JMU Football Roundtable: Can the Dukes Avenge Loss to Georgia Southern?

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin and Jack Fitzpatrick

After a well-deserved bye week, JMU football returns to action this weekend. It’ll be a meaningful showdown Saturday when Georgia Southern rolls into town.

The Eagles are 4-1 with their lone loss coming against a solid Wisconsin team. The Dukes fell to the Eagles 45-38 a season ago, and Georgia Southern’s powerful passing attack may once again prove challenging for JMU’s secondary.

We sat down to break down JMU’s upcoming battle with a strong league opponent.

What does JMU need to do this weekend to beat Georgia Southern?

Bennett: Score a bunch of points. I think Georgia Southern’s offense will find some success against JMU’s secondary, and the Eagles will have a good chance to drop 30+ on the Dukes. I think this game will come down to JMU’s ability to move the ball offensively for a full 60 minutes, not just great 15-20 minute stretches. 

If Jordan McCloud takes care of the football and leads JMU’s offensive attack to a steady, consistent showing, JMU will move to 6-0. If the Dukes go a quarter or two without any offensive momentum, I think Georgia Southern moves to 9-1 all time against the Dukes. 

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Jack: Call me crazy but I don’t think JMU has to score a lot to win. That would be the path of least resistance and would result in a win more likely than not, but at the end of the day JMU’s defense has to limit the explosives.

Last year, JMU committed 4 turnovers, had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown and were heavily penalized. That was a game that JMU lost by beating itself. I believe this 2023 Dukes team is the same if not a tad better than last year’s team and will be poised to win if they score 28. 

I think JMU’s secondary has shown great week-over-week improvement and with Ponds getting more reps opposite of Logan and the safeties starting to figure things out, we may see the best defensive performance of the year. And despite all the praise about this Southern passing attack, JMU has a more efficient one by a wide margin. If anything Southern should be worried that JMU will slice and dice them through the air. 

Bennett: You’re crazy.

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

Where do you think Georgia Southern’s Clay Helton stacks up among Sun Belt coaches?

Bennett: I think he’s one of the best. While Helton isn’t Lincoln Riley, he still found some notable success at USC. The Trojans won the Rose Bowl in 2016 and played in the Cotton Bowl in 2017 under his leadership.

He’s quickly turned Georgia Southern from a triple-option team to a high-flying passing attack. Helton might be the most underrated coach in the Sun Belt, and I’d expect him to resurface as a Power Five coaching candidate in the coming years. 

Jack: I think he is near the top. He took over a 3-9 team that had been 30-33 the five years prior he took over (granted there was a 10-3 season in there but also a 2-10 one…). He is one of the best offensive minds in the Sun Belt and has shown that he can coach the crap out of a QB. He isn’t afraid to lean into what is working (He runs the ball nearly the least in the nation) and he can scheme up an effective and lethal offense. 

Which team do you view as the best in the Sun Belt East right now?

Bennett: JMU, baby. I think the Dukes, especially with wins over Troy and South Alabama, have a strong case as the Sun Belt’s best. They’re the only undefeated team in the conference, and they have a road win over a Power Five team. I know Virginia isn’t elite, but the Cavaliers also aren’t nearly as crappy as most people think. 

JMU’s record is impressive, and the Dukes have All-Sun Belt caliber players across multiple position groups. 

Jack: Best in the East or in the West, it is JMU. 

The Dukes boast the most efficient rushing defense in the nation. They have only allowed a successful first down run 18% of the time this season. The offense has shown flashes of being elite and through the air are the 48th most efficient unit in the nation. From top to bottom, left to right, back to front, JMU is the most complete football team that can win anywhere or anytime. Going on the road against an ACC school, a Mountain West team in Utah and the defending Sun Belt champ and coming out a perfect 3-0 is wildly impressive. 

What’s your score prediction for Saturday’s game?

Bennett: JMU wins 41-31. I think the Dukes are going to give up a handful of chunk plays in this game, but I also expect them to move the ball effectively and lean on the home-field advantage to pull away from the Eagles. I think JMU is the more complete team. 

Jack: JMU wins 35-24. I think Georgia Southern will find itself struggling at times to move the ball. JMU has shown that they can defend the quick hitting passing attacks they have faced, where the Dukes have struggled is against long developing deep shots that force them to cover longer than three seconds. If Georgia Southern drops back and attacks the Dukes defense that way, it will be a long afternoon for Davis Brin. This will be the best JMU defensive performance of the season.

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