James Madison hosts Rhode Island at Bridgeforth Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 10 for the Dukes' last home game of the season. JMU, coming off a tough loss at the University of New Hampshire, has another difficult matchup in the Rams of Rhode Island.
The Rams were without their star QB, Redshirt Senior JaJuan Lawson in weeks 5-8 due to an injury — in these weeks, the Rams lost two CAA matchups that have dropped them in the CAA rankings, but winning out in combination with the other top-6 seeds losing could give them a possibility to win a playoff spot. Yes, very far-fetched. But hey, this is sports, anything is possible.
As for the Dukes, with the lost last week to now 3-6 New Hampshire, it seems like a dagger has pierced the heart of the JMU community. No one expected the star QB for the purple and gold Ben DiNucci to get benched after just two pass attempts with no apparent injury.
However, Cole Johnson stepped in and had his best game as a Duke, completing 31 of 48 for 398 yards, suggesting no matter who is at QB, the Rams pass defense, No. 2 in the CAA, is in for a challenge.
Coach Mike Houston said at the weekly press conference at Harrisonburg local restaurant, O'Neill's Bar, "I expect our QB to be our leader, I will put in at QB who I think gives us the best opportunity to lead this team and win games."
We will see Saturday who gets the start at QB for the last home game of the season.
QBs vs. Pass Defense
For the sake of comparison, I will use JMU's season starting QB Ben DiNucci vs. URI's JaJuan Lawson. DiNucci, including his worst game of the season last week, leads all CAA quarterbacks in completion percentage and is top-five in the CAA in total passing yards, passing efficiency and pass completions. Lawson is third in the CAA with 13 passing touchdowns, eighth in passing yards and tenth in pass completions in just five games played.
James Madison's pass defense is the best in the CAA allowing the fewest yards through the air (1,473) than any other team in the CAA. This will be a true test to Lawson's skills as previous opposing defenses have been nowhere close to the strength and depth of the Dukes defense.
However, coming off season-highs in completions and attempts, Lawson will look to continue where he left off last week, scrambling for first downs and completing pivotal third down conversions.
Additionally, the JMU defense has seen very few quarterbacks this season with abilities like Lawson. He is elusive, speedy, and powerful. Similar to Trevor Knight of UNH, who completely destroyed the Dukes defense last week, Coach Houston will prepare his defense the best he can to defend against a type of quarterback they have not seen much of this season.
The Rams pass defense is second in the CAA behind JMU allowing 1,555 yards through the air on an average 6.5 yards per completion. Whoever starts, DiNucci or Johnson, they will likely see a Rams defense that will rush intensely in all situations. JMU quarterbacks failed to throw a touchdown last week and surrendered a season-high four interceptions in addition to two lost fumbles.
This game will likely come down to turnovers. If the JMU QB can correct last weeks woes and efficiently move the ball downfield, the JMU offense can run away with this one. But if the Rams defense can force third and longs and increase the opportunity for turnovers, the Rams could leave Harrisonburg victorious.
Other Key Players
- JMU RB Cardon Johnson: Selected as Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year Nominee after multiple injuries sidelined him in previous seasons. Ranks tenth in JMU running back history with 26 total touchdowns and ranks just outside the top-10 in career rushing yards (2,442).
- JMU RB Marcus Marshall: Leads CAA RBs in yards per rush (6.4). Tied for fifth in CAA with 5 rushing touchdowns.
- JMU WR Riley Stapleton: Tied for second in CAA in receptions per game (5.67) and total receptions (51). Sixth in CAA in total receiving yards (609).
- URI WR Aaron Parker: Leads CAA in receiving yards per game (92.9). Tied for second with 5.67 receptions per game. Sixth in average reception (16.4).
- URI RB/PR/KR Ahmere Dorsey: Tied for second behind JMU's D'Angelo Amos with one punt return touchdown. Leads CAA in kick return average (27.2). Second in CAA in kick return yards (679) and tied for first in KR touchdowns (1). Third in CAA in yards per rush (6)
JMU WR Riley Stapleton in comparison to URI WR Aaron Parke
HERDER: NDSU's Menard on a Tear