Statistically speaking, James Madison has been one of the best teams in college football throughout the 2019 season.
That might read like an obvious statement. After all, the Dukes spent the entirety of the regular season ranked No. 2 and earned home-field advantage all the way to the championship round of the FCS Playoffs.
But those honors are the sum of individual parts that are all impressive in their own way. A numerical breakdown of the 2019 Dukes shows a team that ranks among the all-time best in FCS.
Nowhere To Run
Dukes opponents average 2.1 yards per rushing attempt. Two-point-one!
A common talking about among coaches is that establishing an effect run is vital to an offense, particularly for making second and third downs more manageable. At James Madison’s average, an offense would need five downs to barely move the chains.
Small wonder, then, that Dukes opponents only convert on third down 30.4 percent of the time. That ranks fifth among FCS teams, and third among squads in the Playoffs.
And as for getting into the end zone, forget it: James Madison allowed six touchdowns on the ground in 12 games.
Dukes With A Capital D
James Madison’s overwhelming run defense lays the foundation for its overall defensive prowess. The Dukes rank third in the nation in points allowed per game at 15.7; that’s nearly a full touchdown less a contest than the national championship-winning 2016 team’s final yield.
What’s more, the 2019 Dukes allow less per play. This season, James Madison opponents average 0.25 points per play; that number was 0.32 three years ago.
James Madison also ranks neck-and-neck with North Dakota State, which has allowed 0.20 points per play on the year. Should the top two seeds in the Playoffs meet in Frisco for a second time in three seasons, that statistic will be a primary reason.
Balanced All The Way
Of the 16 teams remaining in the Playoffs, James Madison ranks fourth in rushing offense at 249.3 yards per game. Of those four teams, the Dukes are one of three with five different ball-carriers to total at least 300 yards.
Although clearly committed to the run, James Madison’s been the most balanced of the quartet with 2,659 yards through the air. Only North Dakota State also reached 2,000 yards passing; Kennesaw State’s option offense passed for 1,091 yards in one game more after its 1st Round defeat of Wofford, and Montana State threw for 1,990 during the regular season.
Dynamite DiNucci & Polk's Pursuit Of History
The balance in James Madison’s offense is possible because of the savvy play of Ben DiNucci. The veteran quarterback matches Illinois State’s Brady Davis with 13.7 yards per completion, tied for fourth-best among remaining quarterbacks in the postseason.
DiNucci combines downfield ability with accuracy. He finished the regular season tops among all FCS quarterbacks at 70.3 percent, beating out North Dakota State’s Trey Lance with 36 more attempts. DiNicci threw only four interceptions in the regular season. DiNucci and Lance are 2 and 1 in passing efficiency ranking at a mind-boggling 187.5 and 175.2.
Like the balance evident in the run game, James Madison’s pass-catching flourishes with a variety of contributors. Five Dukes have at least 19 receptions for at last 249 yards. Brandon Polk is tops among them at 979 yards.
Based on his current per-catch yield, Polk is just two receptions shy of becoming James Madison’s first 1,000-yard receiver since David McLeod in 1993, and only the second Duke ever to reach the mark.
Block! That! Kick!
With six blocked kicks, James Madison’s special teams rank tops among remaining teams. That also tied for fifth nationally in the regular season.
Beyond the sheer volume, James Madison’s blocked kicks have often been timely. D’Angelo Amos’ against Villanova, for example, played a pivotal part in the Dukes’ fourth-quarter rally.