JMU Football Roundtable: Will the Dukes Move to 9-0?

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin and Jack Fitzpatrick

The Dukes are a perfect 8-0 after narrowly defeating Old Dominion last weekend. They’ll put their perfect record to the test again this weekend, hitting the road to battle a solid Georgia state (6-2, 3-2 SBC) team.

Let’s break down the Dukes’ eighth win and look ahead to see if a ninth win is on the horizon.

JMU outlasted ODU 30-27 last weekend. What stood out to you about the win?

Bennett: Old Dominion maximized its ability. The Monarchs forced two JMU turnovers and two turnovers on downs, and still allowed 30 points. JMU was (and is) the better football team, but I was impressed by how the Monarchs hung tough for 60 minutes. The defense made just enough stops, and their offense was a major challenge for the Dukes. ODU had chances late to finish the upset bid off. 

JMU winning a conference rivalry game when it didn’t play its best says a lot about how good the Dukes are this season. Even without their A-game, the Dukes are a top Sun Belt squad. They’ll need to raise their play from Saturday to go 12-0, though.

Jack: That ODU is going to be a force within the Sun Belt East for years to come. I undersold the Monarchs coming into this matchup, I discredited their wins and oversold their losses in my mind. That scheme is no joke and it created insane mismatches across the field. I left that game thinking, “Wow, JMU just escaped with a win.” 

From the JMU side, it is the lack of rushing ability. I kept thinking the Dukes running backs would eventually get going. At this point in the season it just won’t ever get going. The Dukes had a successful run on just 34 percent of their runs in this game. On the season, the Dukes have a 35.2 percent success rate on running plays, 126th out of 133 in the nation. It’s time to wave the white flag on running the ball. 

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

Some JMU fans have floated Jalen Green as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Thoughts?

Bennett: That’s a little much, but I’ll stoke the fire for the fun of it. I don’t think Green is the best player in college football – and he definitely doesn’t have the weekly platform to generate major Heisman interest – but I get where fans are coming from. Green leads the nation with an astounding 15.5 sacks, and he’s on pace to become the first FBS player with 20 sacks in a single season since Louisville’s Elvis Dumervil in 2005. 

Green is playing at an All-American level. His sack totals are historic, and he has an interception returned for a touchdown and a pair of forced fumbles. Dumervil received nine third-place votes in 2005. Who knows, maybe Green grabs a third-place vote from one of the Heisman voters. How cool would that be?! 

I’m not gonna completely shoot down that exciting possibility – college sports fandom should be fun – but it’s a longshot for a Group of Five defender to even receive a third-place vote. As for Green winning the award, put on some Marvin Harrison Jr. game tape, people! 

JMU and Green have defeated some solid Group of Five teams and a 2-6 Virginia team. That won’t wow Heisman voters, and I’m not sure it should. It’s supposed to be a hard award to win. 

Jack: No? Like no? 

Sure, he is having a HISTORIC season. 15.5 sacks with four games left to play is insane. Keep in mind that the Sun Belt is a different beast than doing that against the SEC. That isn’t a slight, Jalen Green has SEC type talent. But like Bennett said, Heisman voters won’t be ‘wowed!’ by his stats when they see he did it against, Georgia Southern, UVA, Utah State, etc. 

From a precedent standpoint, since 2000 an offensive player has won every Heisman with 19 being quarterbacks. The last (and only) primary defender to win the award was Charles Woodson in 1997. A Group of Five player has also not been a finalist in recent memory, QB or otherwise. It just won’t happen. 

In the movie Oppenheimer, it was stated there was a non-zero chance the atom bomb would blow up the earth. Jalen Green winning the Heisman is a zero chance. 

JMU faces Georgia State on Saturday. What scares you, if anything, about this road test?

Bennett: Shawn Elliott. That man is crazy!

Also Georgia State’s offense. The quarterback-running back duo of Darren Grainger and Marcus Carroll is probably the best in the Sun Belt, combining for 17 rushing touchdowns this year in addition to Grainger’s efficient passing. If the Dukes don’t bring their A-game or close to it, the Panthers are more than capable of pulling the upset. Stopping Grainger and Carroll is easier said than done.

Jack: The stadium and Darren Grainger. 

After talking with a source that has experience at this stadium, he stated that the lack of energy at Georgia State actually impacted players more than 100,000 crazed fans booing them. With no fans, or a minimal amount I should say, the team had to create their own energy. If you get behind early there is just an uphill battle to reclaim energy and get back into it. Also, there is apparently a train horn that randomly blows? That’s gotta be weird. 

No worries JMU Nation! I will be there bringing the energy and this might actually be a de facto JMU home game because of that. 

Darren Grainger is also the most dangerous and dynamic QB in the Sun Belt, maybe across the Group of Five. He can rack up the rush yards and he throws dots. Georgia State and Grainger have struggled against good defenses so this matchup will be really interesting, but Grainger has the ability to be a thorn in the Dukes side. 

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

Bennett: JMU wins 31-21. I think the Dukes will move to 9-0 with an impressive road victory over a good Georgia State team. I think the defense will slow down Georgia State’s rushing game, and I like the matchup for JMU quarterback Jordan McCloud. He’ll find Reggie Brown and Elijah Sarratt enough times for the Dukes to score 30+ and win. 

Jack: JMU 38-35. I believe the offense gets in a back and forth affair with the Panthers and McCloud outduels Grainger. Both QBs make mistakes but JMU does just enough through the air to win this game. There is a part of me that thinks JMU loses, but I mean JMU is the better team and if they stay with the passing attack and the defense does what it has for eight games, I think the Dukes can pull out another one-score, exhilarating win. 

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