. 1.

There’s so much pornographic reverence in 2019 around respecting North Dakota State and paying lip service to how incredible the program is — much of which is well-deserved — but undefeated though they may be, this year’s Bison team is not as good as last season’s national championship team. I’m not even convinced they’re as good as the 2017 team that beat JMU in Frisco. 

I’ve done my part to make a few Trey Lance Heisman jokes this year, but that’s more about silly fan expectations than anything else. Truthfully, Lance has provided the NDSU offense with a completely new dimension that it’s never really had before, and that makes the Bison all the more dangerous. But I’m still taking JMU’s defensive line against the NDSU offensive line, and I’m still taking JMU’s offensive line against any defensive unit in the country, full stop.

North Dakota State played an impressive schedule, but it was also a schedule replete with one-dimensional offenses. Aside from UC Davis, who played State down to the wire, which program was really going to challenge NDSU in all three parts of the field? North Dakota State is very, very good, but any team whose game plan is to out-NDSU the Bison is going home with an L.

So, let’s get back to the original question. What’s my biggest takeaway from last Saturday’s win? It’s that the domination of New Hampshire was a movement, not a moment. The Dukes are playing their best football going into the playoffs, and I think it’s okay to start to believe that JMU is the best team in FCS Football. They won’t be the No. 1 seed, but when in the last five years has the higher-ranked, supposedly “better” team won a NDSU-JMU game?

There’s been some discussion on social media about JMU resting starters against Rhode Island. It’s highly unlikely that Cignetti does that. If you were in his shoes, would you consider resting starters?

Jack: To start the game, no not at all. This game still does carry a lot of weight. If you are JMU you still need to beat this tough Rhode Island team on the road in order to fully lock up on the No. 2 seed, and maybe even sneak into the No. 1 seed. You can’t play around in this game and rest starters and lose.

Rhode Island is dangerous, they have one of the best receivers in the CAA in Aaron Parker and they haven’t been a terrible team, they just have been on the wrong side of a lot of one-score games. So, you can’t overlook them, and I don’t see Cignetti even letting the thought of playoffs creep into his mind. The way he handles himself and talks in the media, I fully believe all of his thoughts are on Rhode Island and finding a way to embarrass them on their home field. 

Will JMU build up a 28-3 lead at halftime and put their second string in at halftime? Now that scenario is completely in play. 

Bennett: Before fans freak out about the thought of resting starters, remember this: Curt Cignetti won’t bench starters. He just won’t. This question is a fun hypothetical, though. Nobody in their right mind would rest starters in this game, but it’s fun to ponder. 

The main reason Cignetti won’t rest starters is because this game against 2-9 Rhode Island is NOT meaningless. The Dukes won’t deserve the No. 2 seed if they lose Saturday. If they win, they’re a lock for a top-2 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That’s huge. 

The game matters, and I don’t think rest is that important at the moment. Regardless of the result Saturday, the Dukes will likely have a first-round bye in the playoffs. Resting starters would mean players like Ben DiNucci would not have played a game from the Nov. 16 win over Richmond until a second-round playoff game on Dec. 7. That’s a long time to sit. 

Playing Saturday helps ensure the Dukes don’t become rusty. Playing starters is the right call.

Chase: No. And I’m confident Cignetti won’t either. There are times where I think the Cignetti/Saban stuff is way overblown, but this is an example where I suspect they’re very similar.

Cignetti is going into the Rhode Island game taking nothing for granted. This is a team that has played a wild number of one-possession games this season and has a passing offense that will likely challenge JMU’s back end better than many other CAA teams. JMU will probably win big here, and I don’t think we’ll see all the starters playing heavy minutes in the fourth quarter, but if you’re expecting second-string guys to take the field during the second possession, you’re going to be disappointed.

Rhode Island has struggled this season. Is there any chance the Rams keep Saturday’s game close?

Jack: Yes, I am on record calling this a trap game and a game I’m lowkey worried about. Now, I imagine JMU makes me look foolish for saying that, but as I type this on the day before I stand by what I said on the podcast

So Rhode Island’s record is bad, and they are bad in a lot of statistical categories in the CAA. However, they have arguably the best receiver JMU has faced all season in Aaron Parker and if Vito Priore can get it to him and have some sort of time in the pocket that could pose some threats. Look, Rhode Island isn’t terrible on offense, Priore is first in the CAA in all-purpose yards, they have two of the top three in the receptions per game and they are fifth in the CAA in total offense. What has been the absolute detriment to this team this season is their defense, they allow a whopping 34.6 points per game. So if the defense decides to show up Saturday, this may end up being closer than what everyone is thinking. 

Bennett: Rhode Island’s defense can’t stop anyone. While Aaron Parker is an elite receiver, and the Rams’ offense scores in bunches, the team as a whole is bad. 

The Dukes beat Richmond, New Hampshire and Towson by a combined 129-32 in the past three games. That’s absurd. Is Rhode Island as bad as its 2-9 record suggests? Not at all, but the Rams are nowhere close to JMU’s level. 

Chase: No. Rhode Island is definitely underrated in the CAA, and I enjoy watching Priore play, but we’re still talking about playing a JMU team that is firing on all cylinders right now. I think the coaching staff has these guys motivated to handle business in a very blue-collar kind of way. This game is going to be a blowout. I was pretty surprised to see that the point spread was only 27.

Score prediction: Who wins?

Jack: Okay, now that I am done singing the praises for this Rhode Island team, JMU wins this game easily. JMU will jump out to an early lead and just absolutely flex their superior talent on Rhode Island all game. JMU wins 57-10. 

Bennett: JMU is going to score 35 points in the first half, as the starters roll and the Rams struggle to generate stops. I think the Dukes ease off the gas late and win 52-14. 

Chase: JMU romps. The second string comes in early in the third quarter, and they get in on the action, too. Dukes roll, 55-16.

Fun question: If you could pick your dream FCS playoff bracket this season, which teams would you want the Dukes to face on their road to Frisco? 

Jack: Okay, I am going to go with some tough teams. I would want a second-round matchup with Albany because I actually kind of like that CAA matchup every year in the second round. Then I would want a quarterfinal rematch with Weber State, then a semi-final bout with Montana to show both of those fanbases why JMU was the No. 2 ranked team all season and how they can eat their one loss with a superior strength of schedule. Then, of course, a date with the Bison in Frisco. 

Bennett: I’d love to see JMU face Weber State, Montana or South Dakota State before the championship game. Those three programs are great, and I’d enjoy those matchups. I’m hoping JMU gets at least one matchup with those squads. 

A rematch with Villanova could be fun, but the Wildcats would likely need to earn the 7 seed for that to happen. A game against Albany or Maine in the second round could add intrigue, as those two teams are both decent CAA squads and not on JMU’s regular-season slate.

I want a JMU-NDSU championship rematch to end the season. I think a game between the Dukes and Bison on ABC would be great for the entire subdivision. 

Chase: I would love to watch JMU obliterate another Southland team. That was really fun the first time around. I’d love to see a quarterfinal against Sac State, because I just want to watch that team up close. Fun team. 

The last two games, of course, would be the glorious, obvious revenge tour against Montana (‘08) and the Bison (‘17). And of course you want to be the champs by beating the champs, but I really just like a lot of the NDSU folk. They’re fun people to hang with. I enjoy watching football with them. Hope to see ‘em again in Frisco. 

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