JMU Football Three Notch’d Game Preview: Dukes Battle Marshall on ESPN

JMU’s start to its FBS era has gone better than anyone could have anticipated, and Thursday’s game adds another chapter to the Dukes’ storybook start. Win or lose, the undefeated Dukes (6-0, 3-0 SBC) are playing a meaningful conference road game against a solid Marshall team (4-2, 1-1 SBC) on ESPN. 

The game kicks off at 7 p.m. ET.

JMU’s 14-3 FBS record feels like a dream for JMU fans, and it’ll feel even better for supporters of the Dukes if Curt Cignetti’s team can find a way to move to 7-0 on the season.

Thursday’s weather

It’s possible rain moves into the Huntington area on Thursday evening, but the current forecast has rain holding off until just after the game is expected to end. Temperatures shouldn’t get too cold, as they’re expected to hold in the lower 60s during the game. 

Winds are expected to hover around 10 miles per hour, which shouldn’t be a major factor. Thursday’s weather should be comfortable – and assuming the rain holds off – it’ll be a good day for football. 

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

How to watch 

The game will air on ESPN Ever heard of it?

Seriously, though, it’s cool that JMU will be on national TV once again. It’s the first JMU game to ever air on the main ESPN, and the 7 p.m. slot should lead to a few hundred thousand viewers. 

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 Marshall

Record: 4-2, 1-1 SBC

Head coach: Charles Huff, 20-12 as Marshall’s head coach. I anticipate Huff being a hot name in Power Five coaching circles in the coming seasons, having led Marshall to a pair of winning seasons so far in his career. At just 40 years old, the future looks bright for the former Alabama assistant. 

Key contributors: Cam Fancher is the team’s quarterback, and he’s a tad inconsistent (seven touchdown passes to five interceptions) at the position. 

Next to the lefty, however, is running back Rasheen Ali. He’s one of the Sun Belt’s best players, averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game. He’s scored 12 total touchdowns this season. Caleb Coombs is one of the team’s more productive receivers, although the Thundering Herd lean mainly on Ali to generate explosive offensive plays. 

Defensively, Marshall has been disappointing this season. That doesn’t make defensive lineman/outside linebacker Owen Porter any less intimidating. Porter leads the team with 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He’s a game-altering player on the edge. 

Defensive back J.J. Roberts leads the team with 41 tackles and a pair of interceptions. The secondary is really solid and leads the conference in pass efficiency defense, but the rushing defense has been a glaring defensive flaw that often spoils the pass defense’s success. 

What to expect 

A lively atmosphere and a borderline desperate Marshall team. The Thundering Herd have lost consecutive games, but that actually tends to be when they’re at their most dangerous under Huff. 

Marshall had a three-game losing streak in Huff’s first season in 2021, but quickly won their next four games and five of their next six. A 4-4 start last season was followed by five consecutive victories to finish 9-4. 

It’s hard to keep Huff’s teams down for more than a few weeks. JMU hopes it can beat Marshall on Thursday before the Thundering Herd inevitably improves the rush defense and starts rattling off conference wins. 

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I’d expect a heavy dose of running from JMU, which I anticipate trying to use its physical offensive line to overmatch Marshall up front. Georgia State relied on runs in the middle of the field and wide receiver screens to move the ball efficiently against Marshall last weekend. JMU may take a page out of that playbook, hoping simple calls executed well can lead to sustained drives and explosive runs. 

While Marshall is a competitive group, the Dukes’ defensive front should generate pressure on an inconsistent Fancher. If the Dukes rattle Fancher and find ways to move the ball effectively on the ground, they could win this game by a touchdown or more. If Marshall stops JMU’s inconsistent running game, it’s quite possible the Thundering Herd pulls the upset.

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