Observations from JMU Football’s 2024 Spring Game

Photo courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Daniel Merriman

JMU football officially entered the Bob Chesney era Saturday, as the Dukes played their first official contest in front of fans at Bridgeforth Stadium under Chesney.

JMU’s offense won the annual spring game by a score of 30-29, and the Dukes had a mix of returners and transfers impress. The younger members of JMU’s program had some stellar moments as well. Here are some key takeaways from the exhibition.

Receivers showcase promise

Linebacker Jacob Dobbs reminds himself and the team daily, “If you are juiceless, you are useless.” Well, quarterback Dylan Morris and wide receiver Cam Ross had the juice today.

Morris, the team’s projected QB1, looked for Ross plenty of times and made several completions throughout the afternoon. Ross had a key first-down conversion in the opening quarter and became Morris’ first read throughout the majority of the game. 

Ross has lightning speed and a diverse route tree. Ross looks to be a major part of Morris’ targets this fall. The 5’10” UConn transfer is well-positioned to be WR1. He will have stiff competition for that spot from returning ECU transfer Taji Hudson.

Dylan Williams looks like the real deal. He scored a touchdown and snagged an incredible one-handed catch in the 1v1 competition period. He is a jump ball threat with his already impressive frame (6’1 and 193 lbs). Even as a freshman, he was a dominant force as a pass catcher.

“This dude is going to be something special … He’s a freak athlete, has massive hands, catches everything near him, and works his tail off,” Morris said.

The early enrollee freshman could be JMU’s next star wide receiver in due time.

Deep running back room

The running back room is full of talent this year. Projected starter Ayo Adeyi showed his explosiveness and versatility all day. He was backed up by George Pettaway, who showed an elite burst in the gaps. 

Pettaway ripped off a 38-yard TD after exploding through the tackles. Overall, the run blocking showed immense promise in comparison to last year’s ground game. The Dukes ranked 12th in the Sun Belt in 2023 in rushing yards per game, averaging 134.2 per game and fewer than four yards per carry.

There were almost no procedural penalties and zero turnovers for the offense in the spring game. Behind that stout JMU O-line, Solomon Vanhorse contributed great production, too. He averaged 10+ yards per carry in the first half on three attempts. 

JMU had tons of backfield talent last year but found their most success using that room as pass catchers. While pass catching will be a big part of the RBs’ job this fall, the rushing game appears to be thoroughly reinvented this year.

“There was a couple of really clean run plays,” head coach Bob Chesney said. “We hit a couple of things inside that I thought opened up really nicely.”

Young safeties could see immediate time

KJ Flowe, Chase Regan, and Evan Spivey impressed thoroughly in JMU’s safety room. This position group has tons of opportunities for a young player to become a starter. Five safeties graduated last year and few returners played quality snaps.

Sophomore DJ Barksdale and junior Jacob Thomas have been touted throughout spring ball. However, the young guns stepped up and made plays in Harrisonburg.

“Spivey did a really good job, he did a couple of things that I thought stood out,” Chesney said of the redshirt freshman.  

The other two freshman safeties (Flowe and Regan) also have incredible potential. Thomas is projected to be a starter but one of these youngsters could easily be alongside him when fall camp is complete.

Eyes on special 2024

Today’s festivities provide exciting insights into what fall football could look like. JMU’s high school recruits and transfer portal additions will pay dividends this year.

The Dukes have plenty of room to grow and improve, especially on the defensive side. However, they still look well positioned to be extremely competitive in the Sun Belt and possibly contend for the Group of Five berth into the College Football Playoff.

“Very similar to the blueprint that was laid here last year … You’re going to have to put yourself in position to probably come out of this thing with a pretty unblemished record,” Chesney said.

The Dukes have a lot of steps between now and then, but that’s the goal. 

“It is a tall task but it is one that our guys are setting their sights on to some level,” Chesney said.

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