By Jack Fitzpatrick
JMU plays host to Southeastern Louisiana this Saturday with kickoff slated for 2 PM ET. SLU is the most potent offense in the FCS with one of the best and most dynamic QBs. This game is going to be a test for JMU and is by no means can you sharpie in the Dukes to win.
The Lions come from the Southland and you may remember the name from 2019 when they overcame a double digit deficit to take down Villanova in the playoffs. Since then they have retooled and returned to the playoffs set to take on yet another CAA foe. Let’s get to know this group a little bit better.
The basics for the Lions
- Record: 9-3
- Southland: 6-2
- Away: 5-2
- Key wins: 10 point win over Nicholls when it was ranked
- Key losses: 3 point loss to LA Tech, 3 point loss to No. 22 UIW, 3 point loss to Nicholls
How to watch
- Available on ESPN+ to stream
- Available on the Morris Insurance & Financial JMU Radio Network in Harrisonburg on WSVA 550 AM and 92.1 and online at WSVAOnline.com
Head coach Frank Scelfo
- Named head football coach of SLU on Jan. 30 2018
- 2019 Southland Conference Coach of the Year
- QB guru, coached Nick Foles, Blake Bortles and Tom Savage
- Former QB Coach for the Jaguars
Key Stats this season
- Scoring Offense: 47.17
- Scoring Defense: 30.5
- Rush yards per game: 153.3
- Opponents rush yds/game: 147.8
- Pass yds/game: 408
- Opponents pass yds/game: 276.92
- Total offense: 561.3
- Total Defense: 424.7
- Turnover Margin: +1
- Time of Possession: 32:52
Players to watch
An absolutely dangerous QB. Kelley stands at 6’7, 260 and is a former 4 star recruit who played at Arkansas. Now instead of playing against SEC defenses he is just casually making Southland defenders question why they want to tackle this man in the hole instead of getting a jumpstart on their post grad careers.
He has thrown for over 4,700 yards this season, the most of any FCS QB, accounted for 58 total TDs, the most of any FCS player and leads his own team in rush yards with 480.
Kelley won the 2020 Walter Payton Award and is a finalist again for the award this season. He has the ability to torch a JMU secondary that hasn’t played against a QB of Kelley’s caliber since 2019 vs. Trey Lance and has looked shaky throughout this 2021 Fall season.
Keep an eye on how Kelley fares against the defensive line because if they can’t get home and he has time to throw, this game may be a lot closer than JMU fans would like.
If Kelley racked up so many yards through the air, who was he throwing to? It was Austin Mitchell. The 5’9, 170 redshirt senior has played in all 12 games this season racking up 69 catches for 1,055 yards and 9 TDs. He is a dual threat catching and rushing out of the backfield for the Lions and outside of Cole Kelley, one of their most dynamic offensive playmakers.
If Kelley has time to throw Mitchell may have some success racking up the yards against the opportunistic JMU secondary.
We have ragged on the SLU defense quite a bit this week. The 96th ranked defense in total yards allowed and have allowed over 40 points four times this season and over 28 points six times. There is some solid contributors on that side though highlighted by Alexander.
For all the shortcomings of this defense something they do very well is turn the opponent over, they have had 17 INTs this season and Zy Alexander, the 6’3 freshman has six of them. He had a four game stretch in the middle of the season with INT in each game.
The freshman DB has natural ball skills and is always around the ball racking up 37 total tackles, seven PBUs and a forced fumble.
What to expect
Offense, offense and more offense
SLU to play with urgency
SLU can sling the ball around the yard. You could honestly insert any cliche about offense here and it will fit.
What this game will come down to is JMU’s defense. The Lions are one of the worst, if not the worst, defense remaining in the playoff field. In theory the Dukes’ offense should have no problem moving the ball and scoring when they enter the red zone. The real key is how will this defense respond to playing a legit QB.
JMU should be able to slow them down and realistically the only way for SLU to win is to score almost every single time they touch the ball and that isn’t happening. This game though will be an offensive fireworks show so expect a lot of points, a lot of Cole Kelley doing it all and SLU to play with a lot of urgency and go deep into the bag of tricks this week.
Last week against FAMU they went deep into their playbook in a game where they really didn’t need to so don’t be surprised if in the first quarter they run a few trick type plays.
This game is going to be fun.
My pick: JMU 52 SLU 35