JMU Football Roundtable: Dukes Destined for Revenge Against Marshall?

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin and Jack Fitzpatrick

JMU football’s first (and only) weeknight game of the season is a huge one. The Dukes (6-0, 3-0 SBC) visit Marshall (4-2, 1-1 SBC) seeking to continue their revenge tour.

Last weekend, JMU smoked Georgia Southern 41-13, enacting revenge from last season’s loss to the Eagles. Thursday, the Dukes visit Marshall hoping to rebound from an ugly 26-12 loss to the Thundering Herd in 2022.

As always, we sat down for our brief weekly discussion about last week’s game and this upcoming test.

JMU dominated Georgia Southern last weekend. What’s your biggest takeaway from the win?

Bennett: JMU is the Group of Five’s top dog. I knew JMU was good, but I wasn’t sure if 2022 Tulane or 2023 Air Force were just a step above the Dukes, in large part due to my concerns with the secondary. 

Boy, was I wrong. JMU is the best team in the Sun Belt, and the Sun Belt is the top Group of Five league in the country. The Dukes are ready to compete at a top-25 level with Curt Cignetti as head coach, and that’s incredible for a team still transitioning to the FBS. 

As for the secondary, they’re now the third-most efficient passing defense in the Sun Belt after picking off Georgia Southern three times. They’re clearly improving, which is a testament to the young talent in the room and the coaching staff.

Jack: That JMU understood its issues, worked on them in the bye week and got exponentially better. I am amazed at the difference from Week 1 to today. We have seen countless different linebacker combos, offensive line configurations, secondary set ups, and starting QBs. JMU has grown as this season has gone on and is now, without a doubt, the team to beat in the Group of Five. If JMU wins this week and against ODU out of the mini bye, watch out. 

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

Let’s overreact. How many wins will JMU finish with this season? Is 12-0 realistic??

Bennett: I’ll say JMU goes 11-1. I still think this week’s game against Marshall, the game against Georgia State, and the two final games with App State and Coastal Carolina are brutally tough. Going 3-1 over those four (all of them except App State are on the road) would be a nice accomplishment, and while 12-0 would be incredible, I’m not ready to predict an undefeated season for the Dukes given the road games left on the schedule. 

Jack: 12-0. 12-0 is entirely realistic. If JMU goes to Marshall on a short week and wins then it is over for the rest of the Sun Belt. It’s over for the rest of the Group of 5 and it is over for whatever team we end up playing in a NY6 bowl. 

Marshall has a solid team. What needs to happen for JMU to beat a good opponent Thursday?

Bennett: JMU needs to take care of the football. Aside from the Utah State game, which featured five JMU giveaways, the Dukes have only turned it over twice in their other five games. That’s tremendous. 

If Jordan McCloud avoids throwing interceptions and the running backs and receivers avoid fumbles, I like JMU’s chances. The Dukes’ defensive front and offensive line are so solid. They’re a beast to take down without a couple self-inflicted wounds. 

Marshall’s defense is averaging 5.5 yards per carry, as the Thundering Herd are struggling to adjust to a new defensive coordinator this fall. JMU’s offense should score points, if the Dukes avoid giving the ball up. Marshall’s secondary can make some plays, as they’ve recorded eight interceptions this season, including two that were returned for touchdowns. If McCloud avoids costly interceptions, I like the Dukes.

Editor’s note: We’re hosting a live podcast at Three Notch’d’s Harrisonburg location on Nov. 17. Come hang!

Jack: JMU needs to find its identity in the run game. The Dukes have been a team that prides itself at stopping the run and executing the rush attack on offense at a high level. Well, this year they have done one part of that extremely well. The other half … not well at all. 

This is a Marshall team that will likely take away JMU’s pass attack, or at least make it a lot more difficult to move it through the air than it has been the last few weeks. Marshall’s secondary is second in the nation in EPA allowed per pass. The Achilles’ heel of the Thundering Herd’s defense has been their ability, or inability, to stop the run. This season Marshall is allowed 0.14 EPA/rush, 116th in the nation out of 133. 

If JMU wants to go into Marshall’s house and leave with a win, I believe they have to dominate the line of scrimmage. Limit the explosive plays that running back Rasheen Ali breaks off, and make sure you control the game offensively by eliminating turnovers and consistently getting plus yards on runs. 

What’s your score prediction for Thursday?

Bennett: I’ll take JMU winning 34-20. I think the Dukes have the better overall team, and they’re playing at a higher level than Marshall. The Thundering Herd’s rushing defense is a liability right now, and the team’s strength – running back Rasheen Ali – plays directly into JMU’s strength of its elite defensive front. The revenge tour continues. 

Jack: JMU wins this one 42-24. I think the Dukes just match up really well and I believe this will be the game that the Dukes finally break through for a great game on the ground. The defense of the Dukes will do its part. I don’t believe Ali will have a good game and if Marshall tries to establish the run it might be a long day for that offense and won’t allow Cam Fancher to find a rhythm, something he hasn’t been able to find all season. Dukes big, baby!

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