JMU’s Defense Comes Up Big Late, Dukes Outlast Old Dominion

Images courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Daniel Merriman

The Dukes and Monarchs faced off in Harrisonburg for the first time since 2012 Saturday on Homecoming weekend. JMU (8-0, 5-0 SBC) and ODU (4-4, 3-2 SBC) were former conference mates in the CAA until ODU left for CUSA in 2014. The two Commonwealth foes crossed paths again when they joined the Sun Belt in 2022 to help form the best non-autonomous (Group of 5) conference in the nation. 

In 2022, the Dukes blew out ODU 37-3 at S.B. Ballard Stadium. The Monarchs kept the 2023 matchup much closer than the 2022 affair. This time around the Dukes won a gritty 30-27 game.

Let’s take a look at how the now 23rd-ranked team in the nation held off a much improved Old Dominion squad.  

Elite playmakers make elite plays

Standout wide receivers Reggie Brown and Elijah Sarratt were both dominating forces this week. Brown hauled in two touchdown passes with Sarratt catching one as well. The team’s two leading receivers combined for 281 yards. Jordan McCloud passed for 340 yards, going 27-40 with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

Brown and Sarratt accounted for 82.6% of McCloud’s passing production. 

“We both know we can be dominant,” Brown said after the game. “We be trying to outdo each other.”

Sarratt set a career-high in receiving yards against the Monarchs, posting 139 yards on eight receptions. The St. Francis (FCS) transfer has had a tremendous impact on JMU’s offense. The Dukes have favored the pass more as the season has progressed — McCloud threw a season-high 40 passes against ODU — and Sarratt’s development has been a key factor in that expansion.

“We’ve just been building trust in him … He can sling it,” Sarratt said. “We just believe in him. That he is going to get the ball to us and we are going to do what we can do.”

Brown, a sixth-year senior, and Sarratt, a true sophomore, have created a lethal 1-2 punch. They have combined for 10 touchdowns this season and look to feast on defensive backs throughout the rest of the Dukes’ schedule. JMU’s next opponent, Georgia State, ranks in the bottom half of the Sun Belt in pass efficiency defense and passing yards allowed per game.

Defensive line shows resilience

Clutch is an understatement when describing JMU’s defensive line. The JMU defense rose to the occasion once again to close out Saturday’s in-state rivalry. ODU had the ball with 32 seconds left down three points when Mikail Kamara forced a fumble on ODU quarterback Grant Wilson. It was recovered by James Carpenter as time expired. 

Prior to the final drive, the defensive line was everywhere Saturday. Carpenter and Kamara had nine and seven tackles, respectively. Jalen Green amassed nine tackles and 2.5 sacks as well. Green’s monstrous defensive efforts bring his season sack total to 15.5. The JMU single-season record is 16.5 held by John Daka (2019). The only difference is that Green has 15.5 sacks in eight games this season. Daka recorded 16.5 while playing in eight additional games!

“A lot of hard work has been put into this, and I’m not done working,” Green said. “So I’m looking to keep adding to that.”

The Dukes still lead the country in total sacks with 39. The next closest team is Texas A&M with 33.

Fan support shines

A new Bridgeforth Stadium attendance record was set under the bright lights of Madison for Saturday’s primetime contest. A record 26,239 fans packed Bridgeforth Stadium, and the student section was packed prior to kickoff.

The majority of fans stayed through most, if not all, of the contest, too. The fan energy was incredible and the Dukes felt it. 

“The atmosphere at home and tonight was outstanding,” Cignetti said. “The last game too. I can’t say enough about [the fans] … One day when they build that other side, this place will really be something.”

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