Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
JMU hits the road this weekend to face an ACC team in primetime. The Dukes (5-2, 3-2 SBC) face Louisville (5-3, 3-3 ACC) at 7:30 p.m.
It’s a challenging road test against a Louisville team that just defeated Wake Forest 48-21. The Cardinals are solid, but they’re still an unranked team with a few perplexing defeats this fall. JMU, which is about a touchdown underdog, can hang around Saturday if it plays well.
Here’s what needs to happen for the Dukes to pull the upset.
The Dukes’ best shot at beating Louisville comes if the Dukes are healthy. Can starting quarterback Todd Centeio play? What about offensive linemen Tyshawn Wyatt and Nick Kidwell? Is standout linebacker Jailin Walker ready to go this week?
Centeio is arguably the most important of those players. The Dukes’ offense struggled mightily against Marshall with Centeio out. In fact, JMU went 0-17 on third down and only scored 12 points.
Louisville’s defense just forced eight sacks and eight turnovers against Wake Forest, which has one of the best offenses in the ACC. ESPN says Louisville is the 14th-most efficient defense in the country. They’re no joke.
JMU’s health will be critical against an athletic and capable ACC defense. The Dukes need some of their top offensive players available.
JMU turned the ball over four times against Georgia Southern, squandering an otherwise elite offensive performance. The Dukes lost to the Eagles 45-38.
Against Marshall, JMU gave the ball away five times. The Dukes lost 26-12.
The Dukes also allowed block kicks in both of those games. The Dukes made massive mistakes in each of their last two games, turning possible wins into disheartening defeats.
If JMU wants to beat a solid ACC team, the Dukes can’t beat themselves. This seems obvious, and it is, but it’s also worth noting.
Louisville is good, but the Cardinals aren’t untouchable. JMU can win this game.
If Centeio is healthy, JMU’s offense is one of the most dynamic in the Sun Belt thanks to a respectable offensive line and elite skill players. The defense stops the run well due to its stout defensive line and athletic linebackers, and running the ball is a huge competent of Louisville’s offense. JMU matches up competitively against Louisville.
If the Dukes avoid disaster, they can win this game. This is a tough test, but it’s a winnable game if Centeio plays and JMU limits its turnovers.
Get a little lucky
This feels like a prime letdown spot for Louisville, which bodes well for the Dukes. Louisville just smoked No. 10 Wake Forest, and it hits the road to face undefeated Clemson next weekend. You think little ole James Madison moves the needle for those players? Doubtful.
If the Cardinals lose focus at all this week in preparation or during the game, JMU can take advantage. This Louisville team beat Wake Forest and UCF, but it also lost to Syracuse by 24 and somehow fell to a bad Boston College team.
At its best, Louisville is capable of beating just about anyone in the ACC. At its worst, Louisville looks like a mess.
Is Louisville THAT much better than Wake Forest or did the Demon Deacons have some weird turnover luck (five in the third quarter) that turned a close game into a blowout? I like how Louisville has played in recent weeks, but the Cardinals can’t count on eight JMU turnovers Saturday. If a fumble or two bounces JMU’s way or the Cardinals shank a punt or miss a key field goal, it could turn a close game in JMU’s favor.
The Dukes probably need a little help to win Saturday, whether that’s an emotional letdown for Louisville or better turnover luck … or both!
I wouldn’t be surprised if JMU has luck on its side this weekend, especially given how perfect things went for the Cardinals last weekend and how many uncharacteristic mistakes the Dukes made in their last two games. Each team should return to its reality in coming weeks.