2021 Richmond vs James Madison

Richmond Takes Playoff Mentality Into Matchup At James Madison

Richmond Takes Playoff Mentality Into Matchup At James Madison

Richmond is likely to make its first FCS Playoff appearance since 2016, but for the Spiders, the postseason has already begun.

Apr 16, 2021 by Kyle Kensing
Richmond Takes Playoff Mentality Into Matchup At James Madison

Richmond last made the FCS Playoffs in 2016, but that doesn’t exclude the Spiders from understanding the postseason feel.

“We’ve looked at the whole spring [in] a sense of a playoff,” said running back Aaron Dykes. “It’s kind of a win-or-gome home scenario all year.”

The regular-season finale perhaps best embodies that playoff atmosphere. While COVID-19 protocols have caused some unfortunate changes in the Colonial Athletic Association, one fortuitous break led to the rescheduling of Richmond’s date with James Madison for April 17. 

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The shared off-date allowed the two to match up with both sporting undefeated records, making this a de facto CAA South championship. The conference title, and thus the automatic bid into the Playoffs isn’t guaranteed to the winner, a result of Delaware’s undefeated record heading into its rivalry game with Villanova. 

But automatic berth or no, a perfect record in the CAA and a top 10 ranking in the FCS polls gives JMU-UR a play-in vibe. 

For James Madison, the Playoffs aren’t taken for granted — but the Dukes are regular fixtures in the field. They have three appearances in the National Championship Game since Richmond last played a postseason contest, and boasting the nation’s No. 1 ranking, could be the team to beat for the spring season title. 

Playoff implications aside, competing with James Madison is the ultimate standard by which other CAA programs are measured. That’s as much true in the first conference game of a season as it is the last. 

To that end, Saturday’s trip to Bridgeforth Stadium presents the No. 12-ranked Spiders a gut-check opportunity on its own merits. 

“If we want to be considered on the level JMU is on, this is the type of game we have to compete in and win,” Dykes said. “We just want to play to know we can play, and aren’t any less than them.” 

Richmond last beat James Madison in 2015. The 59-49 thriller spoiled the Dukes’ College Gameday experience, and helped solidify the Spiders’ spot in a playoff that ended in the semifinals. 

Plenty has changed since, with both programs welcoming new coaching staffs in addition to the turnover of players. Russ Huesman took over at Richmond in 2017, while Curt Cignetti stepped in at James Madison in 2019. 

The Dukes of 2021 employ a dramatically different style than the 2015 incarnation, embracing a physical brand of overwhelming defense that a persistent and punishing rushing attack complements. 

Even with a quarterback question looming — Cole Johnson has started every game this spring, but Gage Moloney was in line for the job before COVID-19 protocols — Richmond linebacker Tristan Wheeler said the Spiders know what to expect. 

That’s by design. The Dukes essentially dare opponents to stop it. Few manage to even slow it.  

“All the backs are solid backs. They’re all pretty lethal,” Wheeler said. “They can all run the ball, keep their feet, make a man miss and lower their shoulder if they need to.” 

A repeat of the 2015 is highly unlikely, both because of James Madison’s approach and that of Richmond. The Spiders come in with one of the most dominant defensive lines in FCS this spring, and a defense that Cignetti praised across all its phases. 

“The linebackers are excellent players,” he said. “All the guys in the secondary are really playing well.”

Cignetti added that the Spiders “play with an attitude.” 

Richmond’s attitude manifests in a 55-yard per game rushing yield for the spring. The multifaceted Dukes rushing attack averages 202 yards more per game than that. 

The matchup is an ultimate example of best vs. best. 

“We know going into this game that the strength of their offense is the run game, and the strength of our defense is in the box,” Wheeler said.  

The Spiders couldn’t have a more fitting benchmark to meet to prove themselves worthy of the postseason.