The James Madison Dukes weathered the storm and pushed through a gritty performance against the Marshall Thundering Herd, proving their worth in the process. Fighting for a national ranking from the AP poll, JMU easily proved that they’re one of the top 25 teams in the country on Thursday night.
And serious questions should be raised if they’re not in the discussion for a Top 25 Ranking by the AP Poll come the next release.
James Madison Battles Past Marshall, Improves to 7-0
The Dukes more than proved themselves on Thursday night in front of a national audience that got to see just how talented this JMU team actually is. James Madison defeated Marshall, 20-9, and improved to 7-0 on the season.
While not necessarily considered a trap game, the outing against Marshall was always set to test this JMU team on each side of the ball. Marshall, despite a two-game losing streak, is one of the top Sun Belt teams and was a mere few plays away from knocking off ACC foe NC State just two weeks prior.
The Week 8 Thursday night marquee matchup did not disappoint and certainly proved the strength and resolve of this James Madison team. JMU finished the game with seven sacks, their first 7-sack game as a member of the FBS.
The first half of action was largely dominated by defense with a hint of special teams. But that went for both sides.
Marshall CB Micah Abraham intercepted a Jordan McCloud throw that stymied a solid JMU drive. JMU EDGE Jalen Green combined for two first-half sacks, including one that ended any chance for points for Marshall before the half.
JMU’s other standout performers came on the defensive side of the ball as Chris Chukwuneke and Jamree Kromah shared a sack, and linebacker Aiden Fisher put forth a highlight reel hit stick tackle. The defense combined for four sacks and a total of 24 rushing yards in the first half.
The 24 rushing yards were the fewest rush yards in the first half Marshall had accumulated all season. But the Dukes didn’t stop there.
Ryan Hanson punted four times for JMU, all four of which landed within Thundering Herd’s 20, and two were even downed at the one.
The two teams combined for 15 first downs, but offensive superlatives were certainly more in favor of the Dukes. They set the tone of the first half and largely dominated had it not been for the lone turnover on a botched route concept for JMU’s receivers.
When it was said and done, JMU led 3-0 at the halftime break, but it certainly felt like it was a larger lead with the way JMU’s defense played.
Still, it was the fewest points in the first half that JMU had put forth this season after scoring only 13 in the first half against Troy.
“Cam Fancher is in a lot of pain, but he’s going to battle through it,” Charles Huff said at halftime. “We really want to protect him. Hey, look, we’re still in this ball game; everybody has to be individually great, execute, and do their jobs.”
The Marshall defense certainly held up their end of that bargain to start the second half, getting the Herd on the board with a safety in the third quarter. The safety, however, should, at the very least, be half-credited to Marshall punter John McConnell and the coverage unit.
After a miraculous catch kept a Marshall drive alive, it eventually stalled on the JMU side of the 50 for the first time all game. McConnell was forced to punt for the sixth time on the evening and booted a perfectly placed punt that was covered brilliantly by the coverage unit. It pinned JMU inside their own 1-yard line and led to the two points on the board for Marshall.
The defensive prowess continued when JMU safety Francis Meehan intercepted Fancher on the subsequent drive, also at the 1-yard line, and for the fifth time in the game, a team started at the one.
The game changed, however, on the very next drive. Standing tall in the pocket, Jordan McCloud found Reggie Brown on a deep pass but took a low hit in the pocket and came up limping. He exited the game, and Billy Atkins IV replaced him.
Atkins connected on his first pass of the game for a first down, but a second pass fell incomplete (and inaccurate), and the Dukes had to settle for another Camden Wise field goal, taking a lead 6-2.
Yet, a hobbled McCloud made all the difference as he re-entered the lineup on the very next drive. Especially after McCloud pulled off a Patrick Mahomes-esque play to extend that very drive.
McCloud pushed up in a collapsing pocket, bounced off an offensive lineman, somehow kept his eyes downfield, and converted a pass with three Marshall defenders draped on him for a first down. He then one-upped himself by scrambling on a third down play for a crucial first down and, ultimately, the game-defining touchdown on a six-yard touchdown carry.
The Dukes took a 13-2 lead nearing the end of the third quarter, a lead that seemed insurmountable with how the JMU defense was playing.
It wasn’t but three plays later that the JMU defense stepped up once again when Jailin Walker forced a fumble that Chris Chukwuneke scooped up. McCloud would hit Brown deep downfield on a beautifully thrown ball and even better catch for a 20-2 lead.
Feeling quite comfortable with an 18-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter, Marshall’s Jayden Harrison took a kick return 94 yards to the house for Marshall’s first touchdown of the game, cutting the deficit to 20-9.
On the subsequent series, JMU’s Hanson once again booted the Thundering Herd inside their own 5-yard line, and the Dukes’ defense held up once more. Hanson punted seven times on the evening, with all seven of them pinning Marshall inside of their 20-yard line and six of them inside their own 10-yard line.
Fittingly, JMU’s final defensive play on each of the next two drives was Jalen Green’s fourth and fifth sacks of the game. Green more than lived up to his billing as the CFN Midseason Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Green finished with five sacks, JMU with eight total sacks, and held Marshall to -4 yards rushing in the process. JMU limited the Herd to a grand total of 169 yards of offense and technically pitched a shutout.
The Dukes are absolutely one of the best 25 teams in the country, on both sides of the ball, and they saw a stalwart performance from each facet.
Marshall DB J.J. Roberts Injured In Scary Moment
Adding to all the emotion and drama this game presented, Marshall defender J.J. Roberts went down, motionless in the fourth quarter. Roberts lay on the turf for nearly eight minutes with training staff and medical personnel surrounding him.
Roberts made a tackle on Elijah Sarratt, and the video showed evidence of his helmet and head snapping backwards violently.
Eventually, he was carted off on a stretcher and gave a thumbs up to the crowd as his team surrounded him. Updates weren’t readily available following the game.