Betting Preview: JMU Favored By Touchdown Over UVA

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Blake Pace

It was a rollercoaster of a season debut for James Madison in its 38-3 victory over the Bucknell Bison Saturday. 

While the Dukes defense continued their near decade-long stretch of dominant play up front, holding the Bison rushing attack to 1.8 yards per carry, their offense stumbled out the gate behind the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Alonza Barnett and his 3-for-11 showing.

JMU was able to get things going midway through the third quarter after turning the offense over to Jordan McCloud, who finished the game 7-for-11 for 144 yards and two touchdowns. It wasn’t a prolific showing by any means, but the Arizona transfer provided a more mature, stable presence to the offense.

The Dukes now turn their attention to their first FBS opponent of the season in the Virginia Cavaliers, who are coming off a mixed bag of a debut themselves. Facing the Tennessee Volunteers, a top-15 program in the nation, UVA held strong through the early parts of the game and took advantage of several miscues by the opposing offense. The Vols hit back with a touchdown to close the first half and another to open the second, taking control the rest of the way through.

As the game got away from the Wahoos in the second half, so did their starting quarterback, when Tony Muskett landed on his non-throwing shoulder in the fourth quarter after being sacked. Upon his departure the team turned to freshman Anthony Colandrea, who finished the afternoon 2-for-7 for 12 yards, but the game was more than finished by the time he got behind center. Muskett’s status for Week 2 is still unknown, though it seems unlikely he’ll be able to suit up at this point.

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

The Betting Odds: JMU (-7) at UVA, o/u 43.5

The spread originally opened at JMU -4 early Sunday afternoon, but availability concerns about the Cavaliers’ starting quarterback and sharp action on the Dukes have seen that line push to a full touchdown in just over a day.

As it stood Monday evening, JMU is receiving 55% of bets and 79% of the money — a substantial differential between action and money.

While not as drastic of a slide as the spread, this total opened Sunday at 44.5 and has dropped a whole point in the passing day, likely due to the same hesitancy over Muskett’s availability and lack of pop from JMU’s offense in Week 1.

Although JMU doesn’t boast an SEC-caliber defense, it does come equipped with a strong defensive line and one that should cause the Wahoo offensive line fits; much like Tennessee exhibited a week prior. If Muskett can’t suit up, expect the passing game to really struggle with intermediate-to-deep passing concepts in Colandrea’s first career start.

On the flip side, Virginia’s defense held up as long as it could before fatigue, snap count, and lack of production from its offense sealed its fate. The Cavaliers held the Vols to seven points through the first 25 minutes of play and did a great job getting Tennessee off the field early, with four of six drives lasting under seven plays.

The Picks: UVA +7 & u43.5

UVa fans might be surprised to see themselves as a touchdown underdog to a team that was in the FCS two seasons ago, but JMU has been the better program for several years now. Recruitment, coaching, and funding have all catapulted the Dukes ahead of numerous FBS programs, their next door neighbors included.

That being said, I don’t think this is a walk in the park for James Madison.

I have serious doubts over the offense surging in the passing game like it has previously with the likes of Todd Centeio, Ben DiNucci and Bryan Schor under center — especially as the Dukes retool their offense on the fly for McCloud after seemingly spending the entirety of training camp shaping one for Barnett.

It should be no surprise then that my favorite play for the game is the under 43.5 points. There’s a very good chance both offenses will be starting different quarterbacks than the week prior and both defensive lines should hold up well enough in the run game and get to the quarterback in the passing game.

While I do believe JMU is the better team and leaves Charlottesville this weekend with a victory, a low-scoring affair with a JMU offense trying to find its identity makes me think the Cavaliers can keep this within a touchdown.

Editor’s note: What’s your pick for Saturday’s game? Drop a score prediction or best bet in the comment section.

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