Suffice it to say that you don’t have to remind Richmond coach Russ Huesman about in-state rival James Madison’s perennial prowess.
“We know year in and year out, they’re one of the best teams in the country,” Huesman told HERO Sports.
“I’ve never seen a JMU football team that wasn’t really good,” Huesman later said of his experience in multiple coaching stints at Richmond.
While the No. 1 Dukes (4-0) present their typical daunting challenge in Saturday’s 2 p.m. ET kickoff in Harrisonburg that finally pits the CAA South division’s top teams, the 11th-ranked Spiders (3-0) are poised to return the favor with a threat of their own.
Said JMU coach Curt Cignetti, “They’re playing at a high level right now. Can’t imagine there’s anybody, if you look at their scores, that has been more dominant than Richmond at this point.”
“I’m sure they’re gonna be really juiced up to play us, and we’re gonna have to be on our p’s and q’s to have a chance.”
Elon coach Tony Trisciani, whose team had its home-and-home series with Richmond swept by the Spiders this spring, echoed that sentiment.
“I know many people haven’t played them yet,” Trisciani said, “But [Huesman’s] got a good football team.”
“They’re strong and they’re physical up front on defense, their front seven. They’ve got a veteran O-line and a dual-threat quarterback in Joe Mancuso, who can beat you with his arm and with his legs. Offensively, Jeff Durden, their offensive coordinator, he does as good a job as anybody in our league as far as putting a defense in conflict and getting the ball to their playmakers.”
Mancuso has been both an apt distributor and productive in his own right while filling the stat sheet. Entering games the week of April 3, the redshirt senior led the CAA in total offense at 250.7 yards per game, and his rushing and passing totals to date were good for first and second in the conference, respectively.
“It all starts with the quarterback,” Cignetti said of the Spider attack, later commenting that he has “always really liked their offensive scheme a lot. [They] really put you in conflict with quarterback runs, RPOs, different formations, and they got some gizmos once in a while, too.”
On the flip side, Richmond is well aware of the hurdles James Madison’s offense poses, particularly via its renowned stable of running backs.
“I’d say they got some backs. On their depth chart, they always list, ‘OR,’ ‘OR,’ ‘OR,’ ‘OR,’ ‘OR,’—five guys. So I think they like them all,” Huesman said with a laugh in summarizing what he sees in the Dukes’ ground corps. “They’re all really good players. If we don’t fit gaps properly, if we miss a gap, they can take it to the house. If we don’t take a proper angle, they’re gonna make you miss. If you don’t wrap up, they’re gonna break a tackle. It’s a tremendous group of players.”
That group, headlined by feature back Percy Agyei-Obese, has made its mark thus far this spring, propelling JMU to 259 rushing yards per game, which led the CAA for games through March. Richmond counters with the conference’s third-best rushing defense, allowing 58 yards per game on the ground behind standouts Darius Reynolds (a CAA Co-Defensive Player of the Week honoree in early April) and Kobie Turner on the defensive line.
That duo (how’s ‘The Law Firm of Reynolds and Turner’ for a nickname?) has Cignetti’s attention.
“Kobie Turner is a tremendous player. He’s really, really hard to block and has been for a long time, but he’s upped his game,” the Dukes’ leader observed. “The defensive end, 9 to his side, is a real twitchy guy, really good player. The other guys are all really good, too, it’s just that 98 jumps out at you right off the bat, and 9, too.”
Richmond will need continued production from both to spur its upset bid Saturday. The Spiders have dropped four straight in the rivalry series and six of the last seven meetings, with their last win over JMU coming under Danny Rocco in the memorable 2015 victory that spoiled the ESPN “College GameDay” party in Harrisonburg.
With a win this week, UR takes the CAA South division title right out of the jaws of the favored Dukes, an achievement that would secure Richmond’s first playoff bid since 2016 regardless of whether the Spiders win the CAA’s automatic postseason berth. If Delaware defeats Villanova on Saturday, the winner of James Madison and Richmond’s clash will be up for a vote among conference athletic directors for the CAA’s AQ as part of the tiebreaker process.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Huesman acknowledged.
But in a JMU/Richmond meeting in which both schools enter with national rankings for the first time since 2016, Mancuso, Reynolds, Turner, and the rest of the Spiders appear set to meet that challenge head-on and justify their top-15 positioning. To make a strong at-large playoff case or even win the CAA outright, they will have to do so.