Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
JMU football looked phenomenal prior to its bye week, thrashing Morehead State and Maine and recording a commanding win over Weber State.
The Dukes are legitimate national title contenders.
After a week off, Curt Cignetti’s team returns to action this week for another road trip. Instead of traveling west, the Dukes head north to face New Hampshire on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. It’s a winnable game against a decent foe — the Wildcats are ranked 25th in the latest FCS Stats top 25 poll.
Here are three keys to the matchup.
Embrace the atmosphere
New Hampshire’s game atmosphere doesn’t compare to a game at Bridgeforth Stadium or even a road game at Richmond. There’s a chance the small stadium is relatively empty. “Sleepy” may accurately describe the vibe.
In past seasons, JMU hasn’t embraced the environment or the trip. The Dukes have lost three of their last four games in Durham, New Hampshire. All three losses came by double digits, and the lone win was a 42-39 triumph. JMU never choked away its lead in 2016 when it won by a field goal.
JMU looked locked in against Weber State, playing with impressive energy and confidence for the majority of the game. The Dukes are a better team than New Hampshire, but the Wildcats aren’t pushovers. They’re good enough to beat you if you don’t show up.
Beating New Hampshire isn’t necessarily a signature win, but winning at New Hampshire is a big deal.
New Hampshire is 3-0 against FCS teams this season in large part because it takes advantage of mistakes from opponents. Stony Brook gifted the Wildcats a pair of short fields in the season opener, and UNH capitalized to win 27-21. New Hampshire does well to force turnovers, generating nine takeaways this fall.
Quarterback Cole Johnson will be tested against an opportunistic defense. The Wildcats have seven interceptions this season, which is the second-most among CAA schools.
Johnson has yet to throw an interception in 85 passes this season. He’s been one of the best quarterbacks in the entire country through his first three games, and defenses haven’t found a way to rattle him.
If Johnson does well to take care of the football, New Hampshire will have a hard time winning against an extremely talented JMU team.
Lean on Latrele Palmer
Is this actually a key? I mean, the Dukes could probably win without using Palmer excessively, but I’d certainly file this under the “things I want to see” category.
I really like the running back. Palmer is physical, and he possesses better speed than people think. He’s an imposing rusher, and he leads JMU with 219 rushing yards on 27 carries. He’s scored two rushing touchdowns and is averaging eight yards per carry.
Give the man the football!
Palmer’s career high for carries in a game is 14. I wouldn’t mind seeing him rush the ball 15-20 times one of these days. With Kaelon Black out, there should be opportunity, even as Percy Agyei-Obese eases back into the mix.
Palmer’s future is bright, and I’d personally like to see the tailback be given major opportunity in coming games.