Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
When JMU fans hear “Weber State” positive memories come flooding into their minds.
In 2017, the Dukes erased a 28-20 fourth-quarter deficit in the final three minutes to win 31-28 in regulation. The victory came in the FCS quarterfinals, pushing JMU into the semifinals where it demolished South Dakota State 51-16.
The win is headlined by Ethan Ratke’s game-winning 46-yard field goal as time expired. It was a thrilling comeback for the Dukes, and an incredible battle between both sides.
JMU hosted Weber State again in 2019, this time in the FCS semifinals. JMU controlled the game, as there was very little drama. The Dukes won 30-14, taking a 17-point lead into the halftime break and never looking back.
Weber State fans, as well as some players and coaches, likely have revenge on their minds this week. The Wildcats host JMU on Saturday at 8 p.m. It’s the first road game of the season for JMU, and the first time the Dukes have ever made the trek to Ogden, Utah.
On paper, it’s the FCS game of the weekend. No. 3 JMU against No. 9 Weber State is sure to draw plenty of intrigue.
Here are three things to watch in Saturday’s showdown, which will stream on ESPN+.
JMU demolished its first two opponents this fall.
A 68-10 win over Morehead State was followed by a 55-7 thrashing of Maine. Weber State is the best opponent of JMU’s season so far, and the Wildcats will host the Dukes.
The trip to Utah requires a flight across time zones. The home crowd should be lively with a top-5 team coming to town.
How JMU handles the trip and environment will be critical.
Quarterback Cole Johnson has been arguably the best offensive player in the CAA through two games, dialing up accurate throw after accurate throw. He has completed 75% of his passes for 677 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions.
Can Johnson maintain that level of play on the road against a better defense in a game the Dukes could lose?
Adjusting to a game somewhere other than Bridgeforth Stadium presents a legitimate test. We’re excited to see how JMU responds to thousands of fans cheering against them. For JMU to have a special regular season, the Dukes need to thrive on the road.
Away games with New Hampshire, Richmond and Delaware all present challenges in the race for a CAA title.
Ethan Ratke’s fight for glory
Dan Carpenter, a former kicker for Montana, held the all-time record for most points scored by a kicker in FCS history with 413. Ethan Ratke, JMU’s steady kicker, broke that record against Maine.
Ratke sits at 417 points scored in his JMU career.
Ratke also tied Carpenter’s FCS record for career made field goals with 75. One more made field goal for Ratke sets the record.
While the story of the matchup with Weber State shouldn’t revolve around kickers, Ratke presents a fun underlying storyline. The JMU kicker who became beloved by fans for his game-winning field goal against Weber State in 2017 could break the record for all-time made field goals against the Wildcats.
Don’t bet against Ratke breaking the record either. He’s made a field goal in 23 consecutive games.
Weber State’s quarterback situation
Bronson Barron started the season at quarterback for Weber State. He suffered a knee injury in the team’s 41-3 win over Dixie State on Saturday, and his status for Saturday is questionable. It wouldn’t be a shock if he missed the game. I’d be more surprised if he played.
That leaves Weber State with Randall Johnson. The 6-foot-5-inch and 235-pound Middle Tennessee State transfer is an athletic player who could stress JMU’s defense.
Johnson completed five of his eight passes Saturday for 89 yards. He also added 31 rushing yards on four carries. Freshman Creyton Cooper rushed for a five-yard touchdown Saturday as well.
If Barron can’t play Saturday, that’s noteworthy. The Wildcats clearly like his poise and ability, as he’s earned the starting nod for the program as an underclassmen.
Quarterback play in recent seasons has been decent for Weber State, but the team often finds significant success on the ground and defensively. Uncertainty at quarterback could give JMU an edge in the matchup, but Weber State has become a top-tier program in part due to strong play in all three phases.
JMU’s athleticism defensively makes the situation trickier, though. It’s nearly impossible to mask offensive weakness against the Dukes. If Weber State doesn’t have strong quarterback play Saturday, it’s hard to see the Wildcats coming out on top.
It’s worth noting that Johnson played rather well Saturday in relief. Dixie State isn’t JMU, but Johnson has impressive physical tools.
Barron actually struggled Saturday before getting hurt, completing just 10 of his 20 passes for 90 yards. He threw a touchdown and two interceptions.
Could Johnson being thrust into the starting spot give Weber State an unexpected offensive jolt?