James Madison Football 2018 Preview, Analysis, and Predictions

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Many JMU supporters were disappointed after JMU couldn’t bring home a second straight National Championship last year after losing to the Duke’s newest rival in North Dakota State 17-13 in Frisco. However, it’s hard to be upset after Dukes put up an undefeated regular season, boasting some gaudy numbers along the way, even in the playoffs against stiff competition. The Dukes return a number of key starters on both sides of the ball, but make no mistake, they’re losing a number of key leaders. That all being said, Mike Houston’s squad should be expected to win the CAA title for a fourth season and make a deep run into the playoffs as a top 8 seed.

Key additions and losses by position: JMU did get bit by the senior bug a bit following their 14-1 national championship runner-up season. However, they return a decent number of players on offense and defense to still make a run at a third straight national title appearance.

QB: Gone is stud QB Bryan Schor which is without a doubt the biggest loss for the Dukes. Schor broke the record for most TDs thrown in JMU history and most passing yards in JMU history as well while proving he was a leader on the offensive side of the ball. Schor lead the Dukes to two 14-1 seasons as a starter and a national championship in 2016. But he’s gone to training with the Chicago Bears and now the Dukes must turn to Sophomore Cole Johnson, who spent a season behind Schor last year. The kid has the talent but is greatly unproven on the college stage and is said to still be very raw. The other option for the Dukes is Junior Pittsburgh transfer Ben DiNucci who, while having more experience, has more INTs thrown in his 2 college years than TDs. I’d personally give the edge to DiNucci but I believe the two will share some of the play-calling duties on the year.

RB: Another slight area of concern for the Dukes is in the back field. Marcus Marshall, Trai Sharpe, and Cardon Johnson getting a majority of the load as the Dukes again will use multiple backs as they have for the past many years. While Marshall finally broke out a bit in the playoffs, he had injury issues as well. Trai Sharp is a consistent performer and Cardon Johnson is returning from a season-ending injury last year will be the Dukes main power back. But at times during the regular season, the Dukes struggled out of the back field and relied too heavily on Schor to bail them out with his arm. With Schor gone, The Dukes will need to have a consistent running game if Johnson or DiNucci don’t perform near Schor’s standards.

WR: One of the strongest areas for the Dukes is in their wideout position. While big time players like Terrance Alls, Ishmael Hyman, and John Miller are gone, UVA transfer David Eldridge and playoff-standout Riley Stapleton will be big targets for whichever QB is on the field for the Dukes. Ezrah Archie and Hunter Etheridge sghould also get more looks in the passing game.

TE: A big area of concern is in the tight end position where fan-favorite Jonathan Kloosterman graduated and leaves a big hole for Clayton Cheatham to fill. Cheatham is also following in the footsteps of his bigger brother Dean Cheatham who was also a TE for the Dukes. Younger brother Clayton will be a sophomore and if he’s as good as his brother, JMU will be fine, but that’s still to be determined.

OL: The Dukes return most of their Offensive Line from last year but the loss of Aaron Stinnie will be felt. Tyree Chavious and E.J. Donahue will be returning to what will be a young OL for the Dukes.

DL: CAA Defensive player of the year Andrew Ankrah and defensive stalwart Simeyon Robinson will be other biggest losses for the Dukes along with Cornell Urquhart. The defensive line is young and will be the major difference for the Dukes. If the DL can get pressure in the back field, the Dukes will again be a major force to be reckoned with on defense. But the line will be almost all underclassmen and will need to grow up fast to compete with some strong OL’s in the CAA.

Linebackers: Brandon Hereford and Kyrie Hawkins have both graduated and both were clogged up the middle of the field with the best of them. Much like the DL, the LBs will be young and hungry but unproven and will need to at least meet expectations for the Dukes to be stellar on defense again.

S/CB: What was the scariest group in FCS football last year gets a bit weaker this year. Safeties Jordan Brown and Raven Greene and Corner backs Rashad Robinson and Jimmy Moreland were lethal in every aspect throughout the year and had over 30 INTs between the two of them. While Moreland and Robinson return for their senior years, Greene and Brown are gone. But a new crop of safeties have come in to prove themselves and no doubt the Dukes should be strong in defending the passing game once again.

Game Preview and Predictions: 

Week 1: 9/1- @ NC State- The Dukes kickoff the 2018 season in Raleigh, NC at Carter-Finley Stadium to face the Wolfpack. The Dukes have won 2 of their last 3 meetings against FBS foes with wins over SMU in 2015 and ECU last year with the loss coming at the NC State’s crosstown rival UNC in 2016. While 2 wins over FBS teams looks nice on paper, ECU and SMU are not strong programs and the Duke’s win last year at ECU was not particularly surprising. However, a win over NC State would be far more surprising. The Wolfpack are coming off a 9-4 season with a big win in the Sun Bowl and wins over a couple rank opponents. The Dukes will hang around for a bit and I would imagine they’ll put up a couple TD’s but don’t expect a win here as the Wolfpack should pull away in the end.

NC State win 43-17

Week 2: 9/8- @Norfolk State-  A bit of a surprise when the schedule came out to see the Dukes traveling to Norfolk State. The Dukes usually open the season playing two easier squads at home as warm-up games but the venue shouldn’t make much of a difference. JMU put up 75 on the Spartans at home last year and nearly set the school record in offensive yards in a game. The Dukes should have no trouble putting up big numbers again.

Dukes win 54-10

Week 3: 9/15- Home vs Robert Morris- The Dukes open up Bridgeforth in week 3 to face the NEC foe Robert Morris. This will be the first of only five home games for the Dukes on the season, a low mark considering the usual 6 game home slate. The Colonials have only won eight games in four seasons and shouldn’t pose much of a threat to the Dukes. Expect a blow out for the home opener.

Dukes win 48-7

Week 4: 9/22- Home vs W&M- The Tribe of William and Mary come to town foe the Dukes’ second straight home game as JMU opens CAA play. Jim Laycock and his staff had to endure a torturous season last year after going 2-9 and winless in conference play. The long-tenured manger hasn’t endured a season like that in, well, ever, but his teams usually give the Dukes some fits. JMU coasted by the Tribe last year 46-14 but don’t expect this one to be nearly as much of a blowout. Still the friendly confines of Bridgeforth should prove the difference to continue JMU’s unbeaten home win streak.

Dukes win 31-17.

Week 5: 9/29- @Richmond- The Spiders will host the Dukes in the State’s capital in the teams’ earliest calendar meeting in a quarter century, The long-time rivalry has featured some memorable games and this year shouldn’t be any different. Both starting QBs are gone from last year’s game and while on paper the Dukes are a deeper squad, Richmond is battle tested, hungry, and knows how to win big games. Expect this to be one of the better contests of the year in the CAA.

Dukes win 34-31

Week 6: 10/6- Home vs Elon- JMU returns home for Family Weekend to face the Phoenix of Elon. Elon are still the “newcomers” to the conference and have never beaten JMU nor have they even come that close. They were the surprise of the conference last year, finishing 3rd and making the playoffs while being ranked #20 in the nation. But the Dukes breezed right by them in the final game of the season. The Phoenix are young and raw and I expect they’ll build on their impressive season last year but I wouldn’t expect the Dukes to have any issues especially at home.

Dukes win 31-13

Week 7: 10/13- @Villanova- Another tough match-up for the Dukes who have to travel to Pennsylvania to face the Wildcats. This is around the time each year when the Dukes will either decide to be a championship caliber team, or peter out. While the Cats only finished 5-6 last year while missing the playoffs and were destroyed on ESPN Gameday by JMU last year this may still prove a tough game. Villanova brings a good football crowd and they’ll want to be the ones to knock off JMU. Will they do it? Not quite. Expect a low scoring affair.

Dukes win 20-13

Week 8: BYE- and a perfect time to have a BYE before 2 conference defining match-ups

Week 9: 10/27- Home vs Stony Brook- The Dukes missed having to face the other fairly new newcomers to the conference last year. But the two teams were 1 and 2 in the CAA standings and met in the second round of the FCS playoffs in Harrisonburg. The Dukes would win that battle fairly comfortably in the end but be warned, the Seawolves pack a strong defensive punch and are on the rise and if they can keep JMU’s offense in check, this may go their way.

Dukes win 24-20

Week 10: 11/3- @New Hampshire- Alright on paper this appears to be the match-up of the season. UNH is a perennial playoff team and made it to the National Quarterfinals last year. They bring back a host of starters from last year and the game is in New Hampshire where I imagine the game will be about 4 degrees (okay exaggerating a little but you never know). While I don’t agree UNH is a #3 ranked team they’re definitely top 10 and will give the Dukes a run. If this were last year’s team I’d say the Dukes win. But a cold night at UNH is where the Duke’s 2 and a half year run of CAA wins will come to an end.

UNH wins 27-17

Week 11: 11/10- Home vs Rhode Island- After a daunting run of games, the Dukes return to Bridgeforth for their final home regular season game as they’ll take on the Rams from Rhode Island. The Dukes massacred the rams by 35 last year and despite URI not finishing dead last in the CAA last year (which if you follow CAA football, you know is surprising) they still won’t pose much of a threat.

Dukes win 55-7

Week 12: 11/17- @Towson- The Dukes finish their season on the road in Maryland to face the Towson Tigers. The Tigers were a middle of the pack team last year, finishing 5-6 overall but should have plenty of familiar faces for the Dukes to contend against. Look for it to be close for a bit before the Dukes pull away.

Dukes win 38-20

I’m predicting JMU to finish the year 9-2(7-1) with the loan important loss to UNH looming. This is definitely a optimistic outlook based off of the last few seasons. We have no idea what the Dukes will get out of the QB position and another big question is how will the Dukes fair in the trenches on both sides of the ball. If all goes according to plan or expectations are exceed, JMU could run the table in the CAA again. UNH may not be the team experts think they are. But with the three toughest games all being on the road, the Dukes could also finish 5-3 in conference and have to deal with a first round game as opposed to getting a bye.

Final Thoughts: To be quite frank, the Dukes were lucky to make it to the semifinals last year and I don’t see them getting by the quarterfinals this year. This team does not have the same talent we as the JMU community have adored the past two seasons and the CAA is better than it was last year.

I could hear all the frustration in the Weber State game last year because the newest of JMU fans aren’t used to losing as they haven’t seen a home loss in 2 years. JMU should defend Bridgeforth as it has for the last half decade, but another undefeated regular season (even if you forego the probably loss at NC State) is unlikely. That all being said, Mile Houston has instilled a new mindset, a new breed in Harrisonburg and it’ll stay that way for some time to come.

Ian Dacey

Follow on twitter @daceyij

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MLS: DC United v. Columbus Crew – 3/24/18 – Player Ratings

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Yamil Asad and Luciano Acosta combined for possibly the goal of the season so far for the Black and Red but it was in a futile and ultimately depressing 3-1 loss to the Columbus Crew on a cloudy Saturday afternoon.  The two MLS originals clashed in front of a small but engaged crowd at the MAPFRE Stadium.  A lot of high pressure from the visitors seemed to have the hosts rattled but 3 significant breakdowns on the defensive end let the Crew ease their way to victory.  First it was some unfortunate bounces and perhaps overzealous defending from Mora which allowed a low cross to sneak past both center backs and a lunging DeLeon to find a wide open Crew player who easily slotted home.  Second a completely unmarked Ricardo Clark (of 2010 WC USvGhana infamy) made a near post run and looped a header up and over Ousted.  Then in a mirror image of the first goal a counter coming down DeLeon’s side found a cross slip past both center defenders and a lunging Mora falling to a wide open Crew player who made no mistake, essentially killing off the match before half.  In and amongst these breakdowns was some very solid play from United.  The high pressure resulted in a turnover very early and the newly restored Paul Arriola played an inch perfect pass through to a streaking Mattocks who’s first touch was about as good as a fifty year old drunk dude playing Sunday morning pick-up in the park.  Kempin easily smothered the chance.  The best moment came when a long ball skidded off the head of a crew defender letting Acosta latch onto it in all kinds of space.  Mattocks near post run collapsed the defense and Acosta picked out the trailing Asad who used the defender as a shield to bend the ball into a perfect upper ninety finish.  The questionable officiating didn’t help matters but after halftime United looked as disinterested as a cat is in water.

Three Thoughts:

Need to show ability to overcome poor officiating – The match was marred with poor decisions.  None was as impactful as the inexplicable decision to not at the very least award a foul when Abubakar made a two-footed, studs up lunge at Acosta.  It should’ve been a yellow which would’ve reduced the Crew to 10 men (Abubakar was already on a yellow for earlier tackling stupidity).  Instead the Crew launched a counter attack that resulted in the third goal and essentially ended the game.  While Olsen and the players were rightly outraged, the eleven on the pitch need to set this aside and buckle down.  Olsen’s job is to help the team with the outside distractions.  Let him argue with the officials while the players need to come out with more intensity and determination than ever.  That non-call took all the positives that DC had shown up to that point and totally  nullified them.  Olsen’s teams in past have at the very least been fighters, no matter the odds.  It is very concerning that last season and the start of this (outside of the second half against Houston) have shown a real lack of conviction in their system when faced with adversity.

Collapsing centrally conceded goals – This is more of a tactical/strategy argument than a real critique of the team.  I’m assuming the defenders have been instructed by the coaching staff to collapse/shift to the most central attacker when the attack is coming down the opposite side.  On face value this makes logical sense.  The closest attacker to the goal and the ball is the most dangerous.  So shifting off your usual mark and covering that attacker is understandable.  However, this defensive strategy resulted directly in a Columbus winger being left completely alone on the backside of the play, which allowed him to easily slot home a goal when the ball came all the way across to him.  There are a couple of points to be made here.  First, the defensive strategy works if, when sliding centrally, you also guard against the cross-field switch of the ball along the floor.  A cross-field switch through the air isn’t a concern as the time the ball spends in the air will allow the defense to re-position to block any ensuing attack.  This was clearly demonstrated on the first and third goals when DeLeon and Mora nearly got to the low crosses but came up inches short.  This is completely unacceptable.  They needed to either win the ball or recognize they wouldn’t get there and shift to block in front of the attacker. The second point is that stronger communication along the back-line would also solve the problem.  Either, the midfielders need to be alerted to the shift and drop in to cover the backside or the central defenders need to stay more anchored in the middle instead of shifting out wide to the incoming attack which allows the backside defender to stay put and eliminate the situational danger.  On the first goal Birnbaum shifted left to help in case Mora was beat, Brillant shifted into Birnbaum’s spot, and DeLeon collapsed into the middle to Brillant’s spot leaving DeLeon’s mark wide open.  On the third goal the exact opposite occurred.  Brillant shifted to help DeLeon, Birnbaum slid to cover Brillant, and Mora collapsed centrally leaving the backside yet again undefended.  Hopefully during film sessions this week DC will straighten out this glaring weakness.  If not we will be in for a long season as teams will easily pick us apart.

Continued (painful) growth –  Once again 45 minutes showed serious potential for the Black and Red.  As has been the case now in three out of four games, DC has put together a solid 45 minutes.  It was particularly unfortunate this time as DC still managed to find themselves down 3-1 despite all of the good moments they produced.  The high press from the kickoff was particularly encouraging as it gave the Crew all kinds of fits and starts.  If Mattocks had taken a better touch it may even have resulted in a lead.  The second half was like night and day.  A completely deflated bunch trudged onto the pitch after halftime and showed none of the spark or enthusiasm that had categorized their first half.  It is getting repetitive, old, worn, and hollow to note “growth” from this team without 3 points at the final whistle.  If the team can keep faith and continue to work at the little things there have been enough sparks through the first 4 matches of 2018 to suggest that this could be a potent group of players.  But very quickly this excuse is running dry.  Some may want to employ it until we christen Audi Field but at that point it may be too late for this season.  We need to change growth into three points at least a couple times before we return home.

 

Player Ratings (1-10 scale):

Ousted: 4 – None of the goals were totally his fault.  He was hung out to dry on all 3 opportunities.  But when you’re stepping into Bill Hamid’s shoes, the miraculous is expected.  Unfortunately the Dane never came close to producing any miraculous moments.

 

Mora: 4 – I wanted to grade the new addition higher but when you concede 3 goals as a defender you have to do something on the offensive end to raise this grade.  He rarely showed up in our attacking third and was culpable in part on both the first and third goals.

Birnbaum: 4 – Same as Mora.  Maybe fell asleep on the second goal which is worryingly similar to his performance last year.  He’s quickly kissing any national team career goodbye unless he seriously buckles down.

Brillant: 4 – Continues to be a strong anchor for this defense but wasn’t on his game.  Simply overwhelmed too many times.  Wasn’t able to organize the team defensively as much as was needed.

DeLeon: 4 – Yet again a disappointing defensive performance.  Honestly looked better when shifted back to midfield late in the second half.  Maybe it’s time to use him as an impact sub on the wings and see if Odi-Atsem is a legitimate answer.  Then again, maybe they already know he’s not and we simply don’t have any other options at the moment.

 

Harkes: 4 – Not a great 2018 debut start for the legend’s son.  Wasn’t able to consistently provide an outlet or a link to the rest of his team.  Didn’t help cover defensively enough either.  Still looks somewhat raw.  Hopefully he can develop into a real piece as the year goes on.

Durkin: 5 – Great debut start for the homegrown youngster, all things considering.  There were the occasional mistakes that were to be expected with a poor touch or pass or maybe a little slow on recover but all in all he provided a calming defensive presence in the midfield that was really in pretty stark contrast to any of Harkes’ performance to date.  I’m really hoping Ben considers getting him more and more starts as the year progresses to build him into a full-time starter by the end of the year (if not mid-year when Audi Field opens).

 

Asad: 6 – Beautifully taken goal.  Did show some connection starting to develop with Mora.  Could’ve done more defensively.  For as electric as he’s shown he can be in certain moments, I have not felt we’ve seen a complete game performance from the big off-season acquisition.

Acosta: 6 – Gets my MoM pretty much by default.  Typical Lucho performance.  Danced on the ball.  Found some good passes.  Lost the ball.  Put in some decent defensive work.  Couldn’t quite be the game-changer that he is when we truly shine.

Arriola: 5 – Should’ve had an assist on the day.  Played a fantastically weighted ball through to Mattocks early in the match.  Did link up well with Acosta and Mattocks on a couple other occasions.  But largely disappeared for big chunks of this match.  Didn’t seem to track back to his usual standard, which was particularly noticeable with DeLeon’s continued struggles.

 

Mattocks: 4 – His so-so performances continue.  After such a positive showing against Houston he reverted to the Orlando version.  Had some connection with the midfield trio behind him but couldn’t really generate any offense from those passes.  Did a decent job pressuring Columbus high up the pitch out of the gate which was encouraging.  Spoiled his best chance when played in by Arriola thanks to one of the worst touches you’ll ever see from a professional.  Should get credit for making a critical and good run to the near post on the DC goal.  Became less effective as the half wore on.  Maybe a little hard done by to get yanked at half but if it was injury related, completely understandable.

 

Subs:

Mullins: 4 – Didn’t seem to provide anything different from Mattocks.  He’s clearly slower and while the goal may have been to provide more of a straight up attacking option I’m not sure he even got a shot off.

Odi-Atsem: 5 – Showed some pace and enthusiasm upon entering.  Didn’t really result in much but was still technically a positive.

Jeffrey: NA – Stepped on in stoppage time.  Seemed more of a time wasting sub.  Which is odd coming from a team down 2 goals.

 

Olsen: 3 – This may be a bit harsh but his subs made little to no impact.  And I have to believe based on the mirror images of goals 1 and 3 for Columbus that the shifting of the back line was a coaches tactical strategy that they had worked on during the week.  Hopefully he’ll use the bye week to rethink and retrain.

 

With the Toronto match getting rescheduled thanks to their CCL commitments we get a welcomed rest.  Hopefully the extra week off will get us prepared for a visit to the Blue Hell.  Honestly I think this could be one of our better chances at a full 3 points if we actually put together a full 90 minutes for the first time this year.

As much as I dislike what they have done to us in recent matches, losing Columbus would be very painful.  The home of Dos a Cero needs to be preserved.  #SaveTheCrew

Vamos United!

MLS: DCU v Houston Dynamo – 3/17/18 – Player Ratings

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DC played a “home game” at their traditional Open Cup venue.  It provided a very intimate setting in the quaint Maryland countryside.  The snow added to the spectacle making it a very odd match.  Looked much more like an EFL League 1 or 2 match than a true top league setting.  United has to be disappointed to come away with only a point, considering it’s one of 2 “home” matches before July and the goals they conceded were hardly from creative skill or effort on the part of the Dynamo.  But, as hollow as this may sound, it showed good character to overcome such blatant errors and a two goal deficit.  With this team so new to each other hopefully despite the difficult early season schedule this developing chemistry starts paying off with a couple wins so that we can open Audi field with some serious quality.

Quick Thoughts:

Unbelievable errors easily punished – It’s hard to really analyze this much because these were blatant errors that you don’t expect to see past U9 level.  Asad provided a lazy back pass to no one in black and red that was easily punished by the Dynamo.  The back line and Ousted were completely hung out to dry.  Then Brillant made things even worse by blindly playing a soft horizontal pass towards Mora after the Costa Rican had already turned his back and started moving up and out of the defensive third.  Again the table was set for the Dynamo and they did not spoil the chance.  Houston was even presented a couple more chances late in the match though not any on the horrible level of these first two.  In the end you couldn’t even blame anyone in the sequences other than the passer because they were played in such inopportune locations that literally nobody was left with a chance to put up any real defense.  These errors have to stop immediately if DC wants any chance of being in a position to make a playoff charge once we open Audi Field.

Resilience/Development – As I noted above, this is very hollow sounding.  And I recognize that Olsen is at the end of his leash either this year or next but his comments after the game were correct.  It was very disappointing especially considering the circumstances of the first two goals but it has to be recognized that this group has only been together as a team for about a month and pieces are still changing.  It looks like they may be figuring things out.  A good first half in Orlando was bettered by the second half against Houston.  Now we need a full match performance.  Getting it against Columbus may be a tough ask but it needs to start sooner than later and building off of this matches momentum may be one of the best chances to make a road winning streak more than a wish.

A LEFT BACK – Joseph Mora could be the best left back DC United has ever had.  Last week’s Atlanta match was so poor that I didn’t bother doing a post but if I had the 2 grades for Fisher would’ve averaged to somewhere in the region of a 8.  He nearly earned man of the match honors.  He was tenacious defensively, making several strong challenges.  He got forward well.  Combined with teammates nicely.  Dave Kasper and Ben Olsen deserve strong plaudits for this find.  Taylor Kemp will be reserved for a backup roll and Fisher may not last the season.  The concern now shifts to the right flank where Nick Deleon stood out like a sore thumb.  Can Mora just play both flanks at the same time?

 

Player Ratings (1-10 Scale):

Ousted: 5 – Neither goal was his fault.  He was completely hung out to dry on both.  If you want to give him credit for being big and cause some glaring misses this grade could be higher but he never really made (or was forced to make) any saves.

 

Mora: 8 – What an absolute revelation! Anybody who wants to know how to play left back, pop in this tape and watch Mora.  Fantastic from start to finish.  Laid his body on the line.  Looked like he had been with this team for months (minus Brillant who was completely at fault for a pathetically weak horizontal ball played after Mora had already turned away and moved upfield).

Birnbaum: 5 – Very quiet game.  Got screwed by Asad on the first Houston goal.  Got screwed by Brillant on the second Houston goal.  Not really involved springing attack and didn’t provide any highlight real defending.

Brillant: 5 – Nabs the assist on Acosta’s equalizer which somewhat makes up for his glaring first half error when he looked like the player who had just joined the team on Thursday (not Mora).  Did make some Fabregas-esque long balls out of the back in the second half which also brought up this grade.  Had his first half not been a complete dumpster fire his grade would’ve been much closer to Mora’s.

DeLeon: 3 – Looked like he had been studying Fischer for how to defend.  Continually gave the ball away.  It is shocking that we didn’t concede a goal down his side.  Though at least once he was spared extra blushes by Atlanta not even putting a shot on target when gifted an absolute sitter.

 

Segura: 5 – Nothing really positive or negative.  Made a couple of tackles and connected some passes but really wasn’t an influence on the game at all.

Moreno: 4 – Needed to help provide an outlet more often.  Went missing for long stretches of the match and didn’t seem to have a clean touch or pass very often.

 

Asad: 3 – Easily his worst performance in the black and red of DC.  Sloppy every time the ball came to him.  Put the ball on the platter for Houston with an unbelievably horrid back-pass.  Didn’t provide good service off corners.  Hopefully it was just the snowy weather throwing the young phenom off.

Acosta: 5 – Named man of the match by MLS and the DCU broadcast team.  I was less than impressed.  His grade would’ve been negative if it wasn’t for his stoppage time finish.  Far too often he tried to dance on the ball in the midfield around four and five Dynamo players and lost it every time.  It was exciting to see him beat three and four players regularly but he needs to develop a better sense of when to get rid of the ball.  I know Ben’s system doesn’t help him with that but it’s unacceptable for a professional to try and hold the ball that long against that many players.

Stieber: 5 – He was very active and did create some opportunities but never found a good final ball.  A lot was made of him shifting out wide at the start and he didn’t look bad.  However it doesn’t help his cause that a lot of DCU’s fight in the match came after Arriola replaced the Hungarian.

 

Mattocks: 9 – His best performance in the black and red and I’ll give him man of the match.  Scored a great goal after some solid combination play with Mora.  Didn’t fade down the stretch like he did in Orlando.  Showed some great fight to put pressure on the Dynamo defense, win the ball, and hold the ball up.  Hopefully his chemistry with the team will continue to develop.

 

Subs:

Arriola: 6 – Wasn’t super clean (he basically never is) but did help provide some pace and tenacity.  It was a very typical/expected performance for the USMNT youngster.  Came super close to getting on the end of a cross from Mattocks.  Those two seem to be linking quite nicely.

Durkin: 8 – I almost gave him the man of the match, such was the impact his addition to the match brought.  Got stuck in and provided a serious defensive steel in the midfield that we had been lacking.  Also dropped a couple dimes after winning or receiving the ball.  Looked very Kitchen-esque with perhaps an even better passing touch.  I really hope he gets a chance from the start this weekend.

Mullins: 5 – Not a fantastic showing.  He did bustle about and try to get involved but really wasn’t ever a real part in the proceedings.

 

Olsen: 7 – Clearly got all his substitutes spot on and it’s rather hard to argue with the starting line up either.  The complete bone-headed mistakes that led to the two goals can hardly be solidly connected to him.  He and Kasper deserve huge credit for getting Mora in and inserting him immediately.

 

The road gets tougher this weekend in Columbus. #SaveTheCrew

Vamos United!

 

Political Minute No. 3 – Freedom of Speech

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Freedom of speech is a hallmark of American Democracy.  It is a staple in our society and is safeguarded in our Constitution.  This has taken many forms throughout our history.  Today it is amazingly still under attack, and from the current White House administration no less!  The White House takes issue with any criticisms the press aims its way, legitimate or not.  This is perhaps to be expected with the current occupant.  But what has really spurred a lot of this conversation in larger society stems from a seemingly small protest started three years ago at a professional football game.  During the second preseason game of the 2016 NFL season, Colin Kaepernick chose to sit instead of stand during the national anthem.  During the final game of that preseason Kaepernick switched from sitting to kneeling in an attempt to show more respect for military members while still drawing attention to the social issues he felt were being neglected in the United States.  He is currently out of a job, and many blame his anthem protest as the reason behind his apparent blacklisting.  However, the movement has started to gain steam and now the entire league is grappling with the issue as entire teams participate.

I must confess that my opinions on the anthem protests have changed over time.  When Kaepernick initially began this, I was bothered.  I did feel it was disrespectful and out of line.  I now realize that I was completely and utterly wrong.  Not only was I naïve in not seeing the extent of the racial issues this country is still battling, but I failed to appreciate the statement being made and the respect that was still held by the protestors.  I always used to put my hand over my heart and sing the national anthem whenever it was played before a game.  I vividly remember in high school being complimented by a parent as I was one of the very few, if not only one on our soccer team to place my hand on my heart during the anthem.  I now no longer sing nor place my hand on my heart during the anthem.

It is not out of a disrespect for our military; this seems to be the most common criticism hurled at the protestors.  The men and women serving our country deserve the utmost respect, appreciation, and support from every single citizen in the United States.  I still feel I do all of those things; if I ever get the chance, I thank any service member, police officer, fire fighter, etc. for all they do for this country.  However, I no longer feel the connection to the nation that would lead me to place my hand on my heart and sing the anthem.

In my mind, placing your hand on your heart and pledging something means that it matters deeply to you.  You are making a promise and supporting something.  You identify with it so much that it is in your heart. Despite the Department of Defense’s best attempts, by funneling money into professional football,  it does not signify respect or support for the military or government.  It is an impactful, weighted action that comes with significant meaning.  I no longer identify with the United States.  I feel more pride listening to “O, Canada” than “The Star Spangled Banner.”  I chose to stand, hands at my side or behind my back, out of respect for the United States.  I would stand out of respect for any nation’s anthem when it is played.  For me the United States is now simply another nation to which I will offer respect but I will not pledge my allegiance.  And I can have no serious complaint against those who choose to express similar sentiments in their own way.

Any pride at being an American vanished on November 8th, 2016.  I used to feel hope that despite all of the problems in our country we continued to move forward and work to address them; we may not have always been successful but the overall trend was forward.  I no longer have those feelings.  Yes ,Hillary Clinton may have won the popular vote, but any country that could have that many people vote for (or not even bother to vote against) a misogynistic, egotistical, sexual predator is not a country of mine.

Wrapping this back to freedom of speech, anthem protests are just that, a freedom of speech.  When Trump actively attacks them and NFL owners threaten those engaging in free speech, they are going against core fundamental American beliefs.  Of course freedom of speech can be abused.  Look to the Neo-Nazi protests in Charlottesville.  When one’s freedom of speech is leading to physical harm of others that is when one’s freedom stops.  Speech is powerful.  Yes, it is only words or an expression of oneself.  But it has the ability to incite dangerous situations in society.  When words reach that level, they are no longer protected by the Constitution; hence why you can’t randomly shout fire in a theater.  Everyone deserves the ability to express themselves through speech, no matter which side of an issue one falls.  However, the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution does not guarantee freedom to say anything. Lines are drawn at such things as libel, slander, inciting panic or violence.  This past August in Charlottesville, VA the Neo-Nazi’s were not protected by freedom of speech because of the violence they incited.  In comparison, kneeling or simply standing and not participating in an anthem is not a violation of others safety and is protected under freedom of speech.

Now more than ever, freedom of speech must be championed in this country.  You may not always like what the other side is saying but they have a right to their opinions and to verbalize them.  It doesn’t mean we have to listen.  We do have to protect everyone’s rights.  The press must continue to fight the oppressive White House and publish the truth.  Those facing oppression and injustice must continue to speak out.  America can only truly be great when we can trumpet our ideals honestly and openly.  Continued hypocrisy will only serve to further erode this country from within as well as on the global stage.

MLS: DC United v. Orlando City – 3/3/18 – Player Ratings

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DC United kicked off the 2018 season on the road (a phrase that will be used A LOT to start this season) in Orlando.  With an overhauled and much younger roster the Black and Red managed to get a point to kick off what is virtually a 14 game road trip (2 “home” games in Maryland don’t count).  There were some positives but in the end I’m sure Ben is upset at squandering a golden chance at 3 points.  With Atlanta United up next, hopefully DC can get another positive road result and breath some serious optimism into this season.

Quick Thoughts:

New Beginnings… – 7 new to DC players started this match (Ousted, Brillant, Fisher, Moreno, Segura, Asad, and Mattocks) and an eighth (Durkin) made his debut as a sub.  Things looked promising from the start with the higher energy level than in years past coinciding with the decreased overall age of the starting 11.  Asad marked his debut with a goal and Brillant had the other DC highlight, clearing a goal off the line.  Despite having so many new pieces communication didn’t seem to be a huge issue but…

…Previous year’s demons return –  … down the stretch this group showed it still has a lot to learn.  Up a man and a goal for 50 minutes and only emerging with a point is simply not good enough at a professional level.  Hunkering back deep into our own half allowed Orlando to build pressure and crash wave after wave of attack against our goal, finally breaking through in stoppage time.  There was also a worrying return of a completely anemic attack.  Mattocks all on his own had a penalty saved, fouled up a break away, one on one chance, and just all in all looked active but completely ineffective when it came to the final product.  Mullins came on and looked even worse.  He failed to hold the ball in the corner in stoppage time, instead electing to send in a horrid cross.  Orlando, presented with the chance to put together a final attack, punished the black and red.

Mixed bag of defense – Ahead of the season, all the analysts continually harped on DC’s defense.  They may have showed better than some predicted but there is still clearly a ways to go.  Oniel Fisher really didn’t look like he had ever played defense before in his life.  Brillant on the other hand cleared a goal off the line and even looked dangerous attacking corners in the opponents end.  Birnbaum was fairly steady.  DeLeon had some good moments, but wasn’t afraid to mimic his new Jamaican teammate’s ineptitude.  News of an incoming left back from Costa Rica could be a huge boost to this unit.

 

 

Player Ratings: (1-10 Scale)

Ousted: 5 – It’s hard to compare him to Hamid who built himself into a legend in black and red but you have to think the former number 1 might have found a way to preserve the clean sheet.  On the flip side it’s hard to fault him for his debut as he generally took good angles and seemed to have all real opportunities stopped.

 

Fisher: 2 – Despite skewering the Jamaican left back above, I felt he showed some promise going forward which earned him the 2.  He looked to have some good attacking combinations with Asad when he overlapped with the midfield.  Unfortunately he’s getting paid to defend and at times we would’ve been served better putting a stationary practice dummy on the corner of the box.  The goal also came down his side.

Brillant: 6 – Easily the stand out of the defense.  Put in a performance reminiscent of Bobby Boswell a couple years ago.  Looked to be getting very vocal with his teammates.  Could develop into a captain over the course of the season.

Birnbaum: 5 – Tentatively looks like he’s putting last season’s horrors away.  Didn’t do anything to really stand out but did manage to partner pretty well with Brillant, not allowing many chances across the full 90 minutes.

DeLeon: 4 – Showed some good defensive positioning and strength in the first half.  Badly faded down the stretch.  For somebody who seems to pretty much be locked in as an every game starter at right back he’ll need to develop a lot more consistency very very quickly.

 

Moreno: 4 – Was alright.  Generally did a good job shielding the back line but couldn’t keep possession often enough.  Failed to help pick up Pinho on the equalizer.

 

Asad: 6 – Marked his debut with a (somewhat fortunate) goal.  Early returns indicating he will repay DC’s investment in the former Atlanta star.  It will be very exciting to see if he and Acosta can link of with Arriola and Mattocks to develop a seriously deadly attack.

Segura: 4 – Similar to Moreno.  Buzzed around but faded and simply couldn’t hold possession.  Was shifted wide later in the game and didn’t seem to grasp all his responsibilities.  Allowed Spector to bomb up the wing in stoppage time and deliver the winning cross.  Not a very good way to end your debut.

Stieber: 5 – Decent day as he wasn’t really caught on the ball much.  But couldn’t help us keep possession down the stretch and didn’t really get any kind of chemistry with Mattocks.  Had one decent crack from distance in the second half but otherwise was pretty ineffective.  Should fall to the bench with Acosta returning from suspension next weekend.

Arriola: 5 – Gave exactly what we’ve come to expect from the speedster.  Lots of pace.  Lots of tenacity.  Not always there when it comes to the final ball.

 

Mattocks: 4 – This may be a bit high for the former Timber and Whitecap.  However, I was impressed with his energy, high press, and ability to hold the ball up.  I was not expecting him to display the strength necessary to bring teammates into play when we lump the ball forward but he actually did an excellent job for the most part.  If it wasn’t for missing a PK and dallying on the ball to long during a second half break-away we’d be looking at a grade near 9 or 10.  Unfortunately for him he’s here to score goals and blew his 2 best opportunities.  Hopefully he’ll find a more clinical edge in the coming games.

 

Subs:

Harkes: 4 – pretty much identical to Moreno.  Sat in and helped stem the tide momentarily but couldn’t complete the task.  Never really could grasp an extended period on the ball or find outlets (which is only partially his fault) to help salt the game away.

Durkin: 1 – If I hadn’t seen him come on the field I wouldn’t have known he came on.  As a supposed stand out d-mid brought on to protect a lead late on, the teen failed to make an impact.

Mullins: 1 – As discussed above, I was more frustrated with Mullins for not taking the ball to the corner when blatantly given the opportunity, in turn providing Orland another attack chance in stoppage time, than Moreno or Segura for their poor marking.  He looked slow and clumsy.  I’m beginning to wonder who was playing under his name over those last couple months in 2016 when we had a “Patrick Mullins” that looked like the next Robbie Keane.

 

Chad Ashton: 4 – In for the suspended Ben Olsen on the touchline, he did a decent job.  Said all the right things at halftime and honestly made all the substitutions I would have made.  Unfortunately he couldn’t get the team to see out the result which would’ve provided an absolutely monumental 3 points to kick start the long road trip.

 

Despite the disappointing start to the year, we visit Atlanta next in the United Darby.  Last year we proved that the OG United was far superior (at least head to head).  Let’s continue that trend and grab a full 3 points this time.

 

Vamos United.

Real Madrid vs Tottenham Hotspur Champions League Group Stage Round 3 Player Ratings 10/17/17

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As always the Bernabeu faithful was ready to welcome it’s beloved Real Madrid back into the cauldron in the capital for another big Champions League encounter. It was Spurs’ first visit to the Spanish capital since the 2010/2011 season when they were there in a quarterfinal matchup that saw them get destroyed 4-0 en route to losing the tie. The London side had never won in Madrid on 4 previous occasions, nor had they ever even picked up a point, but Mauricio Pochettino’s side were ready and even somewhat surprisingly went ahead on 28 minutes.

Real controlled much of the opening stages with Ronaldo coming close twice and Benzema also nearly nipping in off a rebound. But Spurs weathered the storm and grew into the game around the 20 minute mark and forced a great save out of Navas on a Harry Kane header before Kane got on the end of a raking ball into the box that he barely hit. The ever so slight deflection threw off the trailing Raphael Varane who ended up putting the ball past Keylor Navas to give the visitors the lead. Spurs continued on the front foot but were quickly pinned back as Madrid went for the equalizer. Karim Benzema and Ronaldo up front looked to pour on the attack but both laced shots over the bar. Finally, it was a Benzema pass that found the streaking Toni Kroos in the box who was brought down for a penalty.

Ronaldo fired home for 12 yards and the teams were knotted at one all headed into intermission. Both teams had chances in the second half but a few very impressive saves from both goalkeepers kept the game deadlocked and it ended 1-1. The teams continue to match each other in results and now co-lead the group with 7 points. A surprising draw for Borussia Dortmund at APOEL Nicosia hurts the Germans’ chances of making it through.

Navas 9- Was absolutely crucial in stopping Kane from notching hat trick with a save over the bar on a Kane header in the first half. In the second half, Kane got free from 18 yards out and hit a low shot that would have crept in if it weren’t for another great save from Navas to push wide. Had to come up trumps not long after to keep Spurs from taking the lead. Commanded the box well and a slow roller out to Kroos that put the German in no mans land may be his only fault on the night. Nothing he could do on the goal.

Hakimi 7- This was my first chance to see the teenage Moroccan international play and he certainly passed any test I would have given him. Scampered forward as much as the marauding Carvajal would and sent a couple good crosses, won a couple free kicks and generally frustrated Vertongen when he could. Popped up for a key intervention in the second half in the defensive third but didn’t have a ton to do defensively though did do well to keep Erikson at bay.

Ramos 6- A solid enough night from the skipper. Put in a decent defensive shift for the most part with some key tackles but Kane skipped by him noticeably on one occasion as did I believe Sissoko on another. A wayward pass or two didn’t help but was about average for him overall.

Varane 4- While he did give Spurs their only goal (and first ever scored against Madrid), it’s hard to fault him as there’s no way he could see the ball as it came to him and it was just very unlucky. Patrolled the back line well enough but was a bit off with his decision making. For instance he got forward once well and then tried to do too much and lost out and other times gave the ball away unnecessarily, a characteristic that has always plagued the young Frenchman. Used his speed well but looked a bit confused to say the least.

Marcelo 4- The Brazilian didn’t necessarily do anything wrong but he could not find a way around Aurier all night. won a couple corners but struck a frustrated figure for the most part. Marshaled Eric Dier fairly well when he got forward but just like Hakimi wasn’t asked to do a ton defensively with Tottenham’s attack coming mostly down the middle. Faded a bit in the second half as well as he realized he wasn’t getting through Aurier. Madrid missed his incisiveness.

Casemiro 5-  A calmer night than usual for the Brazilian CDM. As always had a few very nice tackles mixed in with a few poorly timed ones. Did well enough for the most part but at times was overrun by Dier and Winks and didn’t do well with Kane. Covered well for Varane and Ramos when either CB got forward.

Kroos 6- As is the norm, kept things ticking in midfield but didn’t have a huge influence on the match. Struck an exacerbated look when he was caught in no man’s land with Aurier on his back but fortunately won a free kick. Linked up well with Modric in the midfield and spread the ball around nicely but his crosses weren’t quite up to caliber. Did win the penalty for Ronaldo to convert.

Modric 8- Was the man to keep things going in midfield. Much like Isco, he’s indispensable to this team. Did his best to find Ronaldo on multiple occasions with through balls though that’s not to say he wasn’t a bit off with his passing as well with a few long balls not reaching their intended targets. Did send in a picturesque cross that Benzema needed to get a head on.

Isco 8- Darted around the field in his free-flowing role and was the impetus to Madrid’s attack. Lofted a lovely pass for Marcelo in the first half and popped up wherever needed. Put in a few good tackles and had a couple shots on frame both forcing saves from Lloris.

Ronaldo 8- Was a nuisance all night. Should have put Madrid in front early on with a header off the post and later had another chance that went just inches wide of the far post. Forced a wonderful save out of Lloris to keep it at 0-0 and later put home the penalty for Madrid’s lone goal on the night. Showed off his pace in the second half to dart by 3 defenders and get a shot away that stung the hands of the Hotspur net minder. Unfortunately caught the bad side of Vertongen’s disgraceful dive and nabbed a yellow for it.

Benzema 7- A good game for the Frenchman but absolutely should have been on the scoresheet. Had a chance on the rebound from Ronaldo’s post-driven header but put it two feet wide. Later in the second had a golden opportunity from four yards out after a wonderful whipped in cross from Casemiro that unbelievably Lloris kept out with his trailing leg. Had a few crosses shave the tips of his head hairs but things didn’t work out for the big striker and his number was the first one up on the board.

Subs:

Asencio 5- Came on with about 15 minutes and added time to  go. Got on the end of a couple attacks but didn’t have a ton of time to make much of an influence.

Vazquez N/A- a last roll of the dice for Zidane who threw the young Spaniard on with under 5 minutes to go and I don’t believe he got a foot to the ball save maybe one time.

Zidane 6- The team was vamped up for this contest as always in the Champions league but they couldn’t find the opening goal they were looking for. Spurs went in front which deflated the team a bit and they were fortunate to get back into it with a deserved penalty awarded late in the first. Both subs were correct but they came a bit too late for my liking. Each needed to come on maybe 10 minutes sooner.

Madrid sit at 7 points with 2 away games and a home game against Dortmund to go.

Hala Madrid!

James Madison vs Villanova Football 10/14/17 Preview and Prediction

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There are some major storylines going into this contest between #1 ranked JMU and #12 ranked Villanova. The Dukes are coming off a tough but ultimately victorious road game 2 weeks ago in Delaware, an environment that isn’t easy for any team to win in. JMU had a bye week last week so they should be healthy and ready to go for Saturday’s game. Villanova two weeks ago won at Towson 24-9 and cruised past Maine last weekend 31-0 at home. Here are the big stories going into the game.

Gameday- I can’t start off this post without mentioning that ESPN’s College Gameday is returning to JMU for a second time in 3 years. With the Dukes riding a 17-game win streak and Villanova being arguably the second best team in the conference despite their two losses (more on that in a second), plus there are no top 2 matchups in the FBS, it was the perfect occasion for ESPN’s primary college football show to return to home of the Dukes. Texas vs Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry would have been the obvious choice but a two loss Texas squad vs an Oklahoma team coming off a pitiful loss to Iowa State didn’t help either team’s cause. Utah vs USC was the other big option but with Utah coming off a heartbreaking loss at home to Stanford, everything shaped up for the Gameday bus to roll into Harrisonburg. Lee Corso and company were welcomed by a massive gathering on the Quad and expect the crowd to be even bigger on Saturday than the 12k+ that showed up 2 years ago.

The Matchup- As I stated before, both programs are coming off wins and Villanova could easily argue that it could be 6-0 as it lost a very close battle at Temple in which it’s running game didn’t show up and lost by 9 at Albany 3 weeks ago, again in a contest that the run game was a no-show. Usually the JMU vs Villanova games have been classics with both teams regularly being ranked in the top 25. Nova haven’t won in Harrisonburg since 2009 and the Dukes have taken the last 2 in the series but that’s not to say the series hasn’t been pretty even throughout it’s history. The Dukes lead the all-time series 14-11.

Villanova- The Wildcats will be without their starting QB Zach Bednarczyk and will also be missing a couple other offensive skill players in running back Matt Gudzak and WR Changa Hodge which could be a tough blow heading into Saturday. The injury to Bednarczyk will force back-up Freshman QB Jack Schetelich into the starting role and he only threw for 8 passes last game but ran 14 times for a mere 30 yards and a score. He was also sacked 5 times.

JMU- Despite still being without the injured Cardon Johnson, who’s gone for the season, the Dukes should be healthy and ready to go after a week off. They also return to the friendly confines of Bridgeforth Stadium that will no doubt be shaking with noise in just over 24 hours. The Dukes are riding a CAA-tying 17 game win streak and with a win tomorrow would pass Richmond’s 2009-2011 mark of 17 straight that also included a national championship for the Spiders. The Dukes have been unbeatable at home since the last time Gameday came to town putting up Madden-esque numbers at times. However, this year has been all about the defense. Slightly under the radar due to JMU’s offensive juggernaut, The defense is only allowing 11.3 points a game and haven’t let any opponent score north of 14 points this season. Despite the team losing some defensive leaders last year, this unit has looked even better this season. They’ll need to be ready to frustrate Schetelich on Saturday.

Keys to the game:

Defense should win the game- Both teams have at times relied heavily on their defenses to win them games. JMU has been tested by Maine and Delaware so far this season “only” putting up 28 and 20 respectively, their lowest two totals of the season. Senior QB Bryan Schor also didn’t look particularly fantastic in either contest, throwing a pick in both games and not finding the end zone when the team traveled to Delaware. However, the defense only allowed 10 points in both games and outside of giving up a few big offensive plays, played perfectly. They forced key turnovers and were able to get into the back field on multiple occasions. Villanova’s defense has also been top-notch so far this season. The most points they’ve given up in a game is 35, which was in their first game against Lehigh. But since then they haven’t given up more than 19 points and have posted two shutouts including last weekend. The Wildcats pride themselves in takeaways and they had a scoop and score of 99 yards when they faced Maine.

Turnovers could be the difference- This one is pretty self-explanatory but whichever team can keep possession should win the game. Whichever defense can force a key turnover will win the game. JMU has had an interesting go at it with turnovers over the last couple of games. They are +2 overall as they’ve lost 2 each in the last 2 games but also capitalized on nabbing 3 each against Maine and Delaware. ‘Nova’ on the other hand is +4 in it’s last 2 games as they committed 4 turnovers and picked up 3 against Towson but turned it over only once again Maine while forcing the Black Bears to commit 6 turnovers.

The Crowd- The one thing JMU football has had an issue with in its history is keeping everyone at the game for the full four quarters. Now, is that the football team’s fault? No,of course not. That’s down to whether or not people are willing to stay and support the team over going to get drunk at 5:00 in the afternoon. Unfortunately most choose to go pre-game after the MRDs perform at halftime. While Gameday brought a record crowd to Bridgeforth back in 2015 to the tune of 26,069 people, that isn’t the norm. Well, the size of the crowd is normal, the fact that everyone stayed for the game despite a very tough loss is both good and bad. It was awesome to not see an empty seat at halftime yet it was incredibly frustrating to see JMU lose a game that was one of the biggest in JMU’s history. The crowd should be into it from the start and hopefully won’t let off the pedal until the fourth quarter ends.

Gameday Hype- There were multiple reason’s as to why JMU lost the game to Richmond almost exactly 2 years. The team offensively was easily one of the best in the country, but the defense, eh, not so much. The coaching staff didn’t have the team ready as the football team showed up in force at the College Gameday booth to unveil their new, ugly, White helmets with the throwback “M” logo when they probably could have been out on the field. And frankly, Richmond was a better team that year as they rolled to the FCS Playoff semifinals. Everyone that was at that game will remember how painstaking that loss was and no one should remember it more than Bryan Schor who was forced into action when Vad Lee went down injured. While ESPN Gameday may have brought an excitement unlike any other to Campus, I think the main reason is the team got far too over-hyped for the game that they ended up falling flat on their faces. I have no doubt Coach Mike Houston will not be repeating that and will have the team raring to go.

Prediction: JMU nation shouldn’t expect a game like it was 2 years ago. Neither of those teams had fantastic defenses. I expect this one to be lower scoring with a couple turnovers but I expect the massive crowd, home turf, and a clutch Bryan Schor to Eldridge TD Pass in the 4th quarter to be the difference. JMU 30-24

JMU vs Maine Football Review 9/23/17

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Had a chance to go back and watch JMU’s fourth football game of the season and their CAA opener vs the Maine Black Bears. While the Dukes were a little lackluster out of the gates, throwing an INT and not scoring in the first quarter as neither team’s offense could get going. But the Dukes took their first drive of the second quarter to the house on an 89 yard 11 play drive eating up 4 and a half minutes (an eternity for this team). Everything seemed to be in order but the offense sputtered for the rest of the half only accumulating another 8 yards and Maine also pulled to within 4 with a field goal before the break.

The visitors opened up the second half with a “JMU-esque” drive of 5 plays 73 yards in under 2 minutes to give JMU it’s first deficit faced all year. but two offensive drives later and Schor threw for his second TD of the day to bring the Dukes back in front 14-10 and they never looked back.

Schor finished the game with 4 TD passes and the Dukes eventually pulled away and won 28-10 over a Maine program that has notoriously given them fits. The win brought the Dukes winning streak to 16 games which is one away from tying the FCS record (Which JMU reached last weekend at Delaware).

Offense- B: The Offense had two turnovers and sputtered for big portions of the game. The play calling at times wasn’t smart and the running game looked stagnant. With Cardon Jonhson out for the year, Marcus Marshall and Trai Sharpe got the majority of the workload in the run-game. Marshall finished with 135 yards rushing on 19 carries but over a third of that came on one carry of 49 yards. Sharpe, who was playing with a heavy heart as his father passed away days earlier, ran for only 25 yards and fumbled at the goal line and turned it over to Maine. However he had a couple key runs to get first downs for the Dukes late in the game. Bryan Schor passed for 281 yards and 4 TDs but a poor throw lead to an interception and his offensive line, who are normally fantastic at keeping their QB clean, allowed Maine to get a few big hits on Schor along with a couple sacks. Ezrah Archie emerged as an unexpected favorite target for Schor, catching 8 passes for 90 yards and a score. David Eldridge added to his tally of big time plays catching a couple very difficult passes including one for a touchdown.

Defense- A: The defense brought down Chris Ferguson numerous times in the backfield and also picked off the Maine QB 3 times. THey only allowed 10 points and shutout the visitors for the final 42 minutes of the game. The only blip on the day was their issue containing Sophomore Josh Mack who ripped off 144 yards on 24 carries including a 60 yard TD run.

Special Teams- B: Nothing too special from the special teams. Tyler Gray hit all 4 XPs and the punt and kick-off coverage was solid though not stellar. JMU’s 5 punt returns netted a grand total of 7 yards which is fairly dismal to say the least, however, most were fair caught. One thing of note was punter Harry O’Kelly who punted on average just north of 40 yards but his 63 yard cannon punt pinned Maine back inside it’s own 15 which lead to great field position on JMU’s next drive and an eventual TD. O’Kelly, from Australia, is only a freshman but he could win the battle with fellow freshman Jeremiah McBride for starting punter. Not a story many Dukes fans will pay attention to, but his foot could be a major weapon in close affairs.

 

The Dukes move to 4-0(1-0) on the season and travel to the Blue Hens of Delaware before the bye week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Football Flash – vs. Boise State 9/22/17

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Wow.  Where did this team come from?  Last Friday saw UVa travel to the blue turf in Boise and look as if they were playing at home against VMI.  This was easily the best and most complete performance of the Mendenhall Era.  It was easily the best and most complete performance of the last 5 years.  And it was quite possibly the best and most complete performance of the last decade.  It was the most comprehensive victory over a “traditional” college powerhouse since 2007 when UVa shut out Miami 48-0.  Since that time the Cavaliers have shown flashes of potential winning games here and there against big schools.  And there have been huge blowouts of small schools.  But nothing with a margin even approaching this 19 point beatdown of a school with some serious football tradition.

Despite the final score line things did not start out smoothly.  Brett Rypien marched the Broncos right down the field and into the end zone sending shivers down the spines of wahoos everywhere who saw Rypien torch UVa in Charlottesville back in 2015.  An ensuing 3 and out for the Cavaliers did little to alleviate any of the anxiety.  Thankfully some pressure on Rypien halted the next drive and Jordan Ellis plowed his way down the field eventually finding the end zone with a 3 yard TD run. From there on UVa never really looked back.  Benkert really dialed things in and would hit touchdown passes of 30, 27, and 64 yards.  Halftime would see UVa’s lead at only 21-14.  That would be as close as Boise would get the rest of the way.  On the first drive of the second half Benkert hit Levrone for the 64 yard touchdown and that seemed to break the Broncos spirit.  Zaccheaus would get in on the act with a 56 yard touchdown run later in the 3rd.  Ellis would finish off our scoring in the fourth quarter getting his 5th touchdown of the season.  Boise would finally get back on the board late in the fourth quarter getting a safety and hitting a deep touchdown bomb from their backup qb.  It was very impressive.  However, UVa fans need to stay grounded.  Boise is not as strong as they have been.  And while UVa may have been flying under some people’s radar, a Friday night, nationally televised performance like this will have teams taking you more seriously.  ACC play awaits after a well-earned bye week.  Going 3-1 out of conference sets us up nicely to make a serious run at bowl contention.  Based on performances so far you have to think Boston College, Pitt, and UNC are the most likely games to get us to the 6 win threshold.  But with Pitt and UNC both on the road, the upcoming game against Duke could be a chance to ease the tension on either of those games.

 

Offense – A : After the first drive they settled down and turned into a well-oiled machine.  Ellis led the way on the ground with 24 carries for a hard fought 93 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Benkert absolutely lit up the Idaho night going 19/29 for 273 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions.  Levrone led all receivers with 141 yards and 5 receptions.  It was quite refreshing to see a UVa team run the ball successfully and be able to stretch a team deep.  If they can continue this kind of quality with any consistency they’ll be a real handful for all the remaining teams on the schedule.

Defense – A : Despite surrendering 353 yards through the air, they really shined by holding 9 different Bronco rushers to a total of 30 yards on 24 attempts.  The interception in the fourth quarter was icing on the cake as they surrendered only 21 points at altitude on short rest.

Special Teams – A : Easily, by an exponentially large margin, their best performance as a unit of the season.  Despite never kicking any field goals Mejia nailed all 6 extra points.  They did surrender 142 return yards on kickoffs but that came to only an average of 23.7 yards per return.  Punts was where things really shined for UVa.  Three punt returns netted only 14 yards for Boise.  Coleman put another punt out of bounds inside the 20 plus had a fifth fair caught also inside the 20. Late in the game a punt was blocked which put a slight damper on the outing but considering their levels of performance during the previous 3 games, this was highly encouraging.

 

Coaches – A+ : Traveling west of the Mississippi, to altitude, on a short week, against a traditional football powerhouse had all signs pointing to a big loss.  The easy opening drive TD for Boise seemed to confirm these fears.  The coaching staff did an amazing job keeping things calm and leading the Cavs to a win.  Play calling was impressively varied on both sides of the ball.  Special teams showed significant improvement.  And Mendenhall got a signature win in his second season.

 

Focus now turns to ACC play.  Duke comes to town on Bicentennial weekend in Hooville.  A win could set up a big party atmosphere on grounds as bowl eligibility would be firmly in sight.  Mendenhall will have his work cut out for him to keep this team grounded and in the moment over the bye week.

 

Real Madrid vs Borussia Dortmund Champions League Round 2 Player Ratings 9/26/17

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Los Blancos walked out of the famous Waldstadion with an impressive 3-1 victory over the Black and Gold of the Germans. Gareth Bale found the net after 18 minutes with a gorgeous volleyed effort after Carvajal found him wide open 15 yards out. Dortmund continued to push and should have had a penalty early on when Sergio Ramos  handled a cross that deflected off of Navas. But Madrid lead at the break and went up 2-0 shortly after the break when Cristiano Ronaldo latched onto a Bale cross and sent Burkei the wrong way to put the Whites firmly in front. Aubameyang replied 4 minutes later as he nipped a cross by Navas to bring life back to the Dortmund faithful. But Madrid held firm and after getting fresh legs on, Luka Modric slipped in Ronaldo who lashed a shot that beat Burkei at his near post.

3 Thoughts:

1st win- There aren’t many stadiums that Madrid have been to (especially multiple times) and haven’t won. But the Black and Yellow wall of Dortmund was one that has haunted them over the years. But Madrid outplayed the German outfit for most of the match and got their deserved first win in 7 tries.

Good win but…- This was a great team performance all around and it was good to see Bale and Ronaldo have good games despite all the criticism they’ve gotten. My issue is, why is it taking going to a big stadium in a big time game to bring the best out of the players. Madrid are 3-0-0 away from home in all competitions so far in the young campaign but 1-2-1 at home with a couple inexplicable performances. 2 points out of a possible 9 in home La Liga games is simply unacceptable for any team and while I’m not one of the harsh critics of Madrid nor am I a fanboy, it’s frustrating for the Madridistas to be so lackluster so far.

Bale Injured- Stop me if you’ve heard this before “Gareth Bale is down injured holding his leg on the pitch and here come the trainers.” or some variation of this. It’s agonizing the number of injuries Madrid players have gotten thus far and I have no doubt this is yet another muscle injury for Bale who will more than likely be sidelined for the next month. Sure, I’m just speculating as I’m no doctor, but given Bale’s history I’d say it’s a fair bet.

Navas 7- The Costa Rican net minder was solid throughout the game as he had to be quick to react on a number of occasions as Aubameyang and company threatened. The Gabon striker was able to poke past Navas in the second half a couple other shots went close but Navas was up to the task. Was nearly picked in the first half on a backwards pass but was able to Cruyff out of the situation.

Carvajal 8- Good match for the Spanish international who did well to keep Mario Goetze and Maximillian Philipp at bay. Should have have crossed for Ronaldo or Bale early on in the first half when he instead went for goal and his shot was easily saved. Was keen to dive and head back to Navas after Ramos and Varane got mixed up in the box to thwart a Dortmund threat. Also grabbed the assist for Bale’s opener.

Varane 7- Quiet but solid night for the French back. Spread the ball around nicely and tracked down a couple loose balls but not much else to note. Did get a bit mixed up at times with Ramos but nothing bad. Put out a couple fires as Dortmund were pushing for goals in the second half with a particularly important goal line save as he had Aubameyang on his hip.

Ramos 7- Should have accrued a penalty for handling in the box early on in the game but marshaled the back line very well and had another goal line clearance later on. Had two wonderful chances to score, one header went wide the other was well saved.

Nacho 6- Has had a bit of difficulty at times dealing with Castro and Yarmolenko, bringing down the latter on a clumsy challenge in the first half. Probably was a challenge away from getting a yellow but staved off any cautions. LB isn’t his strongest suit but he filled in well for Marcelo despite not possessing the Brazilians flare or desire to get forward often. Also had a shot on frame but was saved.

Casemiro 5- Mixed bag on the night. Offensively he gave the ball away a few times with a couple lazy passes mixed in and looked a bit lost in the midfield but also put in some lovely tackles as usual and helped out as always defensively. Did send a gorgeous long pass early on to spring Carvajal who eventually had his shot saved ad stepped in the watch the left flank a few times when Nacho got forward.

Kroos 6- Not a particularly flashy evening for the German, but he strung together some good passes together and though he isn’t 100%, the team needs him. His crosses ha some good ones and some bad ones thrown in but controlled the midfield for the most part.

Modric 8- Picked up a yellow for mimicking the ref towards the end of the first half but that was a small blemish on an otherwise wonderful night. Was the heart of most of Madrid’s attacks and he put Ronaldo through with a red-carpet pass for his second and Madrid’s third goal on the night. Also showed a rare burst of speed to get on the end of a cross in the second half that he unfortunately was unable to light the same spark behind the shot that were in his boots.

Isco 4- Didn’t have much of an influence on the match. Saw a fair amount of the ball, especially when he was out wide left but his passing has been off and he’s had multiple giveaways. Won more headers than Naldo and Bale in the first half despite his stature but he never got into the contest outside of one rasping shot that forced a great save and it wasn’t surprising to see his number first up on the board.

Bale 8- Scored his goal beautifully on the volley and could have had more had Carvajal found him instead of shooting. Ronaldo also nearly missed him on a cross that was toe-poked out for a corner. Returned to get Ronaldo one the score-sheet after another great run and low cross that Ronaldo met just in time. Overall he was very active all night and one of Madrid’s best players. Also stung the hands of Burkei after a lung bursting run forward. Picked up a non-existent yellow for an elbow to the head that wasn’t there.

Ronaldo- I thought at half-time that it would be another hands on hips night for Ronaldo as the superstar hadn’t been particularly involved through the first 25 minutes and I figured he’d be held out of the goals. But he proved me wrong with two emphatic finishes to seal the win for Madrid.

 

Hala Madrid!