(The following article is the fifth entry in a reverse-jinx preview series for JMU Football. If you don’t already know the premise, you can find the first article here.)
Let me begin with a brief, uncomfortable moment of genuine sincerity.
Accordingly, some of you might believe that JMU could use some extra mojo this Saturday to arrive unscathed at its upcoming bye-week break.
I think I know just the place where the Dukes can get some.
DOOMED DUKES: WHY JMU WILL TOTALLY LOSE AT DELAWARE
Is Delaware a better football team than JMU? I do not believe so.
Let's talk about that. But first, let's talk about the importance of minor details.
Last Saturday, against Maine's admittedly challenging defensive front, JMU's run game looked mortal. There are several potential explanations, each of which holds some merit: Marcus Marshall is still trying to master JMU's zone rushing scheme, and hasn't quite gotten it down yet; the loss of another offensive lineman made the unit less effective; the switch from a four-way tailback ensemble to a heavy dose of Marshall sapped him of some energy and effectiveness; Maine possesses more talent along its defensive front seven than JMU has faced this season.
Any one of these answers could explain why JMU struggled to recapture the dominant run game it had showcased earlier in the month. More likely, however, is the idea that each one of these details contributed in some degree, and formed a perfect storm of circumstance that made the Dukes' run game appear… bottled up? Pedestrian? Dare I say… average?
There's certainly no shame in struggling a little against a quality opponent. Much like this formidable JMU team, Maine is tough along the line of scrimmage. That was bound to hamper JMU's ability to dominate the game as it had through the first three weeks of the season. But we must admit that it has been some time since we've seen JMU look average against anyone.
Sometimes, minor details conspire in ways that threaten to topple great teams. That's the challenge JMU faces this weekend in Newark — not Delaware's superiority or its own complacency, but the damning intersectionality of a myriad of different factors.
Now, I know what you're thinking. The last time you heard the word "intersectionality" it was the time that one girl with the purple hair hijacked the discussion for a week in your "Philosophy of Knowledge" class.
Don't go to sleep on me just yet, though — I don't have any purple hair. (I don't have any hair at all.)
JMU is in a tough spot right now, with one game to go before a bye week for rest and recovery. The Dukes have got players limping off the field, just as they've got suspended guys scrambling to get back on it. Indeed, JMU has a minor crisis of personnel, and the latest chapter is going to unfold in front of a hostile crowd, on a field that historically has not been kind to the Dukes.
Have you been paying attention to the history between these two teams? When JMU goes to Newark, it's like the movie Chicken Run, except with Duke Dogs instead of farmers.
2013? No. 14 JMU lost to unranked Delaware, 29-22.
2010? Two games after a win over a certain maroon and orange team, No. 3 JMU lost its first game of the season to Delaware. At home!
2007? Three weeks before a heartbreaking playoff loss to App State, the Dukes lost 37-34 at… Delaware.
2005? 34-28, Blue Hens in Newark.
2002? A two-possession loss up north.
2000? Yeah, you get the picture.
Going back to the start of the Mickey Matthews era, JMU has only won at Delaware once. This is consistently a tough place to play for the Dukes, regardless of how good the teams involved are.
But what's that, you say? You'd rather talk about the team on the field this year?
Okay, let's do that. JMU is coming off a nice, if a tad underwhelming, win over a rough-and-tumble Maine squad. Like the Black Bears, Delaware also features a defensive front that could potentially challenge JMU.
That's a JMU offensive line, by the way, that had already lost OL Tyree Chavious in the preseason and now may not have right guard Gerren Butler available. Butler was allegedly evaluated on Tuesday afternoon; as of this writing, his status is currently unknown.
JMU will get four talented players back from suspension this weekend, but grafting them into the starting lineup may prove challenging — particularly on the road at Delaware, where the margin for error is thinner than it might be in Harrisonburg.
For instance, senior offensive lineman Nick Edwards will be available to play for the first time since last fall. Head coach Mike Houston and offensive line coach Bryan Stinespring may choose to slide Edwards in at right guard, replacing the potentially unavailable Butler. Edwards is a solid player, but how quickly will he gel with the rest of the unit around him?
To be fair, I want to point out that JMU isn't completely without hope. That one road win at Delaware I mentioned a few paragraphs back? That came in 2015. It was the first career win for a new JMU quarterback, pressed into service after an injury to starter Vad Lee.
His name? Bryan Schor.
Perhaps even bigger news for this weekend's game — notable UD alum Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens got absolutely blitzed by the Jacksonville Jaguars in London last weekend. If anything could give the Dukes a tailwind, it might be a royal smackdown like that.
Nah. It won't be enough. Between mounting injuries, rusty returnees and a historically difficult place to play, y'all know what's up.
It's Week 5, and the Dukes are Doomed.