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CSN The CAA Today: Week Six & Seven – Cream Rising to the Top!
By Bruce Dowd, CSN The CAA Today columnist
Now that we are starting to get into the meat of the CAA schedule, things are starting to take shape and the Cream is Rising to the Top! UMass makes a statement by beating Delaware. JMU and Richmond are dominate in their victories. Villanova wins a tough CAA game on the road and New Hampshire sits back and watches all this unfold as it enjoys a bye week.
MORE ON THE RANKINGS FIASCO
Last week I went into a rant on the rankings and the lack of logic that seems prevalent. Besides the pure illogical ranking of Villanova compared with Richmond, which still continues this week, I also used Montana and its schedule compared with other teams not ranked as high. I was expecting e-mails on this topic, but apparently I struck a cord in our readers who seem to strongly agree with me.
And kudos to all those Montana fans who e-mailed me. Not even one negative e-mail, which I guess validates my point that they are not only passionate fans but also knowledgeable fans. In fact, 100% of the e-mails agreed with me on the problem with the rankings, which was enough encouragement to continue this rant for another week. Who knows, maybe some of the people voting might read this and change a little. However, this week my top 10 was much closer to the final poll. Below you will find my top 10 with The Sports Network final rankings noted in parentheses:
James Madison (1)
Appalachian State (2)
New Hampshire (4)
McNeese State (3)
Cal Poly (7)
Amazingly, and much to my surprise, there is not a lot of difference this week. Five of the first six are exact. Cal Poly is only off by one and Wofford only off by two. That leaves only three teams with significant differences.
Let’s start with Massachusetts, which illustrates my point of not considering strength of schedule enough. It has lost to two teams, FCS No. 1 James Madison and FBS No. 7 Texas Tech. Assuming those rankings are correct, then not a single team in the FCS should have won either of those games. UMass’ last victory was at home against Delaware and while the score was just 17-7, the Minutemen physically dominated.
The polls had Northern Iowa in the top 10 instead of UMass. Now Northern Iowa is not a bad selection for the top 10, same record as UMass, but its two losses were to FBS BYU and FCS Southern Illinois. Two good teams, but not as good as Texas Tech and JMU. However, having NI in the top 10 doesn’t upset me as much as having UMass ranked No. 13, just ahead of Central Arkansas and Liberty yet still behind Montana, which just lost to Weber State last week.
The poll has McNeese third, and I have it seventh, which I guess is probably not that big of a deal. I dropped McNeese from last week’s higher ranking because it needed overtime to beat South Dakota State last Saturday. Plus, after that opening loss to North Carolina, its only other two victories have come against Div II Delta State and Southern Virginia. Sorry, not good enough to justify a No. 3 ranking, at least not yet.
Now, that leaves us with the biggest problem with this week’s polls, and it’s the ongoing lack of respect for Villanova. At least Nova moved up five spots into the top 10; however, it’s still four spots behind Richmond with a better record. Plus, it already beat Richmond. If I remember right, Nova was No. 19 and Richmond was No. 1 when Nova beat the Spiders. Then the polls moved Villanova up only five spots to No. 14. This week it also moved up five spots after beating unranked William & Mary. Sorry, folks, no logic there either. If Richmond is a top five team, which I believe it is, then so is Villanova.
The FCS teams in the West and Midwest are not quite as strong as they have been in the past. This year’s strength seems to be dominated by teams in the SoCon and CAA. Unfortunately, they play each other as the year goes on. App State, Wofford and Elon have not played one another yet. Most also still have games against No. 20 Furman and Georgia Southern. The top CAA teams also have games coming up against one another, such as JMU vs. Richmond, JMU vs. Villanova, New Hampshire vs. Massachusetts, etc, etc.
The point is that they will start beating one another, and the polls will start dropping them and moving teams such as Liberty and Central Arkansas ahead of them due to record. Let’s look at this week’s game coming up between Richmond and JMU and take a hypothetical.
Say No. 1 JMU wins by a point over No. 5 Richmond. I’ll bet you that Richmond comes close to dropping out of the top 10. Now where is the logic in that? What is the No. 5 team supposed to do, beat the No. 1 team?
Well this completes my two-week rant on the rankings. I hope other voters were reading this (highly unlikely), and perhaps they will start paying more attention to strength of schedule/conference and NOT just won-lost records and/or reputation (even more unlikely). I promise no more on the rankings mess until later in the season when they become more important to the playoff picture. For now, all we can do is just keep viewing them and shaking our heads.
CAA RANKINGS UPDATE
1 – James Madison (1) National No. 1
2 – Villanova (2) National No. 9
3 – Richmond (3) National No. 5
4 – (tie) New Hampshire (4) National No. 4
4 – (tie) Massachusetts (5) National No. 13
As you can see, not much change in the order, except now there are just five. I have dropped Delaware into the Middle Tier, which is a first for Delaware in the two years I have been doing this Tier structure. Remember, one of the main criteria for the Top Tier is a team that is headed to, or has a shot at the playoffs. While it is mathematically possible for Delaware to get there, it has to almost run the table. We might not be ready to say the Hens are done, but you can at least go find one as it’s starting to look as if they are done. Even if Delaware loses only one more and finishes 8-4, one of those victories came against Div II West Chester. Its remaining schedule still includes road games at Hofstra,Richmond and JMU with home games against the Tribe, Maine and Villanova. Plus, the Blue Hens still haven’t solved their offensive problems. Sorry Hen fans, it just isn’t going to happen this year.
I see an interesting trend of late in the CAA. If you go back just a few years, it always seemed difficult to know which teams would be at the top each year and challenge for playoff berths. That trend seems to have ended. I’m starting to wonder whether we’re developing an elite group at the top that the rest of the league might have trouble cracking.
In my preseason article, which was done in July, for the South I picked in this order, JMU, Nova and Richmond. In the North, I picked UMass and then UNH. Those teams now clearly represent the top five in the CAA. So basically, no real surprises here.
In years past several coaches use to have an expression that “there are no bottom-feeders” in this conference, meaning that you stood a chance of getting beat by any team on any given day. Not so sure that’s the case anymore. Look at what JMU just did to Hofstra. Do you think that Towson or Rhode Island would have fared much better? Just some food for thought on how the CAA has shaped up during the last few years. There just seems to be a much greater separation in talent between the top teams and the bottom teams than there was several years ago. This might be an interesting topic to pursue further as the season progresses. I would love to hear from you folks on this topic.
Middle Tier: No. 24 Delaware, William & Mary, Maine, Northeastern
Other than the addition of Delaware, this tier stays as is. William & Mary had a strong second-half showing at home against Villanova, but its bad first half cost the Tribe. Maine had a bye week as it prepares to play at Delaware Saturday. Northeastern won on the road against Bottom Tier Towson with a big second half and will host UMass in an interesting matchup Saturday.
Bottom Tier: Towson, Hofstra, Rhode Island
This tier stays exactly as is. As mentioned above, Towson lost at home to Northeastern. Hofstra got completely demolished on the road against JMU and in a bit of a surprise, Rhode Island took it to Ivy League leader Brown.
LAST WEEK’S GAMES
While I didn’t travel last week, I was able to watch several games from TV coverage. We will start with the game of the week: Delaware at UMass.
No. 13 Massachusetts 17, No. 24 Delaware 7: As expected, UMass handled Delaware at home as both defenses played hard. This was a big CAA game and one of the key matchups of the year. It answered many questions or proved some points, whichever way you want to state it. Here are a few hard facts that surfaced:
Delaware went into this season with big question marks on its offense. Could it possibly find a way to replace Joe Flacco and Omar Cuff and return to the playoffs without them? The answer is NO.
Was the UMass defense as bad as it looked the last three weeks when it allowed 150 points or was it as great a defense as coach Ford of Albany told us last week? Answer, coach Ford was right.
And finally, that despite New Hampshire’s undefeated record and No. 4 national ranking, UMass still might be the team to beat in the North.
As we examine the game and listen to what the coaches had to say you’ll see why I made the remarks above. First let’s look at a few statistics that might be telling and quite contrary to the final score of 17-7. These are particularly true knowing that the game was tied 7-7 entering the fourth quarter. UMass had 24 first downs to Delaware’s 10, and 459 total yards to just 167 for the Hens. Here’s a real staggering statistic: UMass had 265 yards passing to just 40 for Delaware. I’ll let you digest that one for a minute as we show you another outstanding photo from the game, taken by Mark Campbell.
One of the heroes was UMass runningback Tony Nelson, who had 163 yards rushing on 23 carries. That’s four yards less offense than the entire Blue Hens team had. Another hero was UMass defensive back Jeromy Miles, who picked off a Rob Schoenhoft pass in the fourth quarter and returned it 52 yards for a game-clinching touchdown. When talking about key players though, you have to mention the CAA Defensive Player of the week, LB Josh Jennings who had 16 tackles, 3.5 for losses. What kept this game close into the fourth quarter were the four UMass turnovers - three interceptions and a fumble. Coach Brown had this to say; “I give Delaware [defense] a tremendous amount of credit … they did a great job especially near the red zone and in the red zone of turning us over.”
Delaware coach KC Keeler had this to say about the UMass defense: “We were afraid that the UMass defense that we all knew very well in this conference was going to show up. That’s the defense we got and they had two weeks to prepare for this game. With 11 juniors and seniors starting for them and a lot of household names, you knew the talent was there … for the first time this year, I felt that our offensive line was a little bit mismatched. They did a great job getting pressure on our quarterback. In our mind, there were a lot of issues with our offense, but our quarterback was only part of it … But the best friend for a quarterback is running the football. We just have not been effective running the football.”
Because you always hear so much about Brown and his blitzing schemes, I asked Keeler whether the problem on the offensive line was more because of schemes or just being beat physically. This was his response: “First of all, I think we have, well, not overachieved on the offensive line, but we’ve definitely gone past expectations a little bit on the offensive line. We lost four seniors off of our offensive line, three were starters. We’ve actually done a solid job up until this point … it was a combination of both. They did a great job scheming and they really had their defensive line playing well. I knew that was a good defense. And you couldn’t just look at the stats because you knew that the stats didn’t match up with the defense they had.”
Keeler then went on to talk about his Hens: “I think we’re a solid football team that’s just kind of going through some growing pains on the offensive side of the ball. And how difficult our schedule has been early on has not allowed a whole lot of time to grow.” And now, unfortunately for Delaware, the hourglass has just about run out.
Northeastern 35, Towson 17: As I expected, Northeastern registered a road victory as it handled Towson in what both coaches referred to as a “tale of two halves.” This was one of the games I was able to watch, and I’m beginning to think this might be a long season for Towson. It continues to struggle in the running game, both stopping it and having one as the Tigers managed only 67 yards rushing. Towson built a 17-14 halftime advantage only to get outscored 21-0 in the second half. Sean Schaefer had a good day going 31-46 for 358 yards, but he had one interception, was sacked five times and had no touchdowns passes.
On the other side of the ball, Northeastern continues to impress and had a much more balanced attack than Towson did. Quarterback Anthony Orio had an outstanding day going 17-20 for 238 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers and only one sack. Chris Plum is starting to look like his “go to” guy, especially with TE Mandeville out. He had five catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Broomfield also continues to shine as he had 102 yards rushing. Northeastern is 1-0 in league play while Towson has dropped to 0-2 and after a game next week against Rhode Island, Towson closes with New Hampshire, William & Mary, Delaware, Villanova and James Madison. Ouch!
I have watched Northeastern several times and find it an entertaining team to watch, especially offensively as it really keeps defenses on their toes. The Huskies always seem to have several trick plays. There were several against UC Davis and more against Towson last week. They’re working, too, and they have played a big part in their last two victories. Northeastern’s offense also can give you many looks like with the direct snaps to Broomfield. This week’s big trick play came in the third quarter with Northeastern leading 21-17. Orio threw a lateral pass to backup quarterback Sperrazza who was flanked out. He then threw a forward pass to a wide-open Theoudele for 37 yards and a touchdown that sealed the victory.
I talked to coach Combs about that and asked him how difficult it is to prepare for a team such as Northeastern with all those trick plays and how he goes about it. He had this to say: “Going into the game, they had a lot of trick plays. I am not sure if we saw this one or not. They put their backup quarterback in the slot, and he was way back and everyone on our bench is yelling about it. They executed it very well.
“I’m surprised that instead of on our side [of the field], you would think they would do it on their side [flanking out the backup quarterback] where we wouldn’t see the quarterback … so that took a lot of guts by Eddie Davis their offensive coordinator. We always call it ‘junk in the trunk.’ They do have some ‘junk in the trunk.’ They have a lot of trick plays … you always take a period in practice to prepare for those things … they also do a very good job of putting Broomfield in at the tailback position and they motion their backup tailback through in an unbalanced set and they run a quarterback power out of it.
“You got to go out and cover all the receivers and one of those is Orio [quarterback] who even came back in and they had a reverse pass off of him from the outside in and throwing the ball downfield that got us for a big gain … they big gained us a couple of times. I think that is usually a thing about playing so many young people that we have on defense is inexperience [unable to recognize and react to the trick plays].” He went on to say how you have to make the time in practice to plan on defending those types of plays that can take time away from the prepping of the normal defenses.
So, hats off again to Rocky Hager, Eddie Davis and the rest of the Northeastern staff for its second straight victory and good coaching to pull it off, too. As a spectator, you have to love those trick plays. But I’m not too sure the opposing coaches do.
Rhode Island 37, Brown 13: I had this one wrong in my prediction, apparently the thought that the Ivy League is starting to get competitive in the FCS on a national scale might be a little premature. Then again, the Rams might just be showing signs of being a much better team than anyone thought.
The story in this game was the play of Rhode Island’s quarterback, Derek Cassidy, who deservedly received the CAA Offensive Player of the Week. Cassidy was 25-37 for 298 yards and a career-best five touchdowns. He proved to be elusive in the pocket avoiding a strong Brown rush all day. His yardage total could have been much greater as there were several long completions nullified by penalties.
Cassidy has been playing well all year and this is what coach Rizzi had to say about Cassidy: “There are really not a lot of negative things I can say about Derek right now. He’s really exceeded everyone’s expectations here. Again, I keep saying it but his work ethic is really the reason. I truly believe that. His performance this past Saturday – he really carried the load for the offense. He made some plays and to be honest with you he created some plays that weren’t there. Brown did a nice job in their pass rush and putting some pressure on us and Derek escaped a couple of times … we have been talking about his progression all year … he has been lights out … with where we are with only five seniors starting on our football team, we need a senior quarterback to be a leader for us and he has done just that. His numbers kind of speak for themselves. Again the thing that makes Derek the weapon that he is, is that he can beat you in more ways than one. That was kind of our plan coming in but no one thought he would be picking things up this quickly. We have been able to progress on our offense because of that. And it has really been a snowball effect for us.”
Statistically, this game was much closer than the score as Rhode Island had only 11 more total yards than Brown. But the difference here was Cassidy and Brown’s four costly turnovers. All and all, an outstanding victory for a young, aggressive and upcoming team as Rhode Island gets to keep the Governor’s Cup for another year.
I might have to start to consider moving the Rams up from the Bottom Tier. One of the criteria for the Middle Tier is that the team must be capable of upsetting a Top Tier team on any given Saturday, and the Rams are getting scary enough on offense to perhaps fit that bill. We’ll have to wait and see as the season progresses.
No. 5 Richmond 56, VMI 16: Not a lot of time is needed to be spent on this game because as expected, Richmond was way too much for VMI. It might be time for VMI to start rethinking the continuing scheduling of these games against the CAA. It’s overmatched and as a result, the games aren’t competitive.
Justin Rodgers had another outstanding day for Richmond; this time he returned two fumbles for touchdowns. If this guy doesn’t get first-team all conference and some All-American honors, something is wrong.
There was an interesting statistic in this game though. VMI had ZERO yards passing. VMI tried only five passes, completed none and had one picked off. That means VMI completed more passes to Richmond then it did to its own guys. Bet that doesn’t happen too often.
Another interesting statistic that concerns me a little is that VMI registered 267 yards rushing against Richmond and its Stonewall defense. And that is when it was obvious that all VMI was going to do was run. It also comes on the heels of a 200-plus yard rushing day that the Spiders yielded to Villanova last week. So, in their first four games the Spiders yielded a total of just over 200 yards rushing. Now in the last two weeks, they’ve allowed about 500 yards rushing. This is something to keep an eye on and not a good sign especially with JMU visiting next week.
No. 1 James Madison 56, Hofstra 0: Another game that doesn’t need too much comment as the score pretty much speaks for itself. This game was over almost as soon as it started and certainly by halftime as JMU had built its lead to 35-0.
Again, as always, Rodney Landers was the story for James Madison as he had 133 yards rushing on 13 carries and one touchdown. That’s 10.2 yards per carry. He also was 7 for 13 passing for 92 yards and more importantly, three more touchdowns. It’s time to start seriously considering this guy as the front-runner for the Walter Payton Award in case you haven’t realized that.
When coach Cohen was asked what he takes away from a game like this, here was his response: “The one thing we found out is who wants to compete. Not all of our guys lived up to that, that bar that we have. We’ll have to just make some changes because of that. We did see some players that fought to the bitter end, and we found out what they were all about. We were extremely impressed with the James Madison team. We were outcoached and outplayed. And they have great team speed. We were very impressed from start to finish with everything about coach Matthew’s program.” That pretty much sums up the day.
Sidebar (Re-evaluating your program): I couldn’t help but wonder whether after a game such as this that the opposing coach might not step back and take stock of where his program is headed. This was not an out of conference team like VMI that JMU beat up on. I was a little nervous asking coach Cohen this question, but as always, he was kind and honest in his response. I thought you would find it interesting. Here is what he had to say: “You know, Bruce, that’s a great question. I think in anything in life, I think you’re harder on yourself and you’re more thorough and more critical of yourself I think when you have failure rather than success … It starts with coaching, what we did in preparation and lack of preparation … Certainly recruiting is a big part of the conversation. The team’s speed differential was obvious. There’s no question we evaluate how we’re recruiting. By the end of the game we had six true freshmen on defense, and I think we played with some faster guys with those younger guys.”
No. 9 Villanova 38, William & Mary 28: This was another game I got wrong as I probably overthought this one and called for the upset. I was concerned about a letdown from Nova after that outstanding victory at home against then No. 1 Richmond. I also thought that the Tribe was a better team than most people gave them credit for, plus the difficulty of winning on the road in the CAA. In my defense, the Tribe’s standout quarterback Jake Philips didn’t play, but I don’t think I can use that as an excuse because his replacement, R.J. Archer, was 21-37 for 307 yards and a touchdown. He also added two more rushing touchdowns.
This game was another game that was a “tale of two halves.” Villanova won the first half
35-7 while William & Mary won the second half 21-3. Actually, the Tribe scored to close the gap to 10 points with more than four minutes remaining, but Nova recovered an onside kick and held on from there. Whitney had another solid performance for Nova as it looks like it has solved its concerns at quarterback. Whitney was an impressive 20-27 for 186 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 60 more yards on the ground for another touchdown.
Another strong key to the victory for Nova was its advantage in the ground game as it held the Tribe to just 76 yards rushing while the Wildcats compiled 255 rushing yards. This allowed Nova to control the clock as it had a 13-minute advantage in time of possession.
I always considered coach Andy Talley to be a good interview and this week was no exception. I think you’ll find some things he had to say interesting, so here we go: “When you’re playing a team that’s had a week off, you can expect two things, either they’re going to come out and it’s going to take them a quarter to get up to speed or they’re going to come out really refreshed and ready to play and with some new wrinkles on offense and defense and things that can give you trouble. I think what happened was William & Mary came out a little slow, which really surprised me … I think they just came out a little slow … we came ready to play and William & Mary made some early mistakes.”
He continued with; “Chris Whitney played a real good game, and he managed the game again. He didn’t do anything crazy. He held on to the ball and ran the ball when he had to … They just didn’t play a very good first half. It really came down to that. Then, in the second half, as you watched the game, the real William & Mary showed up and suddenly they scored 21 points and we only scored three.”
Now in trying to explain what happened in the second half, other than William & Mary playing better, he had this interesting comment: “There is a time there when our team started to play the game, not to win the game but not to lose the game … Finally [in the fourth quarter], we said we have to play to win this game. We have to do things to win this game. And that’s critical, and it’s very intangible with a football team when you get a lead like that and all of a sudden you start playing not to win the game, but you play not to lose the game, and I don’t know how you turn that around. We just started talking about it … We were really pretty happy to get out of there with a victory … We were fortunate to get the win.”
I always have been fascinated with the emotional end of a team from week to week, the highs and the lows and how a coach tries to solve that problem and keep the team focused on the task at hand each week. So I asked Talley about this, especially this last week having to play a good William & Mary team on the road after that outstanding victory the week before against Richmond.
Here was his reply: “We talked a lot about taking ownership of the opponent’s field. I think that is something that’s always critical. You have to start feeling comfortable as soon as you get to their stadium, their locker room. Everything there is important to just ingratiate yourself with the atmosphere of what is William & Mary, the stadium and so on and so forth. You know, I would say things like, geez, this looks a lot like our stadium, the turf is just like our stadium. We have the same stuff.
They have lights now, we have lights. You know just little subtleties. And, of course, you’re always looking to former players to help you with stuff and you know Ray Ventrone is with the Patriots and Darrell Adams is a guy who plays for one of the Canadian football teams, they send us very poignant e-mails indicating how important this game was and they remember their travels to William & Mary. It’s tough to play No. 1 and then have to go to William & Mary. That’s not an easy deal. But you can over-talk it as well. And ultimately, when the whistle blows, all the talk goes down the drain. And the important thing was, I kind of thought, if we can come out and play hard in the first quarter, we could mute anything that William & Mary is doing just because I was concerned about the week off they had, so I thought they would come out really flying high.”
He closed with this: “So we have a sort of mental toughness that we’re developing a little bit and, of course, that goes from game to game, stadium to stadium. Those are some of the things we pounded into the players. We’re a pretty serious bunch, a pretty serious group right now. We missed the playoffs last year by a game. We felt we should have been in the playoffs, and there is a little leftover residual there. We want to get back … ”
So, the CAA and even the rest of the FCS better be ready because as I said last week, there is definitely a “new kid on the block.”
The CAA Today “KEY PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK”
For the second time this year, I’m selecting a player for this award who had an outstanding performance in a losing effort. That player is true freshman Jonathan Grimes of William & Mary.
This is not the only award that Grimes has earned this week, but in case you have missed it, here are his statistics and you’ll see why this week’s award was a no-brainer.
He rushed 11 times for 58 yards. By itself not such a big deal, right? Well, first, William & Mary rushed only for 76 yards so that represents 76 percent of its rushing yardage. Now, add to that a William & Mary true freshman record of 105 yards receiving on five catches. Starting to look a little better, isn’t it? Next, on special teams, he returned four kickoffs for 161 yards, including another William & Mary true freshman record, a 97-yard touchdown scamper. That is 324 all-purpose yards, and he was the leading rusher, receiver and special teams player. On an interesting personal note, Jonathan is not only a good student, but he’s also an accomplished pianist.
Congratulations, Jonathan, that was quite a day, and I have a feeling we’ll be hearing your name a lot during the next four years.
THIS WEEK’S GAMES
Finally, the CAA season starts to get into full swing with five matchups, headed by the game of the week and one of the biggest showdowns of the year as No. 1 JMU heads into No. 5 Richmond. This is a game I’ll be attending so please look for me wandering the tailgate sections again and as usual, food and beverage donations are welcomed. None of these games are easy to pick, and it would be easy to get every one wrong as there are several potential upsets looming and difficult road games for others. I must have been smoking something funny because when I reviewed my picks, I realized I picked four visiting teams and three of those are CAA games. That is a recipe for a prediction week disaster, but I had my reasons, at least I thought I did at the time.
No. 1 James Madison at No. 5 Richmond 3:30 p.m. (Big plays win it for JMU): Two weeks ago I wasn’t sure who I was going to pick in this game as it was looking like an “unstoppable force” (Landers and JMU) against an “immoveable object” (Richmond’s Stonewall Defense). But as the last two weeks have unfolded, JMU has devastated two opponents, including a 56-0 thrashing last week against Hofstra, while Richmond lost on the road to Villanova and beat VMI, but it gave up 500 yards rushing in the process. I think JMU will find a few more big plays than Richmond and win this game, even though it’s on the road.
Something that gives me pause, though, is how Richmond handled the Dukes last year in Harrisonburg, Va. That is something that hasn’t escaped JMU coach Mickey Matthews either as he had something to say about that game when I asked him about Richmond’s defense: “We didn’t make an inch against them last year.” He went on to explain that he felt JMU had played so badly that the Monday after the game it held a full live scrimmage. After the scrimmage he told his players that if they had played as hard in the game as they did in the scrimmage, they would have won. So it sounds like the Dukes have a handle on the being ready thing. In fact, this team seems to be playing with a purpose, a destiny if you will. He went on further to describe what happened last year with this: “Last year they played very well, and we absolutely stunk the place up. They have an outstanding defensive football team, no question about it. They line up right, fundamentally very sound, and they run to the ball. They have a good defensive football team, you’re exactly right.”
If you remember, I had a few concerns earlier about JMU. One was a tendency to sometimes have a letdown and not play up to its ability such as last year against Richmond. I get the sense that’s not going to happen again.
Another concern that I voiced several weeks ago was being so dependent on the running game and not opening it up enough in the passing game. Well, I have come to learn to appreciate the big-play ability the Dukes have by using the running game to set up the passing game. So, I have backed off that concern a little for now, and we’ll see how that unfolds.
My final concern was JMU’s tendency to turn the ball over, especially at the wrong times, not that there ever is a right time. This week during the coaches’ conference call, Matthews was asked whether he had to give his team three keys to success this week against Richmond, what would that be. Here was his response: “Not turn the ball over like we did last year against them, and do not turn the ball over and do not turn the ball over.” So I think they got that message as well.
Matthews added: “I think you have to be patient against them when you play offense because they don’t blitz a lot. They don’t give up a lot of big plays … you have to have drives against them. Justin’s a great return guy. You certainly have to watch what you do in the kicking game. He can turn a game around, not only as a corner, but as a return guy. Somehow we have to figure out a way to block those two ends. They’re dominant players.” I disagree a little with him (imagine that?) about the big plays because I think that’s how JMU is going to win.
Coach London of Richmond also was asked a similar question about what keys he would give his team against JMU and he responded: “I think the biggest thing is that James Madison has a tremendous amount of team speed, and they have individuals that can take it [to the house] at any point, from the quarterbacks to the runningbacks to the wide receivers to the kicking game. So we are going to have to play with team speed collectively across the board. We are going to have to swarm to the football and then the only other thing is to just let it loose. Just play fast, don’t play tight. Don’t play not to make mistakes. I think that [play to not make mistakes] was kind of the approach we took against Villanova and it kind of backfired. So the mind-set is just go out there and play.”
It sounds like both coaches have a handle on what they need to do, so we’ll see what happens when they line up and let it rip. This will be one of the hardest-hitting games of the year, and I can’t wait to see it. Even though this is a road game for JMU, they’ll have a ton of fans traveling with them and the trip is not a long one. That should negate some of the homefield advantage. I also just feel that this JMU team is truly the best team in the country, and it’s on a mission. Richmond will be its next victim.
The Upset Meter Rating here is; [ - - - - - - 7 - - - ]
TV Coverage: CSN-MA, CSN-NE, CSS
William & Mary at No. 4 New Hampshire Noon (UNH finds a way, I think, maybe.): As you can see, I’m really not sure about this one. The Wildcats still are nursing some key injuries, and I couldn’t get a final word on the status of Clements and Kackert. If they aren’t ready this could be a tough one for New Hampshire. We also don’t have any word on the status of William & Mary quarterback Jake Phillips, although backup R.J. Archer did a good job last week against Nova.
Another thing that bothers me about both teams is that I’m still not sure how good they are. Even though UNH is ranked No. 4, its schedule has been weak, and it does have those injuries. William & Mary had a bad first half against a good Nova team last week, but then outscored the Wildcats 21-3 in the second half with its backup quarterback. So, again, I just don’t know how good the Tribe are. What I suspect is that William & Mary is much better than people think, and I also suspect that New Hampshire is not quite as good as its No. 4 ranking.
Coach McDonnell said this week that William & Mary is the best all-around team it has played this year, and I agree. I almost called the upset here but a few things kept me from doing it. First, I just called for the Tribe to upset Nova last week, and they made me look bad. This is an away game for the Tribe and traveling up to New Hampshire is a tough road game. Last week, coach Ford of Albany commented about how hard UNH played against it and every time I watch New Hampshire in person, I come away with that same impression. So, in the end, I just think that New Hampshire will find a way to win at home, but we should finally know a lot more about both teams after this week.
The Upset Meter Rating here is; [ - - - - - - - 8 - - ]
TV Coverage: None
No. 13 Massachusetts at Northeastern Noon (UMass narrowly avoids the upset): This will be close as Northeastern is a good 2-3 team and riding a two-game winning streak. While Parsons Field is a tough place for any team to visit, it’s not as tough a trip for UMass as it is for other teams. But this game will be close and an upset here is not out of the question.
Here is an interesting quote from Towson coach Gordy Combs, who just lost to Northeastern last week: “We knew that they [Northeastern] were a very good football team. We were not deceived by their record because they played such a very difficult schedule in terms of their out of conference schedule. And I’ll be really interested in – I did have the opportunity to go home and watch the University of Delaware-UMass game so I’ll be interested in that game this Saturday when UMass plays them.” Now, what this quote doesn’t do is kind of give you what he was hinting at with the inflection in his voice, so not to put words in his mouth, but I believe he was trying to say that Northeastern might be a much tougher out than UMass might think.
In the end though, what has me picking UMass is that it still has a lot more talent than Northeastern so I believe that the Minutemen will win out in the end. One word of advice to UMass and coach Brown though is to beware of the “junk in the trunk.”
The Upset Meter Rating here is; [ - - - - - - 7 - - - ]
TV Coverage: CSN-MA, CSN-NE, CSS
Hofstra at Bucknell 1 p.m. (Hofstra, I guess.): How’s that for a positive statement. In trying to evaluate this game I looked at who Bucknell (3-1) has played. It has played four close games. It has beaten Duquesne, Robert Morris and last week Marist, while losing a one-point decision to Cornell. That tells me absolutely nothing!
Hofstra lost its first two games to Connecticut and Albany, then it won two straight against Rhode Island and a 40-point victory against Stony Brook. So just when you thought it was starting to put it together, JMU beats it up pretty bad last week 56-0. That last game had coach Cohen questioning some of his players’ efforts, and he is now making some personnel changes.
So there you have it. Not much to work with. I handled this game like you might evaluate a horse race. Hofstra has been running in a much-higher class than Bucknell, so even though it is a road game, I give the nod to the higher class horse and call this a Hofstra victory in a photo finish.
The Upset Meter Rating here is; [Does not apply, toss-up game]
TV Coverage: None
Rhode Island at Towson 3 p.m. (Rhode Island gets on a roll): Another “who knows” game. These are two bottom-tier teams. Towson’s two victories have come at home. A five-point triumph over Morgan State and a seven-point victory over Ivy League Columbia. Its four losses have been by an average score of 38-12.
Rhode Island also is 2-4, but the Rams are just coming off an impressive 37-13 triumph over Brown. Here is what coach Combs of Towson had to say about Rhode Island: “I just think [coach Rizzi] and his staff have done a great job in terms of transforming their team [from] a running team into a passing team. He had to deal with the players that were there. He has had only the spring and also preseason and now has six games under their belt. Derek Cassidy is doing a great job leading the conference in passing. It hurts a little bit when you are committed to throwing the football, you’re not going to have a great [running] game, and we are very similar to that so I think it will be a real shootout on Saturday. It might be a long game.”
One of the reasons I’m picking Rhode Island is that the Rams just seem to be more on the upswing and Towson seems to be reeling a little this year. Actually, the matchup might favor Towson a little. Besides being at home, its biggest weakness on defense is stopping the run, and Rhode Island just doesn’t run that much. So, my pick here is more on a hunch than any real logic.
The Upset Meter Rating here is; [Does not apply, toss-up game]
TV Coverage: None
Maine at No. 24 Delaware 6 p.m. (Delaware squeaks by): Another real tough one to pick as the Hens are really struggling offensively, and Maine still has some pretty good people on defense. Through the years, there have been some classic battles between these teams at Delaware, and this should be another one.
With that third loss for Delaware last week and its playoffs hopes dwindling fast, I asked coach Keeler how he tries to keep his team focused on just one game at a time and not think ahead about how hard the task might be to get to the playoffs. Here was his reply: “I addressed that last night in our team meeting. I said, ‘listen, let me talk a little philosophy with you right now. I set the standards for this program very high. And I’m going to tell you right now, there is only one thing in our world and that is playing Maine. And the only thing in our world that’s going to make our world right is by beating Maine. Nothing else matters right now.’ ” He later added: “You look at Maine and you realize who are their losses to - James Madison, Richmond and Iowa … we are playing against a Maine team that’s very similar to us in that we’re both looking for that next win to kind of keep us going and it’s a big game for both of us.”
I think this is more of a must-win for Delaware than it is for Maine. Let’s face it, the Hens were in the championship game last year so anything other than a playoff appearance is a disappointment for them and the Hen Nation. If they lose, things will get ugly real fast in Newark. So I just think that at home Delaware finds a way to win behind another sellout crowd of 22,000 plus.
The Upset Meter Rating here is; [ - - - - - - - - 9 - ]
TV Coverage: CN8
Teams with a bye: No. 9 Villanova is the lone team with a bye this week as it now has extra time to prepare for its next game at Rhode Island. Two weeks from now, the Wildcats host James Madison.
The CAA Today Mailbag:
Now back by popular demand; OK, folks, this is your chance to get your two cents in and in some cases, incredible as it might sound, even disagree with me. However, as stated, I have the power to always get the last word in, so beware. As always, the names were changed to just initials in an effort to protect the innocent and in some of these cases, even the guilty.
First, I have an apology to make. In my JMU-App State game article a few weeks ago, when it first came out, I had a reference to a faked injury by App State near the end of the game. That came from information and comments made immediately after the game. Once my article was posted, I received e-mails from App State fans who were upset by the implications. I retracted those statements in my article, so most of you probably never saw them. But for those of you who did, I apologize. I should have done more research because as it turns out, those were legitimate injuries. Here are two e-mails that helped straighten me out before too many of you read it.
From NP: “ … just read your article on the game, and it was a thorough explanation of the day and as an APP fan I know the excitement for which we have felt before and after big games over the last couple of years - this has turned into a great rivalry and I hope it can continue — I do have one question and that was your comment about APP faking an injury - Now I wasn’t at the game and only listening on the Internet, but my remembrance is that the two players who were hurt in that sequence were Tony Robertson, who is now out with a broken foot and might miss the remainder of the season and Quavian Lewis, who is listed as doubtful for this week’s game. If you have info that there was actually faking going on I would like to know because I have never seen a Jerry Moore team ever pull any stunt like that — Again, I enjoy your work, but I would like a clarification on your charge of “faking an injury”
From CJ: “I really enjoy your articles, even if they are pro CAA in a big way. It’s nice to see someone that loves FCS football and everything that surrounds it, from the tighter fan base, to the playoff system, to the unique atmosphere and different brand of football. However, suggesting that Jerry Moore, whom I’m sure you know is one of the most respectable and honest people you’ll ever meet, told them to fake an injury, is just wrong. I agree that it may have looked a little suspect (the first injury in that sequence put one of our best DL guys out for at least 6 weeks, possibly looking at a medical redshirt), but Lewis had a knee brace on already and at the end of a long game cramps happen, whatever. I’ve just come to expect a little better than for you to have written something like that (not that I’m your mother or anything). I’ll end on a high note, going back to your love of everything FCS. I always enjoy your stories about interacting with the fans and definitely remembered your story about the ASU fan getting you tickets for the Championship last year.”
My Last Word: Again guys, I am sorry. No excuses. I should have verified that information before printing it. I would rather not say where that information came from, but it was prevalent right after the game in the press room. Many thanks for keeping me straight, and thanks for continuing as readers of the column. Hope to see you guys in the playoffs somewhere down the road.
From GW (A father of a “Marching Royal Dukes” member and avid JMU fan): “In reference to your comment about this game [App State JMU] being a certain sale for FCS football … I was in Sec. 9. They sit a lot of the visiting [high school] players in that area. Directly in front of us was a mom and dad and potential Duke. For the first half they looked bored to tears. They talked about leaving. However, they did not. By the end of the game, Mom was jumping up and down hugging all the fans near her. It was quite a sight. A DUKES fan was born! I wish I had the young man’s name to see if he signs a letter.”
My Last Word: I’ll bet he did after that game. Thanks for sharing the story.
From JW (A previous Mailbag entrant that seemed to take exception to some of my comments in the past had an interesting comment a couple of weeks ago about the upcoming Richmond and Nova games): “I know it’s not here yet, but U of R does seem to have a great run D. But they haven’t played us yet. Our O-line is HUGE and Rodney Landers is a game changer. Add to that the fact that we’ll probably have more JMU fans there than U of R fans… I feel good. I’m ALMOST more nervous about the Villanova game, believe it or not. U of R barely seems like a road game.” He also had this to say: “Can’t say I disagree with anything this week (dang!)…”
My Last Word: And another convert is born!
Another one from JW this past week: “You were TOTALLY right about Montana!!! I know you had to be careful with your words, and I know you’ll get some inevitable angry e-mails [never got even one], but you are DEAD RIGHT. That needed to be said.”
My Last Word; Enough already JW. Now it is getting a little embarrassing. (Autograph photo is in the mail)
From CS (A Grizzly Fan): “I am probably one of the biggest Montana Grizzly fans around. I have to say that I actually agree with your logic about rankings, and I think Montana should play a more competitive schedule.”
From TH (another loyal Montana Fan): “Well, I can’t disagree with you about the rankings for my Grizzlies. They are way overrated, no question. I saw the loss to Weber
St. coming long ago. First of all, the Big Sky conference is weak, as you know. Our tradition, however, is like no other, as you should also know. Our win over Cal-Poly was an upset. We lost 23 seniors last year, obviously we are rebuilding.”
My Last Word: Those were two of many from Montana that agreed. Thanks for the insight and for not misunderstanding my example of using Montana. Hope to see you guys in the playoffs and maybe this year we will see you out east.
From SA (who had a lot to say about my rankings rant): “I couldn’t agree more on your rant. The voters frequently baffle me. For the most part, all they seem to do is notice whether a team won or lost. Period. They don’t take into consideration how good the opponent was, or whether the game was at home or on the road. Montana moving up after needing a last-second field goal at home over a D-II team is an absolute embarrassment. Those voters who moved Montana up after that should have their vote taken away and given to someone who promises to do a little research, and, heaven forbid, some actual thinking … in 2006 (I think) when JMU went to UNH when UNH was No. 1. And JMU crushed UNH, who got some late scores to make the score seem less woodshed-ish. 42-10 at one point if my memory serves? Again, AT UNH. When the next poll came out, UNH was still ranked ahead of JMU. I can’t remember what I threw when I saw that poll, but I’m pretty sure I broke something valuable. Didn’t see the cats for a couple of hours. And these polls are very important, for they can have an influence as to who goes to postseason … ”
My Last Word: WOW! Now there is some passion for you, got to love it. However, I am an animal lover so next time, hide the cats before you read the polls.
From BF (a loyal Nova fan): “Thanks for the wonderful coverage. I’m thinking Villanova-JMU on October 25th could be for all the marbles. I’m sending your article to Joe Juliano
of the Phila. Inquirer.”
My Last Word: Thanks BF. You may be right about the Oct. 25 game, but apparently you don’t have the influence you thought you had as my article never showed up in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
THE CAA TODAY SIGNING OFF
That’s all for now, enjoy this week’s games. Hope you enjoyed the column and don’t forget to e-mail me your thoughts and comments: CAA-Today@verizon.net
Please recognize the effort by the following people who have supplied the photos for your viewing pleasure in this article.
Richmond-VMI Photos; Courtesy of SportsPhotoGuy.com
Delaware UMass Photos; Courtesy of Mark Campbell
JMU Hofstra Photos; Courtesy of Cathy Kushner
Rhode Island Photos; Courtesy of University of Rhode Island
Towson Northeastern Photo; Courtesy of Scott Thornton
William & Mary Nova Photos; Courtesy of Jim Agnew, William & Mary