JMU Football Roundtable: Louisville Week

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin and Jack Fitzpatrick

JMU returns from its bye week Saturday, playing at Louisville. The game, which will air on ESPNU and kick off at 7:30 p.m., represents a major opportunity for JMU.

The Dukes haven’t defeated an ACC team since taking down Virginia Tech in 2010, and sportsbooks have JMU as a single-digit underdog. An outright win isn’t impossible for this JMU team, especially if starting quarterback Todd Centeio is healthy.

A recent tweet from The Breeze’s Grant Johnson suggests Centeio is at least practicing ahead of Saturday’s game. That’s a positive sign for JMU’s upset chances.

With Centeio’s status seemingly trending in a positive direction, Bennett and Jack sat down to discuss the Dukes’ chances against the Cardinals.

What does JMU need to happen to beat Louisville?

Bennett: Todd Centeio plays.

Outside of that, JMU needs to take care of the football. Nine turnovers over their last two games?? Say it ain’t so! If JMU limits costly mistakes, the Dukes have the overall talent to hang with Louisville. 

Honestly, a healthy JMU can hang with anyone outside the top 10 nationally, in my opinion. That doesn’t mean they’d beat every team outside the top 10, but do we really think the Dukes couldn’t keep it close with No. 16 Illinois? What about No. 17 UNC? No. 23 Oregon State? This JMU team is really, really good when Centeio is healthy. If he goes Saturday, JMU can win. 

Jack: JMU needs to play a near perfect day on defense and Todd Centeio needs to play, like Bennett said. 

This defense has been amazing against the run this season, they rank first in the nation in rush defense EPA. That is good! Well, not just good but amazingly awesome. Now, the defense will be tested with one of the most lethal dual-threat QBs in the nation in Malik Cunningham. I don’t think he will tear apart this secondary, but man he can make plays with his feet. The defense needs to play sound up front, and do every single cliche thing a defensive coach talks about since the days of pee wee. Stay at home, be gap sound and don’t sell out. 

If Todd Centeio can’t play, do you think JMU can stay within 10 points?

Bennett: Probably not. Curt Cignetti hasn’t offered overwhelming confidence in Billy Atkins at recent press conferences, and Louisville leads the ACC in sacks. Atkins was sacked seven times against Marshall, while also committing five turnovers. Playing against a defense that just forced eight turnovers and recorded eight sacks against an elite Wake Forest offense sounds frightening for an inexperienced quarterback. 

If Centeio can’t play, the Dukes need to lean on the run. Short, quick passes feel like the best way to get Atkins involved this early in his career. Could that plan work if the defense plays at an elite level? Maybe, but I think Centeio is necessary for JMU to be competitive.

Jack: Based off of Curt Cignetti calling Billy Atkins bad, along with our last impression of the Dukes’ offense, no. Louisville will score and this is a solid Cardinals defense. If Atkins is starting, this offense might be able to score 10 points? Maybe. 

Rank the following JMU QBs 1-5, with 1 being the guy you’d most want leading your offense: Todd Centeio, Cole Johnson, Ben DiNucci, Bryan Schor, Vad Lee. 

Bennett: 

1. Vad Lee 

2. Todd Centeio

3. Bryan Schor

4. Ben DiNucci

5. Cole Johnson

I would’ve loved seeing Vad and/or Schor playing for Cignetti and his offensive coaches. Imagine their level of talent/leadership with a scheme that churns out efficient quarterback after efficient quarterback. Man, that’d be amazing. 

I rank Lee first because of what he did with his legs and arm. He passed and rushed for over 275 yards in the same game, a win over SMU. He’s incredibly dynamic, and if he stayed healthy, the Dukes would’ve been a tough out in the 2015 playoffs despite a subpar defense. Centeio has shown that he’s a special player, too, and he’s battled injury this fall. He’s one of the best JMU quarterbacks in recent memory, thanks in part due to his mobility. 

You can’t go wrong with any of those quarterbacks. 

Jack: 

  1. Todd Centeio 
  2. Vad Lee
  3. Ben DiNucci
  4. Bryan Schor
  5. Cole Johnson 

Maybe I am being prisoner of the moment but what we have seen out of Todd Centeio this season is nothing short of spectacular. Comes to a new program, who is in the middle of moving up to FBS and puts up numbers that rival Heisman contenders. His ability and play making ability has been amazing and I am going to pick him first in any backyard pickup type drafts. 

Vad was, and is, electric and would have been awesome to see him play with the QB whisperer that is Cignetti and a competent defense and the rest of the guys are all studs. Honestly, I’d be happy with whoever, but if I had the No. 1 overall pick I am going Todd. 

If you could add one Louisville player to JMU’s roster, who would you pick and why?

Bennett: Kei’Trel Clark. The junior cornerback reminds me a bit of Jimmy Moreland in that he’s not that big, but he always seems to make big plays in the secondary. Clark is an NFL Draft prospect with a higher ceiling than Moreland, and his first interception of this season was a pick-six against Wake Forest last week.

Given JMU’s inexperience at cornerback, if I could add one Louisville player to JMU’s roster, I’d go with the standout corner who earned second team All-ACC honors in 2020 and 2021. Clark will challenge JMU’s receivers this weekend, and he could see himself matched up regularly with Kris Thornton, the Dukes’ star receiver.

Jack: Bennett, what type of questions is this? I am not well versed in draft prospects from the Louisville squad. I’ll say ditto to what Bennett said. 

Bennett: Great pick, Jack!

What’s your score prediction for the game?

Bennett: Louisville wins 31-24. I think the Dukes keep it close, but given some injury uncertainty outside of Centeio – a banged up offensive line against Louisville’s pass rush is concerning – I think Louisville picks up the victory. 

Jack: JMU wins 34-30. Todd Centeio brings life back into this offense, and the defense puts their stamp on the game forcing an INT and fumble. Dukes battle throughout and end up winning by 4 thanks to an electric day from Centeio and Kaelon Black.

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