Takeaways from JMU Football’s 16-14 Win Over Troy

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

Another week, another spike in blood pressure for JMU football fans.

The Dukes beat Troy, but it wasn’t easy. JMU held on for a 16-14 win, only scoring three points in the second half. The Dukes escaped Troy with a victory, and they’ll take it.

Troy won the Sun Belt in 2022, winning a bunch of games just like Saturday’s. The Trojans were 6-1 in one-possession games in 2022, often leaning on defense to outlast opponents.

In early 2023, JMU got the best of Troy in an ugly, close game. That’s a major accomplishment, and it hands Troy head coach Jon Sumrall the first home loss of his head coaching career.

Here are a few key takeaways from the Dukes’ win.

A win is a win

JMU wasn’t perfect Saturday. The Dukes settled for three red-zone field goals. They were 3-16 on third downs. They only rushed for 90 yards when including sacks.

Regardless of the offensive struggles, JMU won the game on the road against the reigning conference champion. The defense made clutch stops throughout the game, ultimately carrying JMU to its first conference win of the season. That’s huge, especially with the Dukes still transitioning to the FBS. Winning close games can turn a decent season into a special one.

JMU wasn’t perfect against Bucknell or UVA either. Somehow, though, the Dukes are 3-0 despite failing to play their best. That’s exciting for JMU fans, as the Dukes still have huge room for growth.

Curt Cignetti’s team needs to improve, but the Dukes have done well to battle on the road early this season. I’m impressed with JMU’s fight.

“On style points it’s not a pretty win, but it’s gonna feel like a win tomorrow and it feels like a win right now ’cause at the end of the day, a win is a win is a win,” Cignetti said postgame.

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

Good defensive recipe

I saw some fans frustrated the secondary gave up 333 passing yards. I’m not in that group.

JMU’s secondary isn’t the team’s best group, but Troy threw the ball 46 times. Gunnar Watson averaged 7.2 yards per pass attempt. That’s not impressive. Watson also took six sacks, and Troy finished with negative rushing yardage.

If JMU forces teams to become one-dimensional, it’s fine to give up some passing yardage. Troy threw for over 300 yards, but only scored 14 points. The six sacks were huge.

“They basically came out throwing the ball, and they had some success, but we were hitting the quarterback so there was give and take there,” Cignetti said.

I like JMU’s defensive line. I trust that unit to create negative plays, especially if they’re expecting teams to drop back and throw.

JMU will give up plenty of passing yardage this year, but if the Dukes trade 300+ passing yards allowed for 5+ sacks created, that’s advantage JMU.

Unleash McCloud

Jordan McCloud threw for 200 yards, completing 18 of his 26 passes. He threw one touchdown pass, avoiding turnovers yet again.

Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Dukes give McCloud a little more freedom. I’d like to see McCloud keep the ball on zone reads, using his athleticism more intentionally in the running game. I think these plays would be particularly successful on third-and-short situations.

I’d also like to see JMU throw the ball on first down more frequently. Against UVA and Troy, 65% of JMU’s first-down plays were runs. The Dukes averaged 4.1 yards per play on first-down runs.

JMU averaged 10 yards per play when passing on first down against UVA and Troy. The Dukes have created several chunk plays over the last couple weeks when passing on first down.

Defenses expect JMU to run the ball on first down. Throwing more on first down in the coming weeks will keep defenses guessing and may lead to additional explosive plays.

McCloud might not be a Sun Belt Player of the Year candidate, but I think he has more in the tank. Hopefully the offensive coaches unleash McCloud against Utah State and beyond, giving him chances to stretch the field on early downs and use his legs on third-and-short.

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