Recap: JMU Defeats Bucknell, But Quarterback Questions Arise

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Daniel Merriman

The James Madison Dukes started their 2023 campaign with a complicated 38-3 win over the Bucknell Bison.

The Dukes came into Bridgeforth Stadium with the utmost confidence on Saturday afternoon. A packed house of 23,756 accompanied the Dukes onto Zane Showker Field as the first insight into the Dukes’ 2023 football season was shared. Reports from camp indicated that the redshirt freshman Alonza Barnett III had separated himself from the rest of the quarterback room. Head coach Curt Cignetti said Saturday “Alonza’s been ripping the ball all camp.”

These remarks from Cignetti, alongside JMU’s recent QB successes, should have given fans faith that this game would be Barnett’s coming out party. Unfortunately, that party has been postponed.

Barnett’s blunders

Barnett started the day with an interception on his second pass as a starter. The QB didn’t complete a pass for a net gain until the third drive of the game.

He completed two back-to-back passes for 15 yards total. One was an eight-yard gain to Phoenix Sproles for his only passing first down of the night. The other was a seven-yard completion to Solomon Vanhorse. Barnett did not complete another pass for the rest of the time he was on the field, finishing the game 3-11 for 15 yards and an interception.

“We couldn’t throw the ball, at all,” Cignetti said of the Dukes’ first half. “And then we got to the point where we were afraid to call a pass.”

Not exactly an ideal set of circumstances if you want to be a competent football team, let alone a contender in the stacked Sun Belt East. 

Barnett’s woes in the passing game were compared to a golfer losing their confidence swinging the club.

“There [were] routine plays in the first half that Alonza did not make,” Cignetti said.

Cignetti wasn’t thrilled with JMU’s overall performance, especially in the first 30 minutes.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of things we did well,” Cignetti said. “But, the glaring things that we didn’t do well in the first half, to me, are like flashing lights and they should be to the team, too.”

Cignetti benched Barnett in the third quarter for Jordan McCloud.

McCloud on the money

McCloud, a redshirt senior transfer via Arizona, was substituted into the game with 6:25 left in the third quarter. Immediately the vibe of the offense felt a little different.

He began with a 15-yard rope to Zach Horton, which was followed shortly after with a Ty Son Lawton rushing touchdown.

After a sputtering three-and-out the next drive, McCloud bounced back and dialed up a 57-yard missile to Reggie Brown on a post route over the middle of the field for the first passing touchdown of the game.

This was the best throw of the evening by any quarterback, and it felt like the keys to the offense may have just changed owners.

“He did change the momentum,” Brown said of McCloud’s entrance.

On his next and last drive, McCloud proceeded to throw another passing touchdown. This time he found true freshman Maxwell Moss for a 13-yard score. Curt Cignetti had seen enough and then put redshirt freshman Brett Griffis in to conclude the fourth quarter.

After the contest, Curt Cignetti was staggeringly clear on his opinion of the QB play.

“It was nice to have a semblance of quarterback play in the second half,” Cignetti said.

Asked about next week’s starting quarterback, Cignetti turned the question back to the media.

“What would you do?” Cignetti asked.

The Plecker Athletic Center held some of the most awkward tension of my life for about six seconds, and then the coach answered his rhetorical question by stating, “It’s kinda obvious wasn’t it?”

Jordan McCloud appears to be the starting quarterback for the Dukes moving forward. 

QB takeaways

Alonza Barnett III is still young, and the fact that he has been a staple of this quarterback battle gives me tremendous hope for his development moving forward.

However, I don’t believe there is a question as to who should be starting in Charlottesville for Week 2.

For some statistical comparison, Jordan McCloud completed seven of his 11 pass attempts for 144 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions on four drives.

On the other hand, Barnett connected on just three of his 11 pass attempts for 15 yards, zero touchdowns, one interception, and a rushing touchdown on 8 drives.

The stats and the eye test agreed on Saturday that the former USF/Arizona product will be leading the charge into Cavalier country next weekend.The starting experience McCloud provides from the PAC-12 and AAC is going to be paramount against in-state rival UVA.

This team faces an extremely challenging road schedule in the upcoming weeks, and they are going to need every ounce of poise the South Floridian can muster.

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