An outright Colonial Athletic Association championship is at stake for James Madison on Senior Day 2019. The Dukes carry a nine-game win streak and the only perfect mark in what has otherwise been a chaotic CAA season against a Richmond team needing a big win to stay in the postseason hunt.
Who: Richmond (5-5, 4-2 CAA) at No. 2 James Madison (9-1, 6-0 CAA)
When: Saturday, Nov. 16, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Bridgeforth Stadium; Harrisonburg, Virginia
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball
The Spiders dropped a 35-28 heartbreaker in Week 11 at Villanova, putting them behind the eight ball in the chase for the FCS Playoffs. Still, the near-miss on the road demonstrated once again how tough Russ Huesman’s team can be on a given week.
James Madison’s come out ahead in a few similar tests, but the Dukes have cranked up the intensity of late. They drilled New Hampshire last week, 54-16.
“We’re on a mission right now to finish this thing the right way,” said JMU quarterback Ben DiNucci.
Locking up the conference championship in front of a home crowd would certainly qualify.
Elite Pass Rushing
There are four big reasons that James Madison and Richmond rank first and second in the CAA in sacks: John Daka and Ron’Dell Carter; Maurice Jackson and Kobie Turner.
These standout defensive line on each side of Saturday’s affair help set the tone for two of the most fearsome, pass-rush defenses in college football. Of course, it doesn’t end with the ends in either case; James Madison’s interior star Mike Greene contributes to the Dukes’ 31 sacks, which rank the Dukes ninth in the nation.
“James Madison’s got a lot of talented guys up there,” Huesman said. “When you’ve got talented guys, you can rush the passer. When you get there with four – it doesn’t take six each time -- that helps.”
For Richmond, Colby Ritten, Brandon Feamster and Tyler Dressler all have multiple sacks to complement the elite tag team of Jackson and Turner.
Two of the hottest quarterbacks anywhere in college football lead their teams into Bridgeforth Stadium on Saturday. For James Madison’s DiNucci, this contest is a special one. He said having his parents on the field with him to celebrate Dukes’ Senior Day is an honor.
Coming up with another big game, one week after he torched New Hampshire for three touchdowns, would make it all the more memorable.
The Richmond defense’s performance against dual-threat quarterbacks in the last two weeks has had a high high – the Spiders forced Tyquell Fields of Stony Brook to a one-yard rushing, 12-of-25 passing day – and a frustrating low. Villanova’s Dan Smith went 20-of-28 passing and rushed for 105 yards with two touchdowns last week.
James Madison won’t rely as heavily on DiNucci as a ball-carrier, given the Dukes backfield rotation is the deepest in the nation, but he has the wheels to scramble when under duress.
Richmond has used Joe Mancuso as more of a ball-carrier, and he’s delivered against quality opponents. Last week at Villanova, Mancuso rushed for a team-high 89 yards with two touchdowns, and passed for another two scores.
It was his second two passing touchdown, two rushing touchdown performance in as many weeks.
“He’s got a really live arm, he runs the ball effectively,” Huesman said of Mancuso. “He’s cut down on his mistakes.”
Can Richmond Avoid The Run?
Last week in the late first quarter, New Hampshire extended its lead to 10-3 on a Jason Hughes field goal. James Madison preceded to score the game’s next 41 points and only punted after the decision was well in hand.
Villanova led the Dukes going into the fourth quarter of their Oct. 12 affair. The Dukes scored 21 straight on a 26-yard DiNucci pass to Brandon Polk; an 83-yard MJ Hampton pick-six; and a 69-yard Latrele Palmer run.
James Madison’s spurtability comes from a variety of sources, and it’s been close to unstoppable this season. While Richmond has weapons – like kickoff return expert Aaron Dykes – a methodical, ball-control style may be the Spiders’ best bet.
Richmond’s won some marquee games this season with its ability to grind down the tempo, including against a high-scoring UAlbany team.