JMU Football Roundtable: What Should Fans Expect From the Dukes Against App State?

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin and Jack Fitzpatrick

It’s quite a time to be a JMU football fan, as the Dukes are a perfect 10-0 and hosting ESPN’s College GameDay this weekend.

We discuss last week’s blowout of UConn and the upcoming game this week in our latest roundtable discussion. Enjoy!

JMU beat the heck out of UConn last weekend. What stood out about the win?

Bennett: Jordan McCloud. How’s 33-37 for 457 yards and four touchdowns sound? Pretty good to me!

The transfer quarterback continues to exceed my expectations, going from QB2 in late August to maybe QB1 across the entire Sun Belt in mid-November. McCloud is an incredible player, and he’s throwing perfect deep balls to Reggie Brown and Elijah Sarratt. I’m super impressed with McCloud’s growth.

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

Jack: Since Bennett answered with the clear answer, I will go with the second-half adjustments. Actually, I’m not entirely sure it was pure adjustments or just the offense finishing drives. 

JMU had five drives in the first half, resulting in two field goals, two punts, and one touchdown. In the second half JMU never punted, scoring on every single drive. It was quite impressive to watch the JMU offense slice and dice the UConn defense for 30 minutes of game action.

JMU was a certified first-half team at the start of the season, having one of the worst third-quarter point differentials in the country. The last few weeks, really since the bye week, JMU has dominated teams in the second half. 

College GameDay is coming to Harrisonburg again. What’s your reaction to JMU playing host to the show for a third time?

Bennett: It feels like a dream. The level of cross-sport success at JMU right now is unheard of at the Group of Five level. The Dukes are sending soccer teams to NCAA Tournaments through at-large berths, and the men’s basketball team is ranked in the AP Top 25. 

Getting College GameDay for a third time is a massive deal, and it’s so exciting for the fans. I was surprised the show picked JMU over Washington at Oregon State, but I’m certainly not complaining. 

Jack: This may be a weird take and maybe I am going too in the weeds with this, but this appearance means so much. This is the first time JMU is appearing on College GameDay with Lee Fitting not part of ESPN.

I know that’s a weird thing and might mean nothing, but Lee Fitting is a JMU alum and was a lead producer on GameDay the first time the show came. He was instrumental in getting GameDay to Harrisonburg. He was also still part of ESPN the second time GameDay came. Since then, he left ESPN. This tells me the past experiences were such high quality that JMU is getting it because of the environment the fans create. 

It’s honestly just a bit crazy that this school in the mountains of Virginia that I chose to attend as an 18-year-old with an athletic program that really hadn’t won anything in quite some time is now standing on top of the college athletics mountain. It will all be on full display this Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon ET on ESPN. 

Which of JMU’s final two games (App State/Coastal Carolina) is a bigger threat to the team’s undefeated record?

Bennett: I’ll go with App State, but both games will be tough. I’m picking App State because the Coastal Carolina game will be the final win to get to 12-0. With the goal in sight, I’d expect a spirited JMU performance against a Grayson McCall-less Coastal Carolina. 

This Saturday, however, is filled with distractions. There’s a top-20 ranking in the AP Top 25, College GameDay’s presence, and Senior Day festivities for a home rivalry. There’s a lot going on, and I think App State is one of the most underrated teams in the conference. 

App State has played well this year, dropping four games that could’ve gone the other way. The Mountaineers have played road games at UNC and Wyoming, so they won’t be scared of the environment. It’s going to be hard to win Saturday’s game. 

Jack: I agree with Bennett here and if I let the negative fan side of my brain take over I can see JMU losing this game much like the GameDay Richmond game in 2015. 

Look, App State is peaking right now and playing some good ball. The Mountaineers started Sun Belt play 1-2 with their only win coming by a point against a bottom feeder in ULM. Things looked bleak in Boone. Since then, App State has rattled off three convincing wins and has outscored Georgia State and Marshall 73-23 the last two games.

Joey Aguilar, who started the season as the QB2, leads the Sun Belt in EPA per attempt and has become a top-tier Sun Belt QB. His play and recent performances (875 passing yards during this three-game win streak) strike some fear into me. The secondary has really developed well this season but they can get got and Aguilar is arguably the best QB the Dukes will face all season. There is a shot he gets them. 

This App State team is going to come into Bridgeforth with revenge on its mind and will give the Dukes all they can handle for 60 minutes. I am legitimately worried that the Dukes will fall. 

What does JMU need to do well to beat App State?

Bennett: I think if the Dukes can continue finding Reggie Brown and Elijah Sarratt in space, they’ll be fine. App State’s passing defense is one of the best in the Sun Belt, but JMU’s passing attack is more dynamic than most of the teams the Mountaineers have faced in league action. If McCloud keeps playing at a high level, JMU is going 12-0. 

Jack: If McCloud continues to play at this high level and the defense just limits explosive plays, I think the Dukes have a great chance to win. It would be icing on the cake if the running game can get going, but if it can’t, the Dukes need to be willing to bail from it as soon as possible. If they bang their head against the wall with unsuccessful run plays, it will give App State the ability to take control of the game. 

As cliche as this sounds, if the Dukes block out the noise and play their brand of football, they will win. But we saw what type of impact distractions can pose in the first 30 minutes of the UConn game. If that happens, the Dukes will lose. 

What’s your score prediction for the game?

Bennett: JMU wins 38-17. Call me crazy, but I think JMU rides the wave of emotion and plays its best game of the season against a solid (and seemingly peaking) App State team. 

Jack: I’ll let positive fan brain take over here. Dukes win 31-24.

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