FCS Semifinal Round Playoff Matchup: Weber State at James Madison
Where: Bridgeforth Stadium, Harrisonburg, Virginia
When: Saturday, December 21st, 6:00PM EST
TV/Streaming: ESPNU/Watch ESPN
James Madison Dukes (13-1), Head Coach: Curt Cignetti
Colonial Athletic Association
In quarterfinal action last week, James Madison used a suffocating defense and just enough offense to defeat Northern Iowa 17-0. The Dukes moved the ball well early, but as the inclement weather came in, they went conservative, sticking with the run game for the majority of the second half. With a 10-0 lead at halftime, the Dukes knew their defense could make that lead hold up.
Northern Iowa did not cross midfield until their last drive of the game; at point at which the game had already been decided. James Madison held the Panthers to 114 total yards, including zero yards rushing.
The Dukes were not happy with their offensive production. Between penalties, turnovers and missed field goals, Coach Curt Cignetti felt the team left a lot of points on the board. A normally efficient red zone offense struggle to add to the early lead. It didn’t cost them this week, but the coaches know they need to tighten that up the rest of the way.
What Makes James Madison So Good?
James Madison is one of the most balanced teams in the FCS. They can beat you 66-21 in a shootout or they can beat you 17-0 in a defensive battle. There are no glaring weaknesses on this team. But the biggest strength of the team is its defensive line. On the line, the Dukes feature two Buck Buchanan award finalist. On one end is John Daka who finished seventh in the voting. Daka currently has a school record 16.5 sacks on the season to go along with 26.5 tackles for loss. On the other end is top three finisher Ron’Dell Carter. The senior has amassed 11.5 sacks and 25 tackles for loss of his own. If the opponent decides to double the outside, Mike Green and Adeeb Atariwa are waiting to eat up backs up the middle.
The Dukes leading tackler is linebacker Dimitri Holloway. He is excellent at reading and reacting to the way the opposing offensive lines are blocking up front to create situations for him to attack the opponent’s backfield.
On offense, James Madison features a strong running game with five players with over 300 rushing yards. The lead back is usually Percy Agyei-Obese. The junior back has amassed over 1000 yards and ranks fifth in the nation with 19 rushing touchdowns. The Dukes also use Juwon Hamilton and Solomon VanHorse in the run game. And a defense cant forget about the running ability of quarterback Ben DiNucci who has 500 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
Speaking of DiNucci, he is the most accurate quarterback in the FCS, completing 71.2% of his passes. After struggling with turnovers last year, DiNucci has only thrown five interceptions all season against 25 touchdown passes. DiNucci is 18 yards away from 3000 on the year.
The Dukes have speed at the wide receiver position in Brandon Polk. On the year, Polk has 68 catches for 1121 catches and 11 touchdowns. Polk has the speed to take a 5 yard pass 50 yards for a touchdown, something he has done multiple times this year. Riley Stapleton and Dylan are both over 25 catches and 300 yards as well.
If a team thinks they can relax and just kick the ball, they are mistaken. James Madison has blocked eight kicks this year on special teams. And if the punt gets off, DeAngelo Amos is always a threat to return it for a touchdown.
Key Player, Offense: When Curt Cignetti took the job last December, he immediately opened the quarterback competition because he wasn’t completely in love with what he saw from Ben DiNucci when he reviewed tape of the Dukes from last year. But, DiNucci worked hard through spring and summer practice to earn the trust of the coaching staff and win the job back. He has rewarded them with a strong season that has already garnered him CAA offensive player of the year honors. After throwing five interceptions in the second round against Colgate, DiNucci has only thrown five all season. He has managed the offense and allowed it to move the ball with relative ease, averaging 42 points per game. DiNucci will eclipse the 3000 yard mark and has added another 500 yards with his legs. If DiNucci plays with his normal efficiency this week, the Dukes will book their ticket to Frisco.
Key Player, Defense: As noted above, the Duke’s defensive line is extremely disruptive. Because the front four is so strong it allows Dimitri Holloway to make plays in many different ways. Holloway has the ability to run sideline to sideline and is a three down linebacker. Holloway leads the Dukes with 111 tackles. Holloway prevents big runs by the opponents, not letting the running backs to get into the secondary and create run room. With a run focused team like Weber, Holloway will have a big impact in keeping the Dukes from giving up big yardage in the run game.
Why Will Weber State Struggle?
With a defense as strong as James Madison, its hard to find consistent traction to move the ball against them. Weber State ranks 89th in total offense. An average defensive performance from the Wildcats will not be enough to beat James Madison. Most likely, the game will need to be won by Jake Constantine in the pass game. The Dukes will be able to shut down the Wildcat run game, especially if Josh Davis is at all limited. Constantine is not a threat to run when he drops back to pass, so the Dukes’ front four will funnel him into a lot of sacks.
Defensively, the Wildcats will try to use their strong defensive line to stop the JMU run game. They may find success, but as the game wears on, the Dukes will start to pick up more and more yards and be able to salt the game away. Look for JMU to take a couple shots against an aggressive Weber defense that will put some points on the board for JMU.
Fearless Prediction: The Dukes have no weakness and have one goal in mind: Frisco. Weber State may put up a fight early, but look for JMU to put the clamps on defensively and pull away offensively in the second half. James Madison 31, Weber State 10
Jamie is a proud 2002 graduate of James Madison University. He’s witnessed the growth of the program from no one in the stands in 1998, to the hiring of Mickey Matthews, to the 2004 National Championship, to the 2008 team, to the struggles in the early 2010s, and finally the rebuild under Mike Houston. He also allegedly really enjoys Washington, DC-based Stanley Cup winners.
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