JMU Football Three Notch’d Game Preview: Dukes Battle Utah State

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

JMU caps off a three-game road trip Saturday when it faces Utah State. The Aggies look like a middle-of-the-road Mountain West team, at least through three weeks.

Defensively, Utah State has questions and ranks outside the top 100 nationally in scoring defense (30.3 points per game). Offensively, the Aggies are turning to true freshman quarterback McCae Hillstead this week after he performed well (18-27, 202 yards, 3 TDs) in relief in a 39-21 loss to Air Force.

Utah State isn’t great, but the Aggies have decent talent and are capable of reaching a bowl game if they make a few improvements throughout the season.

For the Dukes, Saturday is a winnable game, but playing on the road against a capable opponent means JMU needs to execute well to avoid an upset loss. Can the Dukes stay locked in despite yet another road game?

The game kicks off at 8 p.m. ET.

Saturday’s weather

It’s gnarly for those of us on the East Coast, but the weather for Saturday evening in Utah looks perfect.

The high temperature in Logan on Saturday is 66 degrees, and the forecast calls for sunny skies with low winds. The overnight low is a brisk 37 degrees, but the game should wrap up around 9 p.m. local time. The temperatures shouldn’t reach the 30s until after midnight local time.

Overall, the weather looks ideal and shouldn’t play much of a factor Saturday.

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

How to watch

The game will be streamed on the Mountain West Network. We broke down how to access the Mountain West Network here.

If you want to listen to the radio broadcast and are in Harrisonburg, tune in to WSVA 550 AM or 92.1 FM. You can stream the radio broadcast online at WSVAOnline.com and on your phone with the The Varsity Network app.

Getting to know Utah State

Record: 1-2, 0-1 MWC

Head coach: Blake Anderson, who is 18-12 leading Utah State. He’s 69-49 overall as a head coach, joining Utah State after leading Arkansas State’s program for seven seasons.

Expected contributors: McCae Hillstead, a three-star recruit, will earn the nod at quarterback. It’s hard to know what to make of Hillstead, who played well against Air Force but obviously has minimal collegiate experience as a freshman.

At wide receiver and kick returner, Terrell Vaughn is a weapon. He’s one of the most dynamic players in the Mountain West, and he’s caught 28 passes and four touchdowns through three games. He can play.

Defensively, MJ Tafisi Jr makes a ton of plays at linebacker. He’s listed at 6-feet tall and 250 lbs and leads the team with 22 tackles and three tackles for loss. Safety Ike Larsen is one of the better defensive backs in the Mountain West, and he already has 20 tackles and an interception this season.

Utah State, despite not looking like an elite MWC team, has talent.

What to expect

JMU’s roster is arguably better than Utah State’s, but it’s also the third consecutive road game for the Dukes. That presents a major challenge.

If JMU can execute at a high level on both sides of the ball, the Dukes can win by double digits. If they don’t play well and look inconsistent, they can easily return home with their first loss of the season.

I’d anticipate JMU leaning on its rushing attack and picking and choosing its spots to try to create chunk plays in the passing game. JMU’s offensive line needs to control the line of scrimmage against an average Utah State front, which would allow the Dukes to be successful running the ball on early downs.

Defensively, JMU needs to effectively slow down Hillstead and the Aggies’ passing attack. Given JMU’s ability to stop the run (Troy ran for negative yardage last week), I’d expect Utah State to throw the ball at least 35 times on Saturday. Is JMU’s secondary up for the task of containing Vaughn?

I’m not sure JMU fans should expect a win, but on paper, this is a favorable matchup for the Dukes.

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