Two of the top programs in the Sun Belt East face off Thursday on ESPN, with undefeated James Madison (6-0, 3-0 SBC) hitting the road to play Marshall (4-2, 1-1 SBC) at 7 p.m. ET.
The matchup holds important Sun Belt title implications, with Marshall vying for the division title and JMU currently ineligible for the SBC Championship. Still, the Dukes can wreck the division standings if they continue on their recent tear.
Can the Thundering Herd bounce back after consecutive road losses? Will JMU continue its undefeated season with a stiff road test? We’ll learn more about these two quality Group of Five teams Thursday night.
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Dukes riding momentum
For JMU, there’s hope of riding momentum into and through Thursday’s game. The Dukes are 14-3 since joining the FBS, including an undefeated record this fall. They’ve defeated every team in the Sun Belt East since the start of last season except Marshall. In fact, JMU has never defeated the Thundering Herd in its program history.
A win Thursday would mean a lot for the Dukes, and the players, coaches, and fans expect to win the game. JMU is coming into the Thursday primetime game off its best performance of the season, beating Georgia Southern 41-13. The Dukes jumped out to a 14-0 lead and never looked back.
The defense forced three interceptions, while the offense scored on seven of its first eight drives. The entire team played well Saturday.
Quarterback Jordan McCloud has thrown 10 touchdowns over the team’s last three games, as the Arizona transfer seems to be gaining confidence on a weekly basis. JMU looks the part of the Sun Belt’s best team.
As for Marshall, the Thundering Herd started the season 4-0 with a notable victory over Virginia Tech. They looked like one of the Sun Belt’s best teams.
In the last two weeks, however, they’ve lost to N.C. State and Georgia State. Each opponent scored 40+ points in those games, as Marshall’s defense has proven to be a surprising liability in recent weeks. The Thundering Herd are failing to stop the run, which is forcing their offense to carry the brunt of the workload.
That puts pressure on running back Rasheen Ali, and with JMU leading the nation in rushing defense, it’s not an ideal recipe for success Thursday.
If, however, Marshall gets back in the win column, the Thundering Herd quickly vault back up the list of likely Sun Belt East contenders. With upcoming road games against Coastal Carolina and App State, Marshall can’t afford a loss Thursday if it wants to finish atop the division.
The two teams enter the game on different trajectories, with the Dukes eyeing a 10-win season. Marshall, on the other hand, just wants to get back in the win column after a pair of disappointing defeats against good teams.
Will JMU continue its rapid momentum or can the Thundering Herd cement their place among the Sun Belt East elite? Thursday’s game carries major implications in one of the Group of Five’s best divisions.