Playoff Committee Darlings Collide For CAA Supremacy When Dukes Host UNH

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New Hampshire was nearing the end of a disappointing 2018 season when something unexpected occurred: The Wildcats posted a 35-24 upset victory over James Madison, which entered that game ranked No. 3 in the FCS Coaches’ Poll.

You can be sure the thought of that game still stings certain members of this year’s James Madison team, which will get another crack at New Hampshire on Saturday in Harrisonburg, Va.

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“The game wasn’t even that close to be honest with you,” said James Madison coach Curt Cignetti, who was Elon’s head coach at this time last season. “New Hampshire dominated pretty much throughout the whole game. I’m sure our guys will remember that. You’re always looking for extra motivation. 

“They’re gonna come down here with a lot of confidence so we’re gonna have to play really, really well.”

James Madison (8-1, 5-0 Colonial Athletic Association) is ranked No. 2 in both national FCS polls. The Dukes haven’t lost since they opened the season with a 20-13 setback against West Virginia.

New Hampshire (5-3, 4-1 CAA) will head into Saturday’s matchup with the No. 2 scoring defense in the CAA (16.6 ppg), but the Wildcats are at the bottom of the CAA statistics when it comes to scoring offense (20.1).

“They’re going to play a lot of man to man,” New Hampshire interim head coach Ricky Santos said. “They’re going to pressure us, so Max (UNH quarterback Max Brosmer) has to do a great job of getting the ball out of his hand and understanding where the pressure’s coming from.

“Especially this week we need to establish the ground game early. We need to try to win the possession battle, because if we give their explosive offense too many extra possessions it’s not gonna bode well for us.”

They’re No. 1

James Madison is ranked first among CAA teams in several categories, including scoring offense (38.9 ppg), rushing offense (238.0 ypg), scoring defense (16.1), rushing defense (67.3), total offense (463.1) and total defense (289.9).

“Where do you begin?” Santos said. “They don’t really have a weakness. Both sides of the line are really good for them. They’re a big, physical, imposing offensive line. They run the ball well. Their game plan is going to be to control the clock. They’ve won the time of possession in almost every game they’ve played. 

"And then their defensive line is very dynamic. Their two defensive ends (Ron’Dell Carter and John Daka) are one-two in the conference in tackles for loss. We definitely have a big challenge ahead of us.”

Carter leads JMU with 17.5 tackles for loss, including six sacks. Daka has recorded a team-high nine sacks and has 16 tackles for loss.

Secondary Thoughts

James Madison turned the ball over six times (four interceptions) during its loss to New Hampshire last season. Two of the four interceptions were returned for touchdowns.

New Hampshire has 13 interceptions this season, which is tied for the fourth most among FCS teams. Safety Evan Horn, who scored one of New Hampshire’s two defensive touchdowns against James Madison last year, leads the team with four interceptions.

“We know how explosive a team they are,” Santos said. “We have to tackle really well. The second guy in has to try to strip it and get the ball out. And then hopefully do some good things disguising coverage-wise, so hopefully we get one or two interceptions there in the back end to give us a few more possessions.”

Conference Call

James Madison, which had a bye last week, can maintain sole possession of first place in the CAA with a victory Saturday. A win could move New Hampshire into sole possession of first place after tiebreakers. New Hampshire enters the weekend tied with Richmond for second place in the conference.  

“They’re a really good football team,” Cignetti said. “The defense, the offense and special teams all complement each other. They have a lot of grit. They play hard, and thus they are where they are right now. The biggest challenge coming out of the bye week will be to start fast on Saturday.”

UMass Faces Unique Challenges, Advantages As 2020 Season Approaches

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On a typical autumn Saturday, college football can feel like the most important thing on Earth. The year 2020, however, has been anything but typical — not that anyone needs reminders. 

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Loaded Valdosta State Is Eager To Light Up Some More Scoreboards

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At Valdosta State, the pressing question on offense may be less if the Blazers will move the ball, but rather who’s doing so. 

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Delta State's Junior Faulk Is An Interception Machine

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One benefit to a college football team returning a veteran lineup, Delta State defensive coordinator Kelvin Green explains, is the opportunity to build “a player-led team.” 

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Gulf South Moves To Conference-Only Season, Delays Start

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The Gulf South Conference announced on Thursday that it will delay the start of fall sports to either the last week of September or the first week of October.

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CAA Football Votes To Suspend Conference Competition In 2020

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The CAA announced on Friday that the Conference's Board of Directors has voted to suspend conference competition originally scheduled for this fall due to continuing concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Big Tens Opts For Conference-Only Football Schedule This Fall

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The Big Ten Conference announced on Thursday that it if the league is able to participate in fall sports, it will move to conference-only schedules in those sports.

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Towson's Rob Ambrose Continues To Lead By Example Throughout Pandemic

Stare Into The 'Soul' Of Towson Football

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Social media too often is an outlet for negativity in sports – but also has the capacity for good. Towson head coach Rob Ambrose knows both sides of these communicative platforms. 

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Shane Simpson Looking Strong In Recovery

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During the third game of the 2019 season against Maine, Towson standout running back Shane Simpson suffered a season-ending knee injury. 

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We Stand With You

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The events of the last week have been tremendously painful to us all.

CAA Has 21 Players Recognized On HERO Sports Preseason FCS All-America Team

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CAA Football had 21 players from nine different teams recognized on the 2020 HERO Sports Preseason FCS All-America team that was released on Thursday afternoon.

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