5 Thoughts on JMU Football’s FCS Playoff Win Over Monmouth

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

Well, that was fun.

JMU football (12-1) stormed past 66-21 Monmouth on Saturday after a shaky start.

Monmouth took its opening play 93 yards for a touchdown and returned a kickoff the next time it touched the ball 93 yards for another TD. The Hawks led 14-7 and clearly showed up to Harrisonburg ready to play.

After the slow start, the Dukes rallied. JMU led 38-21 at halftime as the offense scored on every possession. DiNucci threw for 220 yards in the opening quarter, and the Dukes used a dominant second half to finish off the 66-21 win.

There were miscues, but it was a solid overall performance for the Dukes. Let’s break down a few more thoughts on the win.

This is JMU’s best offense since 2016

The defense played a critical role in winning the national title in 2016, but it was the offense that made JMU special. The same can be said for this season.

After a few early miscues from the defense and special teams, JMU started beating up on the Hawks offensively. DiNucci made plays with his arms and legs, and the Dukes generated a great push along the offensive line.

The assortment of weapons at wide receiver and tight end is wild. It’s easy to forget about players like Dylan Stapleton, Devin Ravenel and Jake Brown. Those players complement Riley Stapleton and Brandon Polk beautifully. It’s a loaded group of pass catchers, and DiNucci delivers them accurate passes.

Add in the offensive line and a surplus of talented running backs and the Dukes boast one of the best offenses in the country.

JMU finished with a season-high in total yards and points. JMU eclipsed the 600-yard threshold in a dominant victory.

Special teams matter

Ethan Ratke is a weapon for the Dukes who could prove valuable late in the season.

Harry O’Kelly is a solid punter with an ability to fake punts.

D’Angelo Amos is an elite punt returner.

Jawon Hamilton is a great kick returner with blazing speed.

The Dukes are good on special teams, but kickoff coverage has been an issue. The Dukes don’t kick the ball deep down field, and they allowed a kickoff return touchdown to Monmouth. Mistakes like that could prove costly later in the postseason.

JMU’s offense and defense are fantastic. The special teams unit has a chance to be fantastic, but kickoff coverage is an area that needs to improve next week. Allowing teams great field position or touchdowns on special teams can end a season against a better team.

We’re looking for improved special teams play next week.

JMU needs faster starts

The Dukes are better than most of their opponents, but they’ve had a few weirdly slow starts this season.

Elon jumped out to an early 7-0 lead on a deep touchdown pass. Towson and New Hampshire were both also able to create a few nice first-half drives to hold early leads. Monmouth led 7-0 and 14-7 after two 93-yard scores.

Against better teams, slow starts could prove costly. Can JMU settle into games quicker as the postseason progresses?

If the Dukes take early leads, they’re going to be hard to beat. The Dukes need to emphasize early drives in the coming weeks to avoid being upset.

Great teams respond to adversity

Monmouth jumped all over JMU early, but the Dukes didn’t panic. The offense rolled all afternoon, and the defense settled in nicely.

The Hawks opened up a 14-7 lead before the Dukes outscored them 59-7 the rest of the way.

Last season, JMU struggled to respond to adversity. When things went wrong, they spiraled. This team is different.

The Dukes stay calm in moments of adversity and continue doing they’re thing. Curt Cignetti deserves credit for developing a team that never gets rattled. Even in the win over Stony Brook when everything seemed to go wrong, the Dukes just kept fighting.

A mentally tough JMU team should scare the FCS.

Home-field advantage?

Playing at Bridgeforth Stadium is nice, but it’s hard not to be disappointed in the overall fan turnout. The announced attendance Saturday was 10,881. That’s weak.

It was a nice day in December, and the Dukes still only drew 10,881 fans. That’s not shocking, but it’s a tad disappointing.

JMU fans are proud, and the amount of JMU supporters is growing every year. Still, that hasn’t resulted in fans flocking to Bridgeforth for playoff games.

The holiday season and streaming/TV access to games may affect turnout, but man, only drawing 10,000 fans for a win-or-go-home game is crazy.

Here’s to hoping the Dukes draw a larger crowd next weekend.


    1. You could argue FBS would actually boost attendance, though, depending on the conference. If JMU brings in teams like ODU, VT, UVA or even Appalachian State with any regularity, fans would show up in masses.


  1. In all honesty, with regards to these 1st/2nd Roundd FCS Playoff games, there is hardly any PARODY between the higher ranked teams and at large conference bids. This argument could be used towards the CFP Expansion being irrelevant where the level competition drops down outside of 3-4 teams which essentially could be in the FCS: Weber State, NDSU, Montana, and James Madison going into a 1 through 4 seeding and then decide the FCS national championship over an off weekend outside of Bowl Games. The fans of JMU do not care about attending a D2 recruiting/attendance type of school in Monmouth-NJ. FBS would raise ticket sales two-fold during any games scheduled throughout the regular season and bowl-game appearance. My Theme – BE LIKE APP ST. They were JMU about 15 years ago dominating the FCS. Can we make the move in 2-4 years and be as productive? Yes, it would take time to recruit but this is ultimately where JMU must gravitate towards for future alumnus in-kind donations/attendance to BIGGER games.


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