3 Reasons JMU Football Upsets N.C. State

I know what you’re thinking, “Bennett, you do these countdown posts every Saturday, and today is Monday! What gives?!”

Let me explain. First, nobody is asking that question. If we’re going by last week’s numbers on traffic, nobody is even reading these articles, but I like the thought of having a massive following of outraged fans clamoring for my next post, so were going to pretend.

Second, I treated myself to a Red Sox-Orioles game this weekend for JMU Night. I went to get a JMU-themed Orioles hat and a chance to watch the best team in baseball in person. My girlfriend lives in Maryland, so I suppose that factored into the decision as well. Caroline, if you’re reading this, those three reasons for attending were in reverse order of importance.

As I left the stadium, someone asked where I got the JMU-Orioles hat and mentioned wanting one for his niece. Being a gentleman, I kindly gave him the hat for free and wished him a nice night. As he left, his friend let out a laugh and I quickly realized this man probably (definitely) didn’t have a niece. Regardless, the Orioles are about 850 games below .500, so I’ll let them win one.

Anyway, back to today.  I’ve spent the last week or two digesting every article written about both N.C. State and JMU football. Before eating them, I read them, too. I’ve learned more about the Wolfpack than I’ve ever cared to know, and I feel knowledgeable enough to write today’s article and share three reasons why I think JMU pulls off the upset on Sept. 1. I won’t be surprised if N.C. State wins, but I really like the Dukes’ chances, even if they haven’t announced a starting quarterback yet. Before we get to that, though, let’s talk about why I’m not writing an article titled “3 Ways to Tell the Perfect Dad Joke” or “3 Tips to Look Super Scrawny.”

Wait, what? Remain patient, non-existent readers, we’ll get there.

The other day, I tweeted about Maryland’s football controversy.

Not everyone enjoyed my tweet.

As the Twitter egg clearly stated “Stick to what you know.” Here’s the issue with that, folks. I’m most knowledgeable at making dad jokes and being small. But nobody wants to read about those topics. When they do, I promise I’ll never write a single tweet about football again. It’ll be exclusively bad puns and tips on how to workout without gaining an ounce of muscle.

Until then, I’m going to keep tweeting about college football. And journalism. And small business. Because I like those things. While my Twitter account might not be the most niche-specific account out there, it’s true to myself. I love entrepreneurship and the different factors that go into starting and running a business. Last year, I spent early August racing back and forth between JMU football training camp and my internship at the Small Business Development Center. JMU football isn’t the only thing I’m interested in, and that’s a good thing for me. There’s more to life than football.

If you don’t like the wide range of tweets, I don’t blame you at all. I’m not sure I’d like it if I were in your shoes. Luckily, the great people at Twitter don’t hold a gun to your head and make you read my tweets. Don’t worry, I won’t ever be offended if you hit unfollow.

In terms of my JMU football/sports knowledge, I think I’m qualified to write blog posts on my own website. Considering they’re blog posts. And it’s my website. A few years at The Breeze, a season of MadiZONE and some bylines for HERO Sports make me think I’m not just pulling stuff out of a hat when I talk JMU football. Would you agree, Twitter egg?

I’ll take that as a soft yes.

Defensive line play

No transition needed, let’s get back to the gridiron. I love JMU’s defensive line on paper, and I love it even more on grass. See, dad jokes! Darrious and Ron’Dell Carter join forces with John Daka, Matt Terrell, Paris Black, Adeeb Atariwa and Mike Greene to make up a deep and explosive group. Daka is a practice and scrimmage machine as he’s excelled in recent scrimmages and the spring game. He’ll be a problem off the edge. The two Carters are remarkable athletes and expected to be key contributors. The two defensive tackles in Atariwa and Greene will play a huge role this season, and I expect them to become tremendous run stoppers as the season develops.

In short, JMU’s defensive line is good enough to play against an FBS offensive line. In most FCS over FBS upsets, the offensive and defensive lines hold their own. It’s hard to spring an upset if you’re get demolished in the trenches. If JMU beats N.C. State, the defensive line will have to play well and disrupt the pocket.

Stellar secondary

N.C. State’s strength is without a doubt its passing game. The Wolfpack averaged just over 270 passing yards per game last season, and they return veteran quarterback Ryan Finley. Kelvin Harmon serves as Finley’s best receiving threat, and the Dukes’ secondary will face its toughest passing test since they played UNC back in 2016.

Luckily for JMU, and the No. 1 reason I think this upset is more than the dream of many JMU fans, is that the secondary might be JMU’s best position group. Rashad Robinson and Jimmy Moreland man the corner positions after combining for 15 interceptions a year ago. Adding in Wayne Davis Jr. gives the Dukes a solid weapon at safety, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him paired with D’Angelo Amos. The Dukes currently have three other guys vying for those two safety spots as well.

This doesn’t even account for corners Charles Tutt and Curtis Oliver, both of whom possess great talent and meaningful experience as Dukes. For N.C. State, Finley went 339 passes across the 2016 and 2017 seasons without throwing an interception. JMU intercepted 31 of its opponents’ 459 passes in 2017. It’ll be good vs. good on Sept. 1. Bob Trott emphasizes turnovers, and JMU has the weapons to force an interception or two on one of the more accurate passers in college football. Without a great secondary, JMU wouldn’t stand much of a chance, but the Dukes boast one of the best secondaries in the FCS.

Reliable running game

JMU stays in the game because of its defensive line and secondary, but the Dukes win because of their running game.

Cardon Johnson is an FBS killer, and the Dukes as a team perform well on the ground against FBS foes.

Take a look at the last three games vs. FBS teams.

2015 vs. SMU: 52 carries, 440 yards, 3 TDs

Vad Lee ran for a school-record 276 yards and became the first D-I quarterback to rush and pass for over 275 yards in the same game. JMU won 48-45.

2016 vs. UNC: 50 carries, 209 yards, 3 TDs

Cardon Johnson also added a 68-yard touchdown reception in the 56-28 loss. Despite the loss, JMU led 21-14 after a quarter in Mike Houston’s first season. The issue wasn’t the offense, it was the defense getting torched for 462 yards and three touchdowns through the air. With a much more experienced secondary this season, the Dukes stand a better chance of limiting busted coverages.

2017 vs. ECU: 42 carries, 410 yards, 4 TDs

Johnson excelled, tallying 265 yards on just 17 carries. Marcus Marshall added 88 yards and a touchdown as well. The Dukes ran wild against a mediocre ECU defense.

TOTAL: 144 carries, 1,059 yards, 10 TDs.

The Dukes are averaging 353 yards and 3.33 TDs on the ground in their last three matchups with FBS teams.

N.C. State’s defense is much more comparable to UNC’s, but I do expect more than 200 yards rushing from JMU against the Wolfpack. This puts the Dukes right in the game if their defense doesn’t allow a 56-point explosion like they did against the Tar Heels. With a better defensive team, and an opposing offense that isn’t quite as explosive as UNC’s 2016 squad, I like JMU’s chances of knocking off the Wolfpack.

The Dukes still need strong quarterback play and to handle a hostile road environment, but assuming this game won’t be close because JMU’s an FCS school is absurd. JMU has the talent, the experience and the needed personnel to handle an FBS school of N.C. State’s caliber. JMU pulls the upset on Sept. 1 behind an elite group of running backs and a defense that’s FBS caliber.

FINAL: JMU 31, N.C. State 27