Three Keys to JMU Football’s Season Opener Against Bucknell

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

Game week has arrived, with JMU hosting Bucknell on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.

Unlike the other 11 games on JMU’s schedule, the outcome of Saturday’s matchup feels predetermined. JMU is a massive favorite against the Bison, but that doesn’t diminish the excitement for the new JMU football season.

Here are three keys to Saturday’s game.

Stay focused

I don’t think JMU is in any danger of losing this game, but the Dukes still need to focus.

It would be easy to look ahead to playing UVA next week, but if JMU wants to start the season with a blowout win over Bucknell, the players need to take the game seriously. I’m not expecting that to be an issue, especially with this being the team’s first game of 2023.

Even with JMU expected to win by a lot, these reps matter.

JMU won’t have any other game reps before going on the road to an in-state ACC team next week. Saturday’s game against Bucknell gives the quarterbacks and receivers a tremendous opportunity to build chemistry before a tougher stretch against quality defenses.

Developing chemistry in the passing game feels especially important with the two-deep listing redshirt freshman Alonza Barnett first at quarterback and two true freshmen appearing as backup wide receivers. Barnett is JMU’s projected starter.

If the skill players focus and take advantage of the valuable reps Saturday, the Dukes will be better prepared for UVA.

Play (almost) everyone, stay healthy

If JMU jumps out to an early lead, the coaching staff needs to be smart about bringing in backups. Not only will that help develop the younger players, but it will also keep the team’s key veterans healthy for an important September stretch.

I’d love to see the Dukes trot out almost every option at running back, while also rotating offensive and defensive lineman frequently. The same is true at linebacker, where Jailin Walker and Taurus Jones are too valuable to lose to injury this early in the year.

At quarterback, if the Dukes lead by more than four touchdowns after halftime, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to work in QB2 soon after intermission. Given JMU’s struggles at backup quarterback last season, the game against Bucknell offers a great chance to work multiple quarterbacks for multiple drives.

JMU should dominate the trenches Saturday, giving the quarterbacks a clean pocket to develop confidence.

Editor’s note: A special thanks to Christopher William Jewelers for their advertising support this season.

Keep it simple

Run the ball. Stop the run. Win the game.

The Dukes don’t need to draw up any overly creative offensive plays or lean heavily on blitzes to win this weekend. I’m expecting JMU to run the ball 40+ times, using its experienced offensive line to overpower Bucknell’s defense.

Defensively, JMU should control the line of scrimmage with its four defensive linemen.

Look for JMU to keep some of its more creative plays under wraps to keep UVA from learning too much on film. I wouldn’t expect the Dukes to need any gadget plays Saturday, and there’s nothing wrong with vanilla play-calling this weekend.

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