JMU Football Roundtable: Can the Dukes Bounce Back?

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin and Jack Fitzpatrick

This week’s roundtable discussion talks more about Thanksgiving food than it does the lawsuit, which apparently isn’t coming, that could’ve granted JMU postseason eligibility. You’re welcome, readers!

JMU suffered its first loss of the year Saturday. What’s your takeaway from the defeat?

Bennett: It’s hard to go undefeated in the Sun Belt. The game against Troy earlier in the year could’ve gone either way, and matchups with South Alabama and Old Dominion were determined late in the fourth quarter. It’s just hard to go undefeated, especially in the new-look East. 

JMU didn’t play its best game, but the Dukes weren’t that bad either. Credit to App State for making one more key play in a game between two good football teams. I came away excited about the atmosphere at Bridgeforth Stadium and eager for the 2024 game between JMU and App State.

It’s hard to be that upset about a loss to a good rival.

Jack: JMU picked a really bad time to play its worst game of the year. And frankly, that stung. 

JMU had two turnovers in an OT loss and lacked any offensive continuity for the first 50 minutes of the game. Jordan McCloud, after throwing for over 1,100 yards the last three games combined, threw for 289 yards, one TD, one INT and was sacked five times. It was just not a crisp performance and it looked like that the events over the last two weeks have caught up with the team. 

Look, it is hard to go undefeated, Bennett said that already. It is also hard to tune out all of the noise happening around the program and continue to play at an exceptionally high level. It is also hard to lose two starting offensive tackles and the nation’s leader in sacks on the defensive side and not see any real fall off. For 10 weeks, there was no fall off from this team. Then against App State, who was playing with revenge on its mind and nothing to lose, the Dukes laid an egg. 

And you know what? The Dukes, they nearly won still. But hats off to App, they deserved that win. 

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

Is App State JMU’s biggest Sun Belt rival?

Bennett: I think Old Dominion is probably JMU’s largest conference rival across non-football sports, but some of the JMU-ODU rivalry feels like it’s more relevant for older alumni remembering basketball battles. Shoutout to the old heads!

I think the App State matchups carry a ton of significance, especially on the gridiron. App State’s football program is a model to emulate, and the two teams have a history of competitive, meaningful games. The last three games have been decided by a combined 10 points, which only adds to the fire!

I love this rivalry, and I hope it can translate to basketball and other sports over the next 3-5 years.  App State’s men’s basketball team is currently the second-highest ranked Sun Belt team in KenPom, behind JMU. Maybe the programs battle for an NCAA bid come March?

Jack: If ODU continues this forward momentum I think the Monarchs will be number one. But App State as of right now, this instant, is JMU’s biggest rival. So similar in terms of past success and have played two amazing ball games in the Sun Belt. However, I think I would love to have an in-state ODU-JMU rivalry game every college football rivalry weekend.

I will say, JMU has closed the season now with Coastal in back-to-back years, I think it is maybe rival number three or four, and I hope that game is another weekend moving forward. 

What does JMU need to do well to defeat Coastal Carolina?

Bennett: The Dukes need to be more efficient offensively, which starts with Jordan McCloud. Unfortunately for McCloud, his running game isn’t clicking, which means the offense needs him to excel for it to be great. The Dukes have just three games this season with 150 or more rushing yards. As McCloud goes, so will JMU the rest of the season. 

He struggled against App State, throwing a costly interception and completing fewer than 60% of his passes for the first time since September and only the second time all season. It wasn’t his most efficient game, but he made key plays late to pull the Dukes close and looked like the McCloud we’ve grown accustomed to watching. He’ll need to perform well Saturday.

Jack: JMU needs to find a rhythm again, much like they had against Georgia State and UConn. Rushing the football really killed drives against App State. The Dukes had -0.23 EPA/rush against App and still ran it 33 times for an average of 1.8 yards per rush. 

The Dukes were really comparable in almost every statistical category against App State, if not better. The difference was ill timed penalties that killed some early drives, interesting play sequencing where there was too much faith in the run game especially in the second half and just a real lack in explosive plays which has been the Dukes bread and butter all season. 

Against Coastal, JMU needs to find that McCloud to Brown connection again and get a few more chunk/explosive plays against a good Coastal secondary. The Dukes only ran it 35 percent of the time, but in my anti-run opinion that could be even lower and JMU has to be better on early downs. The Dukes had -5.78 EPA on early downs, one of their worst marks of the season. 

JMU thrashed Coastal last season. What happens this time around?

Bennett: I think JMU wins, but it’s closer than last year. Bold, I know! Give me JMU winning 28-20 in a competitive game between solid teams. 

Jack: The Dukes prevail with a great bounce back performance from Jordan McCloud. The Dukes need to abandon the run early if it isn’t and lean on the signal caller to lead them to victory. JMU 38 Coastal 24. 

What’s the best Thanksgiving side?

Bennett: I’m team stuffing. I’m not eating stuffing any other time of the year, but it hits the spot on Thanksgiving. I love that stuff, man. 

Green bean casserole deserves an honorable mention. Talk about an underrated side! I’ll eat just about anything on Thanksgiving to be fair. It’s all usually good. 

Jack: Green bean casserole and it is not up for a debate.

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