Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
After a 68-10 thrashing of Morehead State, JMU faces stiffer competition this week.
The Dukes host Maine, a quality team that put a scare into Delaware in Week 1. The Black Bears scored 24 second-quarter points to hold a halftime lead, but ultimately lost 34-24 to the Blue Hens.
JMU should beat Maine at home, but this is one of a few CAA games that should offer a bit of a challenge. Not every week in the CAA is as much of a challenge as coaches claim, but Maine seems like a respectable team with fringe playoff hopes.
Here are three keys to Saturday’s matchup.
Limit Maine’s passing efficiency
If there was a concern from the Week 1 win (other than injuries), it’s the secondary. The group allowed a few plays early and committed some penalties.
In the end, the group allowed 253 passing yards and no touchdowns. They also intercepted three passes, and Morehead State needed 44 pass attempts to reach 250+ yards.
I’m not all that concerned about the secondary, even though Morehead State racked up some yardage on a lot of pass attempts.
JMU allowed -57 rushing yards. “Allowed” doesn’t seem like the right word. JMU recorded so many sacks and tackles for loss that Morehead State finished the game with an abysmal NEGATIVE 57 rushing yards.
Maine ran for just 48 yards on 22 attempts against Delaware’s stout front. Don’t expect much from Maine’s running game.
Saturday, the Dukes should put Maine in obvious passing situations. That’ll likely lead to a reasonably good yardage total for the Black Bears, who are sure to hit a few pass plays here and there.
That doesn’t matter.
JMU needs to keep Maine from passing efficiently. Morehead State threw three interceptions and barely completed 50% of its passes. That’s inefficient. If JMU allows yards, that’s fine. The Dukes should force enough mistakes in the passing game to end up on the winning side. Pass efficiency defense is more important than passing yards allowed.
Don’t look ahead
JMU is better than Maine, and the game will be played at home.
The Dukes should win. For JMU to lose, it needs to play less than its best. Looking ahead to next week’s massive showdown with Weber State is one way to play poorly.
Starting CAA play with a victory is important, and the Dukes need to be locked in to take care of Maine. Last week’s performance, and Curt Cignetti’s comments, lead me to believe the Dukes will stay focused on this week.
Cignetti called the team’s first-half performance against Morehead State “embarrassing.” That’s a bit harsh, but I understand where he’s coming from.
JMU’s head coach didn’t love the execution in the first 30 minutes of the season. His comments are harsh, but they’re also likely to catch the attention of his team.
He’ll stress last week’s start during practice, and the Dukes should come out fired up. Given the defense’s talent and the effectiveness of the running game, a first-half lead means a lot to the Dukes.
If JMU plays near its best Saturday, the Dukes shouldn’t have too much trouble.
Impress the Sun Belt
This is a joke … or is it?
With conference realignment rumors swirling across college football, JMU fans are amped about the future of the Dukes. Could they be playing regular-season games against ODU, Appalachian State and Marshall in the not so distant future?
The AAC and “Fun Belt” are both expected to aggressively pursue new membership after shakeups within the SEC, Big 12 and AAC. JMU certainly fits the mold of a potential addition.
In all seriousness, beating Maine doesn’t alter the realignment landscape. The Dukes have positioned themselves over many years to move to the FBS. It wouldn’t be surprising if they make that leap soon.
For now, though, the Dukes are in the CAA.
Be where your feet are, JMU fans. This week, the Dukes play Maine. We can’t alter the realignment landscape, but we can root for JMU to move one step closer to a CAA title and another FCS playoff berth.
The next few weeks on the schedule should be entertaining, and I’m excited for this year’s on-field product.