To prepare for the FCS Championship matchup between North Dakota State and James Madison, HERO Sports got some insight from the guys at JMU Sports Blog.
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Make sure you check out JMU Sports Blog and give them a follow on Twitter at @JMUsportsblog. Thanks to Rob and Todd for their insight on the matchup.
Now, onto the questions:
What were your biggest takeaways from the South Dakota State game? What can JMU take from that win to build on for NDSU?
That game really showed just how dominant this JMU defense can be. Lots of people point to the fact that that after forcing 5 turnovers, JMU only came away with 7 points. We look at it another way though. The points didn't really matter much. What mattered was that the JMU defense completely shook SDSU up and took the offense out of the game mentally. At that point it was just a matter of time until JMU pulled away. A couple quick scores before the break and a pair of big Marcus Marshall TD runs to open the second half, and it turned into a laugher.
JMU's defense has been stellar this post-season — allowing 17 points a game. How do they keep it up against a NDSU offense averaging 45 points a game?
No doubt about it, NDSU is a very tough test for JMU. We think JMU is up to the challenge however. If you watch this JMU team play defense, you'll probably come away noting how balanced it is. That's not say that it's a perfect unit (there's no such thing) or there aren't any weaknesses, but thus far, no team has been able to consistently exploit on aspect of the defense.
The Dukes get after the QB, are excellent against the run, and have some of the best one on one pass defenders in the country. NDSU has an outstanding team and a great coaching staff and we're sure they'll come up with a good gameplan. The model really seems to be doing what Weber State did, by hanging in there and pouncing on mistakes.
When you look at shutting down NDSU, do things start and end with Easton Stick? How do the Dukes control the NDSU QB?
Controlling Easton Stick is important, but it's only the start. This NDSU team is just good in so many ways. The key to JMU's success on defense all year, might be attacking the QB. It's really uncanny how many teams have pulled their starting QBs mid-game against JMU, either because they got banged up, or because the Dukes defense got in their head. We're not dumb enough to say Stick isn't tough enough mentally or physically, but the Dukes will definitely try to get after him to slow down NDSU.
Last year Khalid Abdullah was the key to defeating NDSU. Who do you see filling that role this year?
The obvious answer right now is Marcus Marshall. He's a transfer running back from Georgia Tech and the son of JMU's all time leading rusher. He had kind of an up and down season, as he slowly adjusted to the JMU offense. Since the playoffs started though, he's really hit his stride. Earlier in the season he was a little shifty and hesitant to pick the right hole. Now though, he's become a runner who hits the hole quickly and then just takes off. And he's got the kind of breakaway speed you don't often see in FCS.
How does JMU avoid a slow start like we saw against South Dakota State? What's the key to jump-starting the offense early in the game?
We really wish we knew the answer to this one. After last year's explosive offense, most fans have struggled to figure out this season's unit. We think most fans have come around to understand that this offense is perfectly suited to play with the great JMU defense though. Bryan Schor is a pretty calm guy and doesn't seem to get rattled, even when he turns the ball over or the offense is a little sluggish.
The guys seem extremely confident in the defense and always seem to keep pounding away on offense until eventually they break through. Most weeks that means you kind of look up and realize it's a three-score game before you blink. We're not sure that's going to happen against NDSU, but we don't see this JMU offense failing to show up either. It always answers the bell, and has shown the ability to rise to the occasion with it all on the line.
If you had to pick one offensive player and one defensive player who's most vital for a Dukes victory, who would you pick?
On offense we're going with Marcus Marshall and on defense we'll say Andrew Ankrah. As we mentioned above, Marshall has really come to life in the playoffs. He's drawing a lot of Khalid Abdullah comparisons, which is music to JMU fan's ears and the sort of thing that could give NDSU fans nightmares. If Marcus can run the ball effectively, it will open up the entire offense. From that point, Schor has a number of weapons on the outside to throw the ball too.
Defensively, if Ankrah and his fellow d-lineman can control the line of scrimmage and get to Stick, it will make the task of slowing down NDSU's offense much easier. JMU's defensive backs are true ball hawks and quarterbacks who rush throws, have been made to pay the price. This NDSU offense is every bit as good as advertised, but so is the JMU defense. Ankrah and his teammates simply must hit Stick repeatedly for JMU to win.
What's your prediction for the game?
We're not reading much into the margins of victory or playoff performances of either team. To us, the only thing these playoffs have proved is that it's basically JMU, NDSU, and then everybody else. These are the two best teams by a fairly wide margin. NDSU has revenge on its mind, but we think JMU is going to get it done. Dukes 27 – Bison 13.
NEXT: FCS Championship: 5 Most Important Players for JMU and NDSU