JMU football roundtable for matchup with New Hampshire

October 27, 2017 GMT

JMU football (7-0, 4-0 CAA) took a convincing win on the road at the College of William & Mary on Saturday, 46-14. The Dukes will now shift their focus to No. 17 New Hampshire (5-2, 3-1 CAA). Sports editors Kevin Haswell and Sammy Criscitello teamed up with Jeff Gimpel, the host of The JMUSPORTS Podcast, and Matt Weyrich, a former sports editor of The Breeze, to discuss JMU football and the game ahead.

Who is JMU’s most valuable player so far this season?

Kevin Haswell: My MVP for JMU football so far this season would be junior running back Marcus Marshall. After redshirt senior running back Cardon Johnson went down for the season, someone had to step up. Marshall has done just that, averaging 5.5 yards per carry this season with a team-leading five touchdowns. Marshall’s production down the stretch will be a huge factor in deciding whether head coach Mike Houston and company repeat as FCS National Champions.

Jeff Gimpel: If the season ended tomorrow, the MVP would be Kyre Hawkins and I don’t think it’s close. The redshirt senior linebacker has been a force all season. He’s the heart and soul of this vaunted JMU defense. In the two biggest games so far this year (at ECU, vs. Villanova), Hawkins ended up winning CAA Defensive Player of the Week. He stops the run, can rush the passer (five sacks), and is incredibly impressive in coverage. No question, Hawkins is this JMU team’s MVP.

Sammy Criscitello: The Dukes’ MVP has seen his season transform from being a weapon off the bench to one of the top running threats in the CAA. Junior running back Trai Sharp has left JMU fans to forget all about Johnson. Sharp’s 462 rushing yards rank fourth best in the CAA, and leads Marshall by 45 rushing yards. The junior’s 5.2 yards per carry is the ninth best average in conference. Sharp showcased his high ceiling at Delaware on Sept. 30 when he ran for a career-high 185 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries en route to being named CAA Offensive Player of the Week on Oct. 2.

Matt Weyrich: Why isn’t anyone talking about Jordan Brown? After picking off two passes against William & Mary this past Saturday, the redshirt senior safety leads the team with four interceptions on the year to go with 38 tackles, 2.5 sacks and three pass breakups. He’s the only player on the team with at least one interception and two sacks this season and has yet to finish a game with less than three total tackles. He’s been one of the best defensive players on the team since making the switch from cornerback to safety when Houston took over and deserves much more credit for the work he’s put in on the field.

Do you think that there’s added pressure with the Dukes being undefeated at this point in the season? Would they benefit more from losing one game?

Kevin Haswell: I’ve always been a proponent for undefeated teams to lose. You learn more from losses than you do from wins. While I don’t see the Dukes losing another game this season, I think they’d benefit from a loss going into the postseason.

Jeff Gimpel: Conventional wisdom will tell you that being undefeated to this point in a season will do nothing but put a target on your back. However, JMU and Houston have been anything but conventional over the last 20 games. Normally, I’d say a one-game heat check might help a team that hasn’t lost yet, but JMU isn’t normal. I don’t think a loss will hurt or help JMU because they have their minds set on one goal — winning that week’s game. This team doesn’t care about going 15-0 on the season. They care about going 1-0 each week.

Sammy Criscitello: This team has yet to show any signs of mounting pressure in its performance. The only game Houston and his team ever think about is the next one. The notion of “benefitting” from losing is preposterous to this team. If they drop a game, they have the leadership both on the field and off to be resilient, but I don’t think the Dukes will have to worry about this predicament any time soon.

Matt Weyrich: To be completely honest, I don’t think this team cares about win streaks, record books or anything like that. Houston has instilled a mentality to only focus on winning each football game, and that’s exactly what the Dukes are going to do. They’ve already won a national championship. What could have more pressure than that?

What do you expect to see out of JMU this weekend against New Hampshire?

Kevin Haswell: I expect Houston to try to get the run game going and the defense to be as strong as usual. JMU should win by three or more touchdowns and get its eighth win of the season. JMU wins 38-10.

Jeff Gimpel: I expect JMU to really get the offense going this week. New Hampshire has a “bend-don’t-break” type of defense that relies on the offense to put up points. JMU should win the battle in the trenches and be able to run the ball effectively throughout the game. New Hampshire can move the ball offensively and put up some serious points, and with a dual-threat QB running their offense, the Dukes have to play smart football and keep Trevor Knight in the pocket. JMU’s defense is second in the country in passing yards allowed and first in pass defense efficiency — it’ll rely on that to win this game. I’m taking JMU in this one 45-14.

Sammy Criscitello: As strong as JMU’s defense has been to this point, look for an offensive shootout on Saturday. JMU’s 285 points scored is the highest in the CAA, while New Hampshire’s 209 points scored is the third best. Knight’s 1,905 passing yards and Schor’s 1,488 passing yards rank No. 2 and 3 respectively in the CAA, which should make for a back-and-forth contest in Bridgeforth come Saturday. JMU wins 45-28.

Matt Weyrich: If one thing’s for certain, the Wildcats aren’t going to be afraid to air things out. New Hampshire’s Knight has just five interceptions on the year, so the Dukes will have to play mistake-free football on offense to keep the ball out of his hand. Schor has had at least one interception in every game this season, a disturbing trend that’ll undoubtedly be a storyline if it continues come playoff time. The Wildcats’ only CAA loss came at the hands of an impressive Stony Brook team, and should prove to be one of the tougher opponents JMU faces this season. I predict the Dukes coming out on top 48-35.

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