(The following article is the eighth 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.)
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It's Homecoming in Harrisonburg, which means plenty of proud James Madison fans are headed back to the Shenandoah Valley to revel in the joy of graduating from the other Happiest Place on Earth. (We're locked in a covert war with a certain talking mouse over slogan rights.)
With many readers returning to the Burg today, just one week after I received a fresh round of four-letter words, mean tweets and questions regarding my intelligence, I have but one humble request for you folks:
Please don't murder me?
DOOMED DUKES: WHY JMU WILL TOTALLY LOSE TO NEW HAMPSHIRE
There's an old saying in coaching: it's hard to beat a team three separate times.
Generally, that maxim applies to teams that are playing each other three times in the same season, but since Trevor Knight and Bryan Schor are still leading their respective CAA teams, that's good enough for me!
Okay, back to coachspeak. It's really hard to beat a team three times. Never mind that there's no emperical evidence to suggest that this is true — just ask any coach in America. They'll tell you. They'll lead press conferences with it. It's really, really hard.
Thus, JMU must do something really hard this week. The Dukes must beat uber-consistent New Hampshire for the third time in 17 games.
You all probably know what happened in the first two games. In the heat of the 2016 regular season, JMU jumped out to an unassailable 42-12 lead, only to give up 27 unanswered points in the final 10 minutes of the game. New Hampshire passed for 569 yards in the loss.
Later, in the playoffs, a smarting JMU team that was angry about the mid-season comeback whipped up on No. 22 New Hampshire in a second-round playoff game. Bryan Schor passed for 371 yards, and the Dukes laid the hammer down, leading 31-7 at the half.
This time, it's New Hampshire's turn to play angry. Even more importantly, the Wildcats (5-2, 3-1) are in the thick of another CAA championship race. With a win on Saturday, and a home game with Elon on Nov. 11, New Hampshire is still in a great position to snag the CAA's autobid to the FCS playoffs. That would place UNH in the postseason field for approximately the gazillionth consecutive season.
Yet another playoff berth is the goal for this UNH squad. They can take a big step toward it by channeling that left-over rage at JMU on Saturday.
Everyone knows about New Hampshire's offense. Like JMU, the Wildcats want to be balanced. Plenty of FCS teams pay lip service to the idea of balance, but they don't have the talent at quarterback or receiver to really toss the ball around effectively. UNH is an obvious exception — Trevor Knight is 154-of-248 (62.1%) on pass attempts this season and should go over 2,000 yards passing this weekend. He's tossed 18 touchdowns through seven games.
Knight's best receiver, Neil O'Connor, averages 126.1 yards per game. Contrast that against JMU, whose primary receivers* have far inferior numbers. Ish Hyman leads the Dukes with 43.8 yards per game. Obviously, this means O'Connor is more than twice as good as all JMU receivers.
Look, let's all agree that New Hampshire is going to throw the ball a lot. Let's also agree that this will likely be a problem for JMU. Historically, the Dukes have not held up well against the pass; the fact that JMU leads the conference in Scoring Defense, Total Defense, Defensive Pass Efficiency and Interceptions are probably just statistical anomalies. It's not even November yet! The 2017 season is still so young.
Trevor Knight isn't unbeatable, but he does share a name with another prominent quarterback. Before he was picked up as an Undrafted Free Agent by the Atlanta Falcons this past spring, the other Trevor Knight was a quarterback at Oklahoma. After he was ousted in favor of Baker Mayfield, he transferred to Texas A&M.
Gas is hovering around $2.30 a gallon in the Shenandoah Valley, and I expect that price to go up before Sunday. You'd better gas up before the game, alumni. It'll be a long drive home.
It's Week 9, and the Dukes are Doomed.
*Terrence Alls (74 ypg) is actually the leading receiver for the Dukes as of this writing. However, Alls has only appeared in three games for the Dukes this season.