Stop me if you've heard this before, but Jimmy Moreland just returned an interception for a touchdown.
Moreland, a senior cornerback for No. 2 JMU, has made a living in Harrisonburg off snatching turnovers from opposing quarterbacks. He ranked second in the Colonial Athletic Association in 2017 with eight picks — only teammate Jordan Brown had more — and had returned three interceptions for touchdowns prior to the start of the 2018 season.
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Without Preseason CAA Defensive Player of the Year Rashad Robinson lining up opposite him, some (including myself) wondered how Moreland would handle the transition to being the No. 1 guy in JMU's defensive backfield.
How would he handle it? Well, he has three straight games with a pick-six.
PLAY OF THE GAME | JImmy Moreland's pick six landed him atop the all-time leaderboard for his 15 career interceptions!#GoDukes pic.twitter.com/pitfqsptZS
— JMU Football (@JMUFootball) September 14, 2018
That's Moreland getting in on the fun in a rescheduled Thursday night game against Robert Morris of the NEC. The Colonials were already trailing big in the second quarter when Moreland jumped a screen route and jogged 10 yards into the end zone. That pick broke current Packer Raven Greene's all-time career record for interceptions.
HIGHLIGHT | Jimmy Moreland brings it ALL the way back on the pick-six, the fifth defensive touchdown of his record-setting career! pic.twitter.com/jNymbW7pXC
— JMU Football (@JMUFootball) September 22, 2018
Nine days later, there was this one against William & Mary. Tribe quarterback Shon Mitchell throws to the sideline, but one of his receivers has broken off the route too early, and Moreland is in the right place at the right time. Last week, after Tuesday's practice, Moreland told me that wasn't an accident, and that his pre-snap read indicated the ball could be thrown near the area where he ended up.
Immediately following the William & Mary game, Moreland talked about how his skill set as a punt returner influenced his run patterns, and it's easy to follow what he means when watching the tape back. The way he follows diagonal seams on the field and cuts back behind blockers shows off a skill set Moreland rarely gets to use when the defense is on the field.
Play of the Week for Jimmy? Three pick-sixes in three games. #GoDukes @HEROSportsFCS @NCAA_FCS pic.twitter.com/ung5EaOWSf
— JMU Football (@JMUFootball) September 30, 2018
Finally, there's this clutch gem from last week's rivalry bout in Richmond. UR quarterback Kevin Johnson showed no fear in going against Moreland, and early in the game, that aggressiveness paid off. JMU led 14-3, but Richmond was on the cusp of scoring again to cut the score to 14-10. At that point, the game would have become a heavyweight title fight, with both teams giving and taking punches.
Instead, Moreland makes an easy play on an underthrown ball and bobs and weaves through traffic 100 yards back to the other end zone. This return was a more traditional interception return — a guy picking his way through a congested area, eventually finding a lane that's buffered by defensive teammates. Regardless, the touchdown ended up as the game's most critical play, creating a 14-point swing and crushing the Spiders' spirit.
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I do not know if Jimmy Moreland can return a fourth straight pick-six this weekend, in a game against Elon that seems to have much larger CAA implications than many would have imagined at the beginning of the season. At the very least, it seems like a statistical unlikelihood.
However, I do know this — Moreland needs one more pick-six to tie former North Dakota State standout/current Tampa Bay Buccaneer Marcus Williams for most interception returns in FCS history.
He's got quite a lot of time to get there.
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