Takeaways from JMU Football’s 41-13 Win Over Georgia Southern

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

I’d say a 41-13 beatdown of a previously 4-1 Georgia Southern team constitutes a statement victory for JMU football. 

The Dukes are 6-0 overall and 3-0 in Sun Belt play and sit narrowly outside the AP Top 25, proving they weren’t just ready for the FCS to FBS leap, but rather they’re poised to be a Group of Five power immediately. It’s an incredible rise for the program, which faces Marshall on Thursday on ESPN. 

Before we get there, let’s break down a few major takeaways from the Dukes’ 28-point conference win. 

JMU is elite

Look, if you thought JMU was an elite football team through its first five games, good for you. I wasn’t sold on the Dukes being a top-25 caliber team. 

I thought the Dukes were the best team in the Sun Belt, but I thought the gap between them and other top contenders was minimal. I figured they were a top-50 team, but wasn’t sure on more than that. After Saturday, I’m sold on JMU as a top-25 team. 

JMU dominated what I believe to be a good Georgia Southern team. It’s a Georgia Southern team that outgained Wisconsin and won its other four games by 10+ points, including a home win over Coastal Carolina. Last season, the Eagles beat JMU and Nebraska, among others. 

Clay Helton has Georgia Southern playing well, and the Dukes bodied them. JMU led 14-0 after a quarter, and this week, the Dukes didn’t fade. They dominated for 60 minutes, beating a team that’s almost certainly bowl bound by 28 points. That’s a huge deal. 

“Probably our most complete game up to this point,” head coach Curt Cignetti said. 

I needed a JMU blowout to fully buy into the Dukes’ chances of winning 10 or more games. Well, count me fully in on this team. I’m a believer, and if Jordan McCloud stays healthy, I’d say a 9-3 record is JMU’s floor. The ceiling is undoubtedly 12-0. 

IF the Dukes can keep Cignetti in Harrisonburg in 2024, fans should be thinking about the College Football Playoff. Seriously, the Dukes are that good.  

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

Power Five defense

JMU has a Power Five defense. 

The defensive line is unbelievable, with James Carpenter and Jalen Green having stellar outings again on Saturday. They combined for 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and a nasty interception from Carpenter, which he nearly returned for a touchdown. Mikail Kamara and Jamree Kromah each tallied 1.5 tackles or loss. Green recorded an interception returned for a touchdown against South Alabama, an amazing accomplishment from a defensive lineman.  The defensive line creates chaos.

The linebackers are stars, with Aiden Fisher flashing throughout the early season. Jailin Walker’s return was bigger than I even expected, as he looked like the best linebacker on the field Saturday in his return from injury. He finished with five tackles and a pair of pass breakups.

The Dukes used three linebackers at times Saturday, as Cignetti looked willing to roll with a 3-3-5 at times to ensure Fisher, Walker, and Taurus Jones all see the field together.

Even the secondary seems to be improving. Chauncey Logan led the Dukes with 11 tackles, and he recorded an interception in JMU’s 41-13 win. JMU was the first team this season to hold Georgia Southern to zero touchdown passes in a game. 

“I was very confident coming into this game that our defense was capable of shutting them down,” Cignetti said.

JMU’s defense deserves a lot of credit for balling out during Sun Belt play – the Dukes are allowing just 16.7 points per game in Sun Belt action – and the secondary deserves a shoutout for improvement.

Passing game worked

Cignetti and company threw the ball 31 times Saturday, compared to just 23 rushes. The Dukes went pass heavy. Be still, my heart!

I loved JMU’s game plan against Georgia Southern, trusting Jordan McCloud and the passing game to cook the Eagles. I’ve been clamoring for this type of run-pass split all fall. It worked! McCloud threw for 259 yards and three touchdowns. 

“It was Jordan’s best game for sure,” Cignetti said. 

Six different Dukes caught passes, including Elijah Sarratt, who led the team with five catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Running back Kaelon Black was prominently featured in the passing game, securing two touchdowns through the air. 

JMU averaged a respectable 5.4 yards per carry, too. The Dukes weren’t as predictable Saturday, forcing the defense to defend JMU’s potent passing attack. 

I hope the Dukes continue to rely on the aerial attack in coming weeks, but Marshall has one of the worst rushing defenses in the Sun Belt. JMU leaning on the pass against Georgia Southern could throw Marshall for a loop and actually help create some meaningful running lanes against the Thundering Herd. 

JMU is achieving its goal of being a balanced offense. 

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