JMU Football A Small Underdog Against 2022 SBC Champion Troy

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Blake Pace

The Dukes have certainly kept JMU Nation on its toes through the first two weeks of the 2023 season.

Following a clunky but sizable victory over Bucknell that included a quarterback switch in the second half, JMU marched itself to Charlottesville, grabbed a double-digit lead in the first quarter, found itself down 11 entering the fourth quarter and then — after a lengthy weather delay — scored 12 unanswered to seal the victory over UVA. Down, but never out, the Dukes moved to 2-0 on the season and now gear up for conference play.

Waiting for them Saturday is a trip to Troy, Alabama and a matchup against the defending Sun Belt Champion* Trojans. Coming off a 12-2 season and a perfect 7-0 Sun Belt record a year prior, Troy enters Week 3 as a 1-1 football club with a Week 1 victory over Stephen F. Austin and a Week 2 defeat at the hands of the then 15th-ranked Kansas State Wildcats. 

Week 2 Recap: UVa +7 (Win) & u43.5 (Loss)

(Overall Record: 1-1)

The under play was all but done for by the end of the first quarter. JMU’s 17-point first quarter paced this game to a walk in the park for over bettors, and UVA’s freshman quarterback Anthony Colandrea diced up the Dukes’ secondary for the majority of the afternoon. We’ll take the +7 to the bank, and at least we got to cover without having to watch JMU lose the game outright.

The Lines: JMU (+2) at Troy, o/u 49.5

James Madison finds itself as a slight underdog heading into Saturday’s affairs, traveling into hostile territory against a Trojan team looking to rebound after its 12-game winning streak was snapped Saturday. Neither line has budged much at all since being released, unlike last week’s line against the Cavaliers had, but Troy has received 92 percent of the bets against the spread thus far. Neither team has covered the spreads in either of its first two matchups this season, with the overs hitting three out of four times.

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

The Picks: Troy -2 & o49.5

I regret to inform you all that I believe JMU will leave Saturday with its first loss of the 2023 season. 

The Dukes’ strengths offensively match up well enough with the Trojan defense, however it’s the Trojan offense that will dictate this game and keep the Dukes off balance. Troy will make sure to give star running back Kimani Vidal his touches throughout the course of the game, but leaning on Gunnar Watson and the passing game will give the Trojans their best vantage point against a middling James Madison secondary.

While I think a performance like we saw from UVA’s Colandrea is unlikely to repeat itself, the Trojans have a competent, seasoned quarterback under center and one that kept itself competitive against a ranked Kansas State defense and all but dominated Stephen F. Austin in its season opener.

If the Trojan offense can turn this into a track meet and capitalize on even half the explosive plays UVA did Saturday, I have serious concerns the Dukes can keep pace with their passing game that’s still a work in progress. Troy has a lockdown corner in Reddy Steward and returned the majority of its defensive starters from their 2022 campaign, a unit that was the eighth-best scoring defense in the nation. 

It’s easy to forget that JMU is still in the midst of a massive transition and, although they’re still a winning football team with plenty of opportunity to grow between now and the end of the season, this isn’t the right matchup for the Dukes at this point of the season.

Troy wins, 34-23.

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