JMU Football Roundtable: Assessing the Dukes After Three Games

By Bennett Conlin and Jack Fitzpatrick

JMU football is a perfect 3-0. Before the season, every JMU fan would’ve been overjoyed to start 3-0.

Still, I doubt head coach Curt Cignetti is overjoyed with his team’s execution through three games. JMU has significant room to improve in all areas, which can be both exciting or concerning depending on your attitude.

Let’s share our feelings on the Dukes ahead of Saturday night’s game at Utah State (1-2).

Through three weeks, what letter grade (A through F) would you give the Dukes?

Bennett: I’ll give the Dukes a B. They’ve played C football, in my opinion, but the 3-0 start earns an A from me. I’ll marry the results and execution and give JMU a B. 

I’m impressed by the team’s resilience, but it’s fair to note they’ve won their two FBS games by a combined three points. Last season, six of JMU’s eight wins came by double digits. The Dukes haven’t been dominant yet this year, and there’s need for improvement in the defensive secondary and across the entire offense. 

I just can’t give JMU worse than a B, given the team’s record. The Dukes beat UVA and Troy in September. That’s good!

Jack: Man, I wish I had Bennett as a professor at JMU. That is some lenient grading! 

I’d give the Dukes a C-. JMU has yet to play a full game of good football this season and hasn’t found a rhythm. While they may have won in two vastly different ways, high scoring and a defensive grind it out battle, they have huge flaws. 

The secondary has shown, through eight quarters of FBS football, they haven’t improved since last year and have allowed 710 passing yards in the last two games. Then on the other side of the ball, the offense just goes cold for long stretches of the game and the play calling lacks creativity and is not diverse.

Currently, the Dukes rank 114th in the nation in 3rd and 4th down conversion rate at 37.8%. I mark that up to the desire and stubbornness to continue to run into stacked boxes on first and second down and then set up the passing attack to fail on 3rd and long. The Dukes averaged a 3rd & 8 last game. That is worrisome!

Do I think JMU can bounce back and really squash all my worries this weekend at Utah State? You bet! But I am currently sitting at my desk extremely worried about how the next few weeks may shake out for JMU. 

I really hope I am wrong. 

How would you assess Jordan McCloud’s play at quarterback for the Dukes?

Bennett: I’ll give McCloud a B, if we’re sticking with letter grades. He hasn’t turned the ball over yet, but he also hasn’t thrown for more than 224 yards in a game. He’s managing the game well and giving JMU chances to win, but he hasn’t taken a game over with a superb passing performance quite yet. 

I’m hopeful the offensive coaches give McCloud more chances to run the ball in the coming weeks, as I think his legs haven’t been utilized to their full potential quite yet. I like McCloud’s chances for bigger performances in the next three games. 

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Jack: This time I am more closely aligned with Bennett on the grade. I would give McCloud a B-. 

I think he has been put in situations to fail, especially during the Troy game. He hasn’t had a reliable rushing attack to start the season and it has impacted the game scripts to this point. It is also worth mentioning that according to Curt Cignetti, McCloud was taking second-team reps every day of camp except the first, so there is going to be a bit of a learning curve to begin the season. 

McCloud has had wide open guys and clean pockets and has failed to deliver on some passes which is why I give him a B-, and at times it seems that either the coaching staff is still worried about his previous leg injury or McCloud himself is. 

If they open things up a bit more with McCloud in the run game I think that will add a much needed dimension to this offensive attack and to McCloud’s overall game. 

Editor’s note: A huge thanks to Three Notch’d Brewing for their advertising support this season.

Which offseason transfer addition has impressed you most this season?

Bennett: I knew Ty Son Lawton could play, but I didn’t realize how productive he’d be for the Dukes. Lawton has some himself to be every bit as productive as fellow running back Kaelon Black, averaging six yards per carry and leading all rushers with three rushing touchdowns. 

Elijah Sarratt earns an honorable mention for me, but I’m excited to see what Lawton can do against Utah State and Georgia Southern, a pair of upcoming opponents with below average defenses. 

Jack: Elijah Sarratt is my pick. Easily. 

Sarratt, the Saint Francis (FCS) transfer currently is tied for the team lead in receptions (10) and is second on the team in receiving yards (143). He is averaging 47.67 yards per game, behind only Reggie Brown and is coming off a season high six catches vs. Troy, which led all receivers. 

I am truly shocked by the immediate impact he has made on that receiving corps. 

Give us a score prediction for Saturday’s game at Utah State

Bennett: JMU wins 38-10. I’m not high on Utah State, and I expect the Dukes to perform well against the Aggies’ true freshman quarterback. 

The biggest challenge is heading West for yet another road game. JMU is one of just seven FBS teams facing a stretch of three consecutive road games without a bye week in between any of the games, according to David Teel. Can the Dukes handle the grind of traveling one more time?

I’m banking on yes, as I expect the offense to look sharper Saturday and the defense to force multiple turnovers. JMU has come close to recovering a strip sack in the last two games, and I think the Dukes get at least one of those this weekend. 

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Jack: This is the perfect matchup for JMU in its third-straight road game. It could be a coming out party for the offense. This Utah State defense has struggled to defend the pass this season and has been dominated in the trenches. JMU should have the ability to get in an offensive rhythm and score early and often. 

On the other side of the ball, a true freshman will be starting at QB for a passing attack that has a -0.007 EPA/Pass, 95th in the country. The only thing this offense has done kind of well is run the ball, but based off of last season and the start of this season JMU won’t let Utah State get many yards on the ground. 

I believe JMU wins 35-14. I am changing my prediction from the podcast because as I dive deeper into this game I just don’t see a scenario where Utah State can really get anything going on either side of the ball. With that being said, it is the third game on the road in a row and it will be a tough game, so if JMU can go out and dominate I will be very high on this team.

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