The Sun Belt snagged a Power Five win last weekend, with G.J. Kinne’s Texas State team upsetting Baylor. The conference has another tremendous shot to take down a Power Five team this weekend, as JMU plays at Virginia.
The Dukes, in their second year at the FBS level, are actually the favorite in the game according to college football betting odds. For JMU, Saturday represents a chance to prove itself both regionally and nationally by defeating an ACC team.
If JMU wants to win the contest, the Dukes need to start with improving its passing attack after a shaky showing in a 38-3 win over Bucknell.
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Quarterback play critical
For the Dukes to take down an in-state Power Five opponent for the first time in more than a decade, they’ll need competent quarterback play. Alonza Barnett III started for JMU against Bucknell, but struggled mightily. He only threw for 15 yards on 11 passes before being benched for Jordan McCloud.
McCloud, an Arizona transfer, will start Saturday. It’ll be his 20th career start between South Florida, Arizona, and JMU.
With McCloud leading the offense, the Dukes moved the ball well against Bucknell. He threw for 144 yards and two touchdowns on 7-11 passing. If he can build off that showing, JMU’s offense should be fine.
His experience against elite competition – he’s played against UCF, Notre Dame, Oregon, and UCLA in his career – should only help McCloud on Saturday. The stage shouldn’t be too big for McCloud, who is used to competing in hostile environments.
McCloud, like Barnett, can run and throw. He’s a dynamic rusher in space, and the Dukes will likely lean on RPOs to stress UVA’s defense. McCloud threw a perfect, 57-yard touchdown to Reggie Brown against Bucknell. The Dukes would love to stretch the field vertically with Brown again on Saturday.
At the very least, JMU will need competent quarterback play from McCloud to defeat the Cavaliers.
As for UVA, its starting quarterback is banged up. Tony Muskett, a Monmouth transfer, might not play Saturday as he recovers from a shoulder injury.
If he can’t play, JMU has a chance to hold a massive edge at the quarterback position. If Muskett starts, UVA holds a significantly better chance of winning than if it has to start true freshman Anthony Colandrea.
JMU defeated UVA in 1982. UVA narrowly defeated JMU in 1983, and the two programs haven’t played since.
For JMU, a win Saturday would be the program’s first over a Power Five opponent since upsetting Virginia Tech in 2010. The Dukes have come close to taking down Power Five teams in recent years, losing by a combined 18 points to West Virginia in 2018 and NC State in 2019, but this feels like the team’s best chance in years.
If the Dukes win, it boosts in-state recruiting and energizes an already engaged fanbase. If the Dukes lose Saturday’s game, there’s no sugarcoating it. A loss would be a major missed opportunity against a lackluster Virginia team.
Not only does JMU have a quality roster, but the Dukes are also facing a UVA team expected to finish toward the bottom of the ACC. It’s not every day a respectable Group of Five program squares off with an extremely vulnerable Power Five opponent, but Saturday represents a legitimate chance for JMU to take down an ACC team.
It’s a huge game for JMU and the Sun Belt.