Photo courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
JMU’s undefeated season ended, as App State (7-4, 5-2 SBC) defeated the Dukes (10-1, 6-1 SBC) 26-23 in an overtime game fans will remember for a long time. .
There is no doubt that the loss was a disappointment for the Dukes. JMU hosted College GameDay and was an important play or two away from securing one of the most memorable wins in program history.
Instead, the Mountaineers won the signature game and finally took care of business in one big game. Here are three important points from the entertainer.
The Sun Belt dominates
This the game had hype. The offense wasn’t great in the first three quarters, but each defense played well in the first 45 minutes. In the final quarter and overtime, the Dukes’ offense sprung up and the Mountaineers battled the lawnmowers and threw counterpunches of their own.
It was a great football game, which makes sense with the two teams sitting a combined 16-4 against other opponents. App State’s four losses have all come by one goal, as the Mountaineers are not far from being a top 25 team this season.
JMU, trailing a good team with double digits, fought hard to have a chance to win. Elijah Sarratt made one of my most memorable plays on JMU’s last drive. He helped the Dukes convert a fourth and 18 to keep their hopes alive, which was followed by a beautiful touchdown throw and catch, a solid 2-point conversion, and the first catch in overtime. Sarratt is legit.
App State’s game-winning hit was a tough one to give JMU the win, and the last play of the game gave either team hope for a win. In the end, it was the Mountaineers who made a good play, broke a few tackles, and pulled away from Harrisonburg with the win.
The Mountaineers showed up in a brutal road game and played solid football. Again, it really was the top competition in college football.
By most accounts, the connection between JMU and App State fans was positive. Despite the disappointing loss to JMU, the move to the Sun Belt is good for the program, and Saturday’s performance and game proved that.
Editor’s note: Thank you to Christopher William Jewelers for sponsoring this season’s promotions.
Running game is fighting again
Jordan McCloud turned it off. JMU’s quarterbacks made big plays late, but missed open throws in the first three quarters and threw a foul route.
His “last quarter” was amplified by JMU’s lack of athleticism. Including the sacks, JMU rushed for 61 yards on 33 attempts.
Major injuries along the offensive line — the team’s starting quarterback is all gone — haven’t helped the running game, but the rushing attack hasn’t floundered this season regardless of the line’s health. That remained a real Saturday. JMU doesn’t seem to run the ball consistently, which puts McCloud and the passing game at risk.
If McCloud is shut down, the Dukes don’t have the athleticism to create inconsistent plays. On Saturday, McCloud faced a good secondary. What’s next? A dull display of multiplayer.
Look for the running back to be the season’s No. 1, if the Dukes can keep Curt Cignetti. JMU can use it to speed up and control the interference lines on the transfer portal.
In the first nine games of the season, JMU recorded at least three sacks in each game. Against UConn, JMU scored just one. This week against App State, JMU posted just one.
The Dukes have played their last two games without star running back Jalen Green, and his absence has been noticeable against teams that don’t allow many sacks in the first place. JMU didn’t pose a problem Saturday, allowing App State’s Joey Aguilar time to pick on the defense. He threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns.
Late in the game, JMU brought blitzes with hopes of getting to Aguilar. App State’s talented quarterback got the ball out quickly, keeping JMU out of trouble.
Without Green, JMU’s defense has not been as successful up front. It speaks to Green’s talent. His absence is important.
Bonus takeaway: The season isn’t over
JMU’s undefeated season is dead. However, the season is not over.
Saturday’s win over Coastal Carolina gives the Dukes first place in the Sun Belt East for the second straight season. It’s a big investment.
There is an outside chance, through regulation, that JMU could qualify for the Sun Belt Tournament. Even if that doesn’t happen, however, JMU has a shot at a bowl game if there aren’t enough 6-6 teams to fill all 82 open slots.
JMU has a chance to finish the season 12-1 with the division title and the first win in school history. Even if it’s a loss, it’s special. There is still a lot to play for at the end of this season.