Keys to Undefeated JMU Football’s Late-Season Matchup with App State

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

For most JMU fans, Nov. 18 was a date they circled on the calendar before the football season began. App State visiting Bridgeforth for the first time since 2008? That’s a must-see game for many fans. 

Add College GameDay’s presence and a 10-0 record to the mix, and the excitement goes up 10 times. Saturday’s game is one of the biggest in JMU football history, as an undefeated season at the FBS level (even without guaranteed bowl eligibility) would be monumental. 

Here’s what the Dukes need to do to get to 11-0.

Slow down Joey Aguilar

Think Jordan McCloud has been on a tear for JMU at quarterback? App State’s gunslinger, Joey Aguilar, has put up similarly impressive numbers for the Mountaineers. 

In App State’s six conference games, Aguilar has thrown for 17 touchdowns compared to four interceptions, and he’s averaging 294.5 passing yards per contest. He’s tossed at least two touchdown passes in every Sun Belt game, and his worst yardage output was 229 against Marshall. In that game, he completed nearly 75% of his passes to go with three touchdowns and no interceptions. 

Aguilar is a legitimate Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year candidate. And while the Dukes’ passing defense has improved since the first few games of the season – they’re 18th nationally in passing defense success rate – the Dukes are vulnerable to allowing big plays. JMU has allowed 11 passing plays of 40 yards or longer, 118th nationally. 

App State scored a pair of 40+ yard passing touchdowns in last week’s blowout of Georgia State. Aguilar can hit the deep ball, and the Mountaineers will likely test JMU’s secondary often this weekend. 

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

Find rushing success

App State’s passing defense has more interceptions (14) than passing touchdowns allowed (13). The Mountaineers are adept at stopping the pass, ranking 34th nationally in pass defense success rate. 

Their rushing defense, however, isn’t as strong. The Mountaineers are 109th nationally in rushing defense success rate. It’s the one major weakness across App State’s offense and defense. 

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JMU has leaned heavily on the pass in recent games, as McCloud improves and the running backs battle injuries and a lack of performance. Can the Dukes find some running game Saturday against App State’s defense, which thrives against the pass but struggles against the run?

There’s an opportunity for Ty Son Lawton and Kaelon Black to run free. If they take advantage of running lanes and help JMU find offensive balance, it’ll take pressure off McCloud and the passing attack against a talented secondary.

If you haven’t noticed by now, App State matches up (on paper) fairly well with JMU. 

Use the environment 

App State is a good football team. The Mountaineers are 6-4 with a 1-4 record in one-possession games. Dating back to last season, nine of the team’s 10 losses have come by one score. 

Hardly anybody in recent memory beats App State by more than a touchdown. It has happened just once the last two years (Texas State inexplicably beat the Mountaineers by 12 last season), even as the program experiences a relatively rough patch.

There’s a decent chance Saturday’s game comes down to the fourth quarter. With College GameDay in town and the Dukes undefeated, JMU fans are in a frenzy waiting for this game. This could be one of the most electric atmospheres in program history. 

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JMU has played some of its best football at home this season, and the Dukes had notable road attendance at UVA and Georgia State. The JMU crowd at UVA helped spark the Dukes to a comeback win following a timely rain delay. 

The crowd could be a determining factor in propelling the Dukes to an 11-0 record.

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