The JMU Quarterback battle is raging on.. apparently up until the opening kickoff.
If Coach Mike Houston knows who is starting at quarterback for the #2 team in FCS, James Madison Dukes, he isn’t telling anyone.
Houston has been telling the local members of the media that everyone would know “at 12:01pm on September 1,” and it looks like he is sticking to that time table.
What started as a 4 man battle in spring practice was quickly whittled down to a 2 man battle entering fall camp. Walk-on Junior transfer from Pitt Ben DiNucci and Junior 2 year backup Cole Johnson have matched each other blow for blow throughout training camp.
Neither one has been able to separate himself from the other in the month of August. This is a good problem for the Dukes. These two aren’t struggling through camp where Houston and offensive coordinator Donnie Fitzpatrick have to settle on one.
The two young men have each played very well, but they both have different styles.
DiNucci is the more mobile of the two. He can use his legs to get out of trouble and move the chains more easily if need be. DiNucci was the starter at Pittsburgh in the first part of the 2017 season, so he certainly knows what to expect against an ACC foe like NC State.
Johnson has the bigger arm and throws a really good deep ball. Johnson knows the system having been with the Dukes the last two seasons.
He played extremely well in the one start he got filling in for Bryan Schor in 2016; going 12-13 for 274 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Elon.
Its never easy to replace one of the best players at a position in school history, which Schor is, but there are plenty of weapons for whichever man ultimately wins the battle.
The running back room is as deep as any in the country and could lean on any of 5 backs – Marcus Marshall, Trai Sharp, Cardon Johnson, Juwon Hamilton or Percy Agyei-Obese – to carry the load for the Dukes.
At receiver, breakout Junior Riley Stapleton can catch just about anything thrown his way. After Stapleton, the Dukes will rely on a number of younger pass catchers and senior David Eldredge on the outside. Clayton Cheatham should be the chief tight end in 2018.
The decision for Houston and Kirkpatrick will come down to whether they want a quarterback who fits the previous system a little better with his mobility – DiNucci; or a quarterback who knows the system inside and out with a strong upside – Johnson.
I think both will play in some capacity this year, but if I am forced to pick, I think at 12:01 pm on September 1, Ben Dinucci will be trotting onto the field with the JMU offense.
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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