Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
JMU football hits the road for its regular season finale against Coastal Carolina. Coming off a disheartening home loss to App State, the Dukes will try to quickly rebound with a win against another Sun Belt East power.
If the Dukes win, they’re “Kings of the East” for a second consecutive season. If they lose, Coastal Carolina finishes atop the division. There’s plenty to play for Saturday.
Here are a few keys to the matchup.
Put last week (and last year) aside
If JMU wants to finish first in the Sun Belt East, the Dukes need to put aside last week’s disappointing loss. The Dukes didn’t play their best, and App State found a way to pull out a gritty road win. It’s devastating to lose an undefeated season in overtime, but that’s how it played out.
Can JMU quickly get over the disappointment and refocus?
The Dukes also need to keep last year’s game out of their memory. JMU beat Coastal Carolina 47-7 last season, a dominating showing. This year’s game likely won’t be as easy. Coastal Carolina has improved defensively this season compared to last, and head coach Tim Beck has the Chanticleers playing solid football. Coastal Carolina isn’t elite, but it’s plenty respectable, even if Grayson McCall can’t play.
A focused JMU that executes well won’t lose Saturday. But a disappointed, overconfident crew would end its regular season with back-to-back losses. JMU needs a good showing to win.
Editor’s note: Thanks to Christopher William Jewelers for their advertising support this season.
McCloud bounce back
JMU’s offense, due to its lack of consistent running game, runs through Jordan McCloud. When JMU’s signal caller plays to his potential, the Dukes are dynamic offensively. When he doesn’t, well, they can go through some massive scoring droughts.
The Dukes finished Saturday’s game against App State with 23 points, but two came from the defense and they only scored three offensive points entering the fourth quarter. That won’t cut it against anyone, especially not a team like App State.
If McCloud looks like he did against Georgia State and UConn, JMU shouldn’t have a major issue getting by the Chanticleers. If the Dukes’ quarterback puts together a sloppy performance riddled with misreads and bad throws, Coastal Carolina can win this game.
Even if McCloud lands somewhere in the middle, mixing in quality plays with a couple mistakes, the Dukes have a great chance Saturday. He can’t have multiple bad quarters, though.
McCloud has shown this season he’s capable of being elite. He’s also had shaky moments. The Dukes need a version of McCloud closer to his best to clinch the East.
Pressure the quarterback
JMU posted one sack against UConn and one sack against App State. The Dukes’ defense has thrived this season by creating sacks and tackles for loss.
With Jalen Green sidelined, it’s proving harder to sack the quarterback. JMU would benefit tremendously from rattling Coastal Carolina’s quarterback, whether that’s Grayson McCall or Jarrett Guest or Ethan Vasko.
The Dukes recorded five sacks in last year’s blowout win over Coastal Carolina. They don’t need to replicate that performance, but generating more consistent pressure in the backfield will be important this weekend.