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