Three Keys to JMU Football’s Matchup with UConn

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

After a 42-14 blowout of Georgia State, JMU football (9-0, 6-0 SBC) returns home to face a 1-8 UConn squad. The Huskies lone win came Rice, and they’ve struggled mightily in games against top-tier opponents (losing to Duke and Tennessee by a combined score of 100-10). 

Still, nothing is guaranteed in college football. The Dukes, who are large favorites, will need to play well to move to 10-0 this season. 

Here are three keys for JMU’s game against UConn.

Block out the noise

For JMU fans, the last week or so has been unbelievably special. Men’s soccer upset No. 1 UCF, the women’s soccer team earned an NCAA bid, and the men’s basketball team took down No. 4 Michigan State. It was a huge week for the athletic department.

The football team, of course, improved to 9-0 with a beatdown of Georgia State. Now, JMU’s administration has written the NCAA asking for bowl eligibility this season. 

There’s a lot of noise and hype around not only JMU football, but the entire athletic department. That’s impossible to ignore if you’re a JMU athlete, with social media and campus buzzing about the recent successes. 

JMU’s football team is dramatically better than UConn’s, but the Huskies have four one-possession losses and played N.C. State within 10 points. Duke and Tennessee embarrassed UConn, but the Huskies have some level of competence.

If JMU gets distracted by the outside noise, there’s outside potential the Dukes suffer an embarrassing loss that puts all the New Year’s Six Bowl game talk to bed. 

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

Dominate defensively 

Even with defensive end Jalen Green sidelined, this game sets up well for JMU to limit UConn’s running game and pressure the quarterback on third-and-long situations. 

UConn has scored fewer than 20 points in six of their nine games this season, and the Huskies are converting 37.3% of their third downs, which is in the bottom half of college football. They’re not good offensively, ranking 118th nationally in offensive success rate. The running game is especially weak, with its expected points added (EPA) per rushing play among the 10 lowest in the FBS. If JMU forces third-and-long situations, UConn will have a hard time scoring. 

If the Dukes hold UConn under 20 points, it would be stunning to see the Dukes lose. The only team to hold JMU to under 20 points this year was Troy, which limited JMU to 16. The Dukes are averaging 33.2 points per game this year, the third-best mark in the Sun Belt. 

Avoiding an upset Saturday starts with the defense. If the unit plays like it has during conference play, JMU should control the game and might only need 2-3 scores to secure a victory. 

Trust Jordan McCloud

The Dukes’ quarterback makes mistakes. McCloud absolutely tosses some questionable passes at times, leading to turnovers. Most of the time, however, McCloud looks like a Sun Belt Player of the Year candidate. 

He’s putting together a special season, as he’s now up to 22 passing touchdowns compared to seven interceptions. McCloud has 2,330 passing yards, and Saturday’s win over Georgia State was the first time he’s surpassed 70% completion percentage (he completed 77.8% of his throws) in a game this season. He’s also rushed for six touchdowns and 314 yards, showcasing his athleticism as a runner. 

JMU needs to trust McCloud throwing the football Saturday, as the Huskies are 126th nationally in defensive passing success rate. They struggle to stop quarterbacks from playing well, and McCloud has scored 10 total touchdowns over his last two games. 

If the Dukes come out throwing the ball, they could open up a huge lead early in the game. Wide receivers Reggie Brown, Elijah Sarratt, and Phoenix Sproles are matchup problems for UConn’s weak secondary.

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