Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly called Monmouth the Big Sky champ, when it is the Big South champ. We’ve fixed the error. Monmouth would never win the Big Sky.
Monmouth comes to Harrisonburg on Saturday with an upset on its mind.
The unseeded Big South champ wants to take down No. 2 JMU in a Saturday afternoon playoff game in Bridgeforth. For the Dukes to advance to the quarterfinals, they’re going to need a decent performance against a solid Monmouth team.
Looking ahead to the game, here are three keys when the Dukes and Hawks square off.
Win the turnover battle
Monmouth ties for fifth nationally in turnover margin, and the Hawks are especially good at limiting fumbles and forcing opposing ball carriers to cough up the football. The Hawks have a +9 advantage in fumbles this season, losing three and recovering 12.
The stats reveal Monmouth has gotten a bit lucky, though. They’ve recovered an astounding 65.8% of fumbles this season, including an impressive 78.6% of their own fumbles.
JMU, on the other hand, ties for 14th nationally in turnover margin. Since losing the turnover margin 4-1 to Stony Brook, the Dukes have won the turnover battle in their final six games of the season. They’ve forced 17 turnovers and only lost the ball four times.
The Dukes are a more complete team than Monmouth. The best chance for the Hawks to stay in the game is to win the turnover battle by a large margin.
In last year’s second-round loss to Colgate, the Dukes lost the turnover battle 5-1 and the Raiders still needed a last-second field goal to prevail. In last year’s loss to New Hampshire, the Dukes lost the turnover battle 6-0 and only fell by 11 points.
To beat JMU, Monmouth needs to keep control of the football and force multiple JMU turnovers.
Run the football
JMU’s calling card is running. The Dukes need to send a playoff statement that they’re able to run the ball effectively in December. The heaviest player on Monmouth’s defensive line is 260 lbs. The other three players weigh 250, 235 and 230 lbs.
The lightest player on JMU’s starting offensive line is Raymond Gillespie at 275 lbs. Truvell Wilson and Liam Fornadel both check in at over 300 lbs.
The Dukes have a size and talent advantage in the trenches. With Percy Agyei-Obese and Jawon Hamilton leading the way at running back, the Dukes should set the tone by rushing the football.
Ben DiNucci won CAA Offensive Player of the Year, and he’ll be asked to do plenty, but the Dukes should stick to their identity and run the ball behind their fantastic offensive line.
Agyei-Obese is only 116 yards away from 1,000 on the season. The Dukes would do well to get him to 1,000 in this game.
Monmouth’s offense has been in a rhythm all season. The Hawks rank third nationally in total offense and 11th in scoring offense. They throw the ball well and run it effectively, too.
Quarterback Kenji Bahar is a stud, and running back Pete Guerriero is a name to watch. The Monmouth offensive line is also loaded with upperclassmen, who make Bahar and Guerriero look even better each week.
The Hawks haven’t seen a defensive line like JMU’s, though. John Daka and Ron’Dell Carter need to create havoc in the Monmouth backfield to help disrupt the rhythm of an offense with incredible confidence.
In addition to Daka and Carter, the defensive tackles and linebackers need to rattle Bahar. If the fifth-year quarterback feels confident, he’s capable of performing well against the Dukes. If he takes hits early and struggles to find open receivers, it could turn into a long day for the quarterback.
Monmouth has played a pillow soft schedule this season, but the Hawks are experienced and solid within their system, much like last year’s Colgate team, except they excel on offense.
JMU should beat Monmouth. If the Dukes pressure Bahar and play good defense, they may extend their streak of 30+ point wins to four games.