By Jack Fitzpatrick
JMU begins conference play this season against Elon on March 6 with kickoff slated for 1:30 PM. The Dukes head on the road for the first time all year and will look to begin conference play with a win just like they have every year since 2014.
The Dukes have traditionally had success against Elon with a record of 7-1 and 3-0 at Rhodes Stadium with an average margin of victory of 38. Overall JMU has outscored the Phoenix 334-114 over the course of the matchup.
The basics for the Phoenix
- 2021 Record: 1-1
- 2019 Record: 5-6, 4-4
- 2021 Results: close win over Davidson, 22 point loss to Gardner-Webb
- Started season receiving votes and reached No. 24 before the Gardner-Webb loss
How to watch
- Available on FloFootball to watch and the Glo Fiber Broadcast Network to listen on WSVA 550 AM and 92.1 FM or online at WSVA Online with Dave Thomas and Clint Estes on the call.
Head coach Tony Trisciani
- Second season as head coach of the Phoenix with an overall record of 6-7
- Employs a 3-3-5 defensive scheme that has traditionally made Elon a difficult defense to gameplan for
- Fifth season with Elon after serving as the defensive backs coach and special teams coordinator in 2006, he then left from 2007-2016 and rejoined the program under Cignetti in 2017 as the Defensive Coordinator
Key Stats this season
- Scoring offense: 23
- Scoring defense: 32.50
- Total offense: 332.5
- Total Defense: 396
- Rushing offense: 146.5
- Rushing defense: 234.5
- Passing offense: 186
- Passing defense: 161.50
- Time of possession: 25:18
- Jaylan Thomas
Thomas is the workhorse running back. Unlike JMU, Elon uses primarily one back in its backfield who gets the majority of the workload, Thomas has accounted for 26 of the team’s carries (the next closest RB has eight).
Thomas was a monster in the first game this season feasting against the Davidson front 7. He had 13 attempts for 129 yards and a touchdown and was a big reason the Phoenix were able to escape that game with a win. In game two against Gardner-Webb Thomas was bottled up. He had 13 attempts again but this time for only 10 yards. Thomas’s play will be pivotal in this game. If he can get going, which will be a tough task against this JMU defense who allows just 0.8 yards per carry and has allowed just 8 yards per game, Elon could have some success.
- Whoever is starting at QB
Elon has had some tough luck in the QB department this season. Before the season even officially began star QB and CAA Player of the Year candidate, Davis Cheek went down and is out for the season. That forced redshirt-sophomore Joey Baughman into the starting role who had a solid start to the season.
Against Davidson, he went 18-22 for 173 yards and a TD and he added 73 yards and a TD on the ground. He would put up similar numbers in game two against Gardner-Webb going 13-21 for 130 yards and added 47 yards and a TD on the ground. Baughman was looking solid and like a good replacement for Cheek for the season. Then late in the third quarter when the game was in the balance against Gardner-Webb he went out of the game due to a leg injury.
Enter JR Martin.
Martin is a true freshman QB who played the final quarter of the game and looked, at times, overwhelmed. He went 8-11 for 69 yards and a pick and did nothing on the ground. Once he went into the game the Elon offense sputtered and failed to score any points.
Now, we wait to see who will trot out with the starting offense this week as the Phoenix look to pull the upset. Will it be dual-threat Baughman? Or will he not be healthy enough to go and the true freshman will get the start. Either way, both QBs will have a tall task against one of the best front sevens in not only the CAA but all of the FCS.
- Tre’Von Jones
The sophomore DB is second on the team with 17 tackles and is tied for the lead on the team in tackles for loss with 2.5. This defense has been shredded all season but Jones has been somewhat of a bright spot. Jones’ play will be a key factor in how the JMU offense will perform.
- Torrence “To” Williams
A one-man wrecking crew upfront for the Phoneix. The 6’2, 284-pound redshirt-junior has accumulated 1.5 sacks this season and 2.5 tackles for loss, both team-leading. In his career against JMU has six total tackles with no sacks or tackles for loss. JMU has been able to keep him at bay, but so far Williams has had the best start to a season since he got to Elon, North Carolina. He will be looking to dominate the trenches and slow down the JMU rushing attack.
What to expect
- Rushing attack to explode
- Cole Johnson to be reeled in
- Secondary to step up
I think it is no secret that I am very low on this Elon team. They can’t stop a nosebleed on defense and their backup QB’s availability is up in the air. Even if Davis Cheek were starting for the Phoenix, I would still have questions because of the defense and just how porous it is.
This defense allows people to run through them like Taco Bell runs through someone on a hot summer day. It is ugly.
Look, this is what it all boils down to… JMU averages 5.5 yards per attempt and 282 yards per game which is second-best in the nation behind a triple-option team. Elon on the other hand allows a whopping 234 yards per game which is third-worst in the nation. This is not a fair fight in the least and JMU’s rushing attack is going to explode for its best rushing performance so far, and we may even look back at the end of season and be blown away by the yards put up. I truly believe all four rushers can rush for 100+.
Now, this is in part because the rushing attack will have a lot of success, but also because of last week’s performance. Cole Johnson is going to be reeled all the way in. Three interceptions in unacceptable, especially the type that he threw. Bad reads, not enough power behind the throw it was as ugly as Ben DiNucci’s five interception performance against Colgate in the 2018 FCS playoffs. Everything just looked off.
Now Cole did bounce back and threw for two touchdowns and was key in the final drive of the first half but the whole game throws lacked power and he was looking like final season Peyton Manning throwing ducks out there.
He is going to be reeled in for this game and still may go 10-14 for 200 yards a two TD but don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security since this Elon defense is bad.
Finally, I expect the secondary to step up and play a complete game. Game one they looked solid, game two there were a few mental mistakes and at times allowed Robert Morris easy completions. This is an Elon team that is going to get down early and be forced to throw and the secondary will be tested.
I mean, despite the absolute rout that took place last season, Elon’s receivers were having a field day in the JMU secondary (Cheek just couldn’t hit the water if he fell off of a boat). I fully expect Cignetti to have ironed out some of the mistakes from last week and have this group ready to go.
Score prediction: JMU 52 Elon 10