JMU Football Roundtable: Dukes Visit Upset-Minded UVA

By Bennett Conlin and Jack Fitzpatrick

JMU football hits the road in Week 2 for a massive clash against UVA. This game matters to the Dukes, who believe they’re the best team in Virginia. Saturday is a chance to prove that.

It’s also an important game for Virginia, which returns home for the first time since last year’s tragic shooting. Saturday will be emotional.

We sat down to discuss the matchup, focusing mostly on the on-field expectation.

Are you hitting the panic button after JMU’s unusually clunky 38-3 win over Bucknell?

Bennett: Nope. Saturday’s game wasn’t JMU’s best performance of the Curt Cignetti era, but the Dukes weren’t that bad. 

The main issue was the passing game, which improved dramatically when Jordan McCloud (7-11, 144 yards, two TDs) took over at quarterback in the third quarter. Kaelon Black ran for 125 yards on 12 carries, and the defense was stout after halftime.

JMU had three scoreless possessions end inside the Bucknell 10. This 38-3 game easily could’ve been a 52-3 or 59-3 win, and honestly probably would’ve been a bigger win if McCloud started the game. 

It doesn’t look outstanding on paper, but the Dukes weren’t far off from playing like a Sun Belt East favorite. McCloud’s performance suggests the passing attack will be fine. 

Jack: In the moment of watching I was smashing the panic button. After I had about 24 hours to digest it, I realized that honestly it was actually a solid game that had untimely mistakes. Also, the fact Curt Cignetti treated that game as a third scrimmage really made me realize that it was indeed a scrimmage and not a game.  

The Dukes defense didn’t allow a touchdown. The rushing attack did exactly what it needed to against an FCS opponent. The offense as a whole got inside the 10 three times and didn’t score.

The issue, like Bennett stated, was the passing attack. Jordan McCloud seemingly fixed that issue in the second half and squashed those worries. Granted I was 60% sure JMU would win against UVA and now it is more like 50% after the Bucknell game. 

What does JMU need to do to beat UVA this weekend?

Bennett: This game reminds me of JMU’s matchup with West Virginia in 2019. The Cavaliers have significant flaws, and they’re likely not going to make a bowl game. Still, JMU can’t waltz to a victory. 

The Dukes outrushed West Virginia 172-34 in 2019, but they lost the turnover battle 3-0. If JMU can limit turnovers, it should be just fine. 

Virginia has massive offensive line issues, and starting quarterback Tony Muskett is banged up. It’s possible UVA fails to reach 20 points. 

If the offense looks competent and avoids catastrophic turnovers, JMU’s defense and running game are enough to lead it to a victory.

Jack: Here comes some coach talk. Dominate the trenches. I think this game is as simple as that.

If JMU’s offensive line can give Jordan McCloud three seconds in the pocket and can open up some running lanes, the offense should score enough to beat a battered UVA offense. On the flip side, JMU’s defensive line just has to move the pocket and get the quarterback, whoever it may be, off his spot. The more important aspect of this game is JMU’s defense taking advantage of a bad UVA offensive line. 

Editor’s note: Thanks to Three Notch’d for their advertising support this year!

What would a win over UVA mean for JMU’s program?

Bennett: It’s a little silly that a win over UVA would likely garner a bunch of media attention from places like The Athletic, and maybe even The Washington Post or ESPN, while a win over Troy wouldn’t get as much press. Troy is probably a better team than UVA, but it’s not an ACC program.

Obviously there’s a geographical significance of beating in-state teams, but the “Power Five” moniker holds weight. Beating Power Five teams matters for perception. If JMU wins, it boosts the program’s perception regionally and nationally, which helps JMU not only gain media attention, but also generate donations, engage fans, and attract recruits. 

This is a huge game for the program.  

Jack: Honestly, a win on Saturday would mean so much more than JMU ‘winning’ the East again. If JMU goes out and blows out UVA, it will garner national attention and JMU may find itself in the Top 25 next week. Not to mention the impact it would have on recruiting. If JMU wins, they can beat UVA in all recruiting battles and it sets up the 2025 JMU vs. Virginia Tech game as a battle for Commonwealth supremacy, in my humble opinion.

This game could have extreme ripple effects through JMU’s whole athletic department, as well as UVA’s. From a fan/outside of football players perspective, this is a massive game. 

What’s your score prediction for Saturday?

Bennett: I expect JMU to figure out its weird offensive miscues and make significant improvements in Week 2. The Dukes are well coached and have the more talented team. 

JMU 27, UVA 17

Jack: I believe JMU does what it needs to do in order to win. The offense may look shaky at times, as they are starting a QB who took second team reps all camp and played just four drives last weekend. The defense, though, will give UVA headaches all day and Kaelon Black will have a run that will be etched into JMU lore for the next 40 years. 

JMU 24, UVA 17 

Editor’s note: Have a score prediction for Saturday? Drop it in the comments.

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