Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
Grayson McCall, the second-best quarterback in the Sun Belt East, is not expected to play Saturday against JMU. That’s a huge loss for Coastal Carolina.
Even with that important caveat, JMU is a two-touchdown betting favorite over the reigning Sun Belt East champion. The Dukes, in their first season at the FBS level, are favored by double digits in late November against a ranked Coastal Carolina team coming off consecutive 11-win seasons.
Dukes hit season-long win total
Clearly, JMU was ready for the FBS. The Dukes started 5-0 and earned a spot in the AP Top 25. After dropping three in a row, the Dukes have bounced back with conference wins over Old Dominion and Georgia State.
On the season, JMU is 7-3 overall and 5-2 in league games. The Dukes’ preseason win total was 6.5 at most sportsbooks, meaning they cashed that over with one game left to play.
It’s been a special first season for JMU, which erased 20-point deficits in two of their three SBC East victories. They trailed App State by 25 and Georgia State by 20. Despite the large deficits, the Dukes rallied to take down each foe in one-possession wins.
JMU’s other five wins were of the blowout variety, as the Dukes defeated Middle Tennessee, Norfolk State, Texas State, Arkansas State, and Old Dominion by an average of 35.2 points.
The Dukes’ only losses are to Georgia Southern, Marshall, and Louisville. Marshall and Louisville have each clinched bowl berths, and those two teams are guaranteed to finish the year with winning records.
Keys to Saturday’s game
Without Grayson McCall in its 26-23 win over Southern Miss, Coastal Carolina ran the ball 42 times and passed it just 15 times. While the Chanticleers could try a similar game plan, JMU leads the Sun Belt in rushing defense, allowing just 79.2 yards per game.
McCall’s absence is massive. During his college career, McCall has completed 70% of his passes and thrown for 75 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He’s averaged 10.4 yards per pass attempt.
This season, McCall tossed 21 touchdowns compared to just one interception. He’s also added four rushing touchdowns, giving him 15 in his career.
JMU’s secondary allowed 578 passing yards in a loss to Georgia Southern, as the secondary is arguably the team’s weakest area. With McCall, the Chanticleers would’ve had a clear plan to compete with JMU. Without McCall, that plan is murkier.
As for JMU’s offense, the Coastal Carolina defense allows more passing yards per game (277.9) than any other Sun Belt team, and the Chanticleers are 13th in the SBC in pass efficiency defense. In short, Todd Centeio should bolster his SBC Offensive Player of the Year candidacy.
JMU’s starting quarterback has thrown 21 touchdown passes to just five interceptions this season, including a four-touchdown performance against Georgia State last weekend. He also has six rushing touchdowns. He’s been electric for the Dukes in his nine games played, and he should have a strong showing against Coastal Carolina’s secondary.
Look for wide receiver Kris Thornton, who has 10 catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns over the last two weeks, to have a nice day for the Dukes.
McCall’s absence makes Saturday’s matchup challenging for Coastal Carolina, especially playing away from home against a talented JMU team.
It’s also worth noting that while JMU is 7-3, the Dukes have a point differential of +137 this season. Coastal Carolina’s is +47 despite the team’s 9-1 record.
JMU has looked more dominant for much of this season. The Dukes’ overall performance coupled with McCall’s absence makes them a significant favorite.