Takeaways From JMU’s Season Opening Win Over Bucknell

By Bennett Conlin

JMU defeated Bucknell 38-3 on Saturday, in a rather confusing game.

The Dukes were outgained in the first half, benched their starting QB, and won by 35. Just a standard Saturday!

Curt Cignetti said JMU needed to be “humbled” a bit after a strong finish last year and preseason hype. A rocky showing against Bucknell likely delivered an important dose of humility before a challenging few weeks ahead.

Here are a few takeaways from the victory, as JMU prepares to face UVA this weekend.

Jordan McCloud’s experience shines

Alonza Barnett, JMU’s starting quarterback, struggled in his starting debut. He went 3-11 for 15 yards and threw a sloppy interception.

When McCloud entered the game in the second half, the offense picked up. He completed seven of his 11 passes for 144 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also scampered for a 16-yard rush, showcasing the athleticism that helped him stand out at South Florida and Arizona.

“He made plays that a quarterback is supposed to make,” Cignetti said.

McCloud wasn’t perfect, but he was competent. Given JMU’s offensive line strength and the elite running back play — Kaelon Black ran for 125 yards on 12 carries Saturday — the Dukes only need decent quarterback play to be an above-average offense.

The Dukes can’t, however, have no passing attack and expect to survive the Sun Belt East.

“We’ve got to be a complete offense,” wide receiver Reggie Brown said postgame.

Don’t give up on Alonza Barnett

There’s no avoiding it. Barnett struggled Saturday. He didn’t look the part of a starting FBS quarterback. But by most accounts, that’s a drastic shift from how he played during camp.

“Was I surprised at the way the quarterback came out after the camp he had? Yeah,” Cignetti admitted.

It’s also different than his impressive high school career. I wouldn’t give up on Barnett by any means, as he’s just a redshirt freshman with significant potential.

I also wouldn’t give up on Barnett this season.

McCloud didn’t win the starting job this offseason, and there’s not a monumental gap between QB1 and QB2, regardless of what Cignetti said last week. McCloud, the new starter moving forward, could get banged up or make mistakes at any point this season. From there, the Dukes may opt to bring Barnett into the game in a key spot. I wouldn’t be surprised if he rises to the occasion in his next outing.

Barnett has the tools to be a successful player, and his teammates love him.

“Alonza is a tough guy, and he will do anything for his teammates,” Black said of Barnett throwing blocks for him in the running game. “I really love him. I love all of our quarterbacks. He lays it out on the line.”

Barnett still has a bright future.

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

Special teams shined

Solomon Vanhorse returned two punts for a total of 60 yards. Unfortunately, Vanhorse suffered an injury in the win and could be out for an extended time, but the punt return game looked dynamic. Josh Sarratt also returned four punts for 34 yards, looking plenty capable in the process.

“In the first half, we ran the ball well and our punt return game was really good,” Cignetti said.

The Dukes also blocked a punt in the third quarter, a nice game-altering type of play from the unit.

Punter Ryan Hanson was tremendous when the Dukes’ drives stalled. Hanson averaged 49.3 yards on three punts, with one being downed inside the Bucknell 5-yard line. He’s a stellar transfer addition from Arkansas State.

Camden Wise was a perfect 1-1 on field goals, a nice start to the year for JMU’s placekicker. Wise’s kick was from 36 yards.

Overall, the special teams looked strong. That’ll be important if JMU wants to be a top-tier Sun Belt squad.

Notable injuries

Vanhorse might miss significant time, as he was on crutches on the sideline. That’s a big blow given his ability at running back, slot receiver, and returner.

Defensive end Abi Nwabuoku-Okonji, a redshirt senior, hurt his left leg in the first half of Saturday’s win. No immediate injury update was provided, but the Dukes lack depth along the defensive line. Any significant injury to Nwabuoku-Okonji will lead to challenges.

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