I think JMU’s going to do what it’s done all year, which is establish the run game by dominating the line of scrimmage and controlling the pace of the game. The Dukes will play inspired football for both injured running back Cardon Johnson and for Trai Sharp, whose father passed away during the fourth quarter of last week's game.
The Dukes will make a statement this week as they open up conference play, with Sharp having a big day as well as senior tight end Jonathan Kloosterman, who should be a serious weapon in the play-action game.
Maine leads the country in turnover margin and turnovers forced. Black Bears running back Josh Mack leads the country in rushing yards per game. Also worth noting, Maine padded its stats quite a bit against Bryant. JMU is quite a bit better than Bryant. While Maine poses a legitimate threat, the Dukes will be 4-0 come Saturday evening.
This is clearly the toughest game the Dukes have faced, and yes that includes FBS East Carolina. Maine looks strong in the "grit" categories. It has one of the top FCS running backs in the country in Josh Mack and has only allowed one sack this season. It is stingy defensively on third downs and leads the CAA in turnover margin by a mile.
Maine is a solid CAA program that will not be a pushover, but the Dukes are a machine, they're at home, and the emotional rebound from a tough Saturday a week ago will be the fuel for a big conference win this week.
Maine is a team that has never met my expectations. It is always much better or much worse than I expect them to be. The Black Bears’ results this season don’t really help me with this dilemma as they’ve played a close game at New Hampshire — a 24-23 loss — before drumming Bryant, 60-12. They were off last week with a bye giving them two weeks to prepare for their showdown with the nation’s top-ranked team. My guess JMU is about to get Maine’s best shot.
The Black Bears haven’t traveled to Harrisonburg since 2011, a delightfully fun game that Maine won by converting a two-point try after scoring in the first overtime. Last season, the Dukes defeated the Black Bears by running for 315 yards on 6.2 yards per carry and by racking up four sacks and three turnovers on defense.
I think this year’s Dukes’ defense is playing better than the one that played in Orono a year ago, so I think that part of the equation should be repeatable. I wonder, however, if JMU might need to rely more on the passing game this week due to the tough week surrounding the running backs. Either way, I’m confident Bryan Schor can handle the load and am thinking he’ll have a big day. I’m predicting this one will be closer than anticipated, but that the defense and home-field advantage lift Madison to the win.
Whenever Maine and JMU face off, it's always a good old-fashioned bare-knuckle boxing match. Maine's solid offensive line is going to go against a deep defensive front from the Dukes; likewise, JMU's talented offensive line group will get its stiffest test of the young season against a Maine front that did a decent job clogging up JMU's offense last year.
After JMU successfully thumped most of its September competition, I expect this to be more of a game. The Dukes will still win by double digits, but Maine's big boys at the line will make JMU earn it, and I respect the hell out of 'em for that. JMU pulls away in the second half to open CAA play with a win.