Previewing JMU football vs. Richmond from every angle

September 27, 2018

Take everything you know about Four Downs and throw it out the window. Here at The Breeze, we’re all about moving onward and upward. With that, a new edition of Four Downs — taking a look at JMU’s upcoming game against Richmond from the eyes of Spiders’ head coach Russ Huesman, JMU athletes, JMU head coach Mike Houston and sports editor Blake Pace.

1. From the Spiders’ web

Richmond head coach Russ Huesman had plenty to say about the Dukes ahead of the 36th battle between the two programs. For his offense, he knows the challenge will be in the trenches.

“They’re physical up front,” Huesman said. “I think what coach Trott and those defensive guys do so well is ... eyes. Their eyes are never in the wrong spot. They’re well-coached, I don’t think there’s a question about that.”

On the opposite side of things, the challenge is stopping the numerous playmakers for the Dukes. He’s been extremely impressed with the quarterback play in the early stages of his evaluation.

“I just think their quarterback is fantastic,” Huesman said. “He looks good, he can sling it, he looks like he’s got velocity, he can run. Nothing against the guy last year, because I thought the guy last year, Schor, was very good, but this guy, I think, is a pretty different cat.”

The compliments didn’t end there. Jokingly, Huesman went on about the number of offensive weapons working around DiNucci.

“They’ve got 12 or 13 of those guys running around,” Huesman said. “And they’re all good.”

2. Players’ perspective

It’s no surprise that an in-state rivalry game will add an extra level of intensity. After a chippy game last Saturday vs. William & Mary, the players are ready to keep a level head this weekend.

“Coach talks about it every week,” junior defensive lineman John Daka said. “We just let our pads talk, we don’t try to get into all the little stuff that happens after the whistle. I know with the chippiness of this game, with the rivalry, we’ve just got to stay cool.”

The JMU coaching staff has done a good job over the years at making sure the team stays away from unecessary penalties and cheap shots that could jeopardize success. With rivalry games in back-to-back weeks, that message has to be louder than ever.

“We expect the chippiness and all the edge and stuff,” redshirt senior cornerback Jimmy Moreland said. “This is a big rivalry. We got to keep our composure, keep our players under control and keep them out of way of the referees.”

When the tempers flare on Saturday, the Dukes will just get set for the next play and let their talent speak for itself.

3. Houston’s headset

Just as Huesman’s been impressed with the JMU offense, head coach Mike Houston had a lot to say about the Richmond receiving game.

“You can’t just sit and focus on one guy,” Houston said. “Last week we communicated every snap where he was and our guys had a real central focus on him. Now, they’ve got you spread out with three dynamic players.

While the Dukes squared up against a very talented receiver last week in DeVonte Dedmon, the depth of the Spiders’ receiver corp adds a unique degree of difficulty to the pass defense.

To JMU’s benefit, it was announced Monday that Dejon Brissett — the Spiders’ No. 1 receiver — has a fractured ankle and will miss the remainder of the year. Still, Houston has plenty of respect for redshirt junior quarterback Kevin Johnson’s ability to get the ball to his targets.

“This is a guy that’s seen a lot of ball, he’s been coached a lot, and so he’s much more polished than what we saw last week or the week before,” Houston said. “He does a great job with ball placement, he’s got a strong arm. We’re gonna have to do a great job with defending him this Saturday.”

4. Blake’s bubble

As JMU hits the road for the first time since Week 2, the team has the chance to blank two in-state rivals in back-to-back weeks. Conference rivalry games are always played at a higher level, but that only slowed the Dukes in the first half.

While this team has played JMU extremely close over the last few years — 20-13 in 2017 and 47-43 in 2016 — it hasn’t won since the first ESPN College GameDay visit to the ’Burg in 2015.

Since then, JMU football has done an 180 to become a completely different program — and for the better. Their defense is stout, their return game is lethal and the offense does a good job in molding to its personnel.

For this Saturday, I expect more of the same from the last two weeks of play. The Spiders do have an pass-heavy offense and a scary D-line, but the Dukes should be able to dominate the point of contact, force key turnovers defensively and get solid work from its offensive playmakers in yet another JMU win, 45-10.

Contact Blake Pace at breezesports@gmail.com. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.