fballphotp10/16

JMU redshirt senior defensive lineman Mike Green celebrates a tackle against Villanova on Oct. 9.

For fans, it’s the infamous “Tick week.” For JMU, it’s time for redemption.

JMU heads back on the road this week to take on the Richmond Spiders in what’s arguably the biggest rivalry game of JMU’s season or of the whole season. Coming off a 28-27 loss to No. 6 Villanova, the Dukes have the opportunity to take down the Spiders in Richmond for the first time since 2018.

“We know this team is a good team,” redshirt senior defensive lineman Mike Green said. “Going down to Richmond, we know they’re going to bring everything they can to win on their home turf, so we have to be ready to stop that.”

Richmond was the first CAA team that the Dukes played in the shortened 2020 season — the others being Elon and William & Mary — when JMU won 23-6. Although JMU defeated the Spiders then, the Dukes know Richmond will come out hungry for a win on home turf.

“We know things got to change from where we were in the spring to now,” redshirt senior running back Percy Agyei-Obese said. “We trust the coaches to come up with the game plan, and we’ll be ready when game time comes.”

The history between the two teams dates back to 1981, with the Dukes leading the all-time series 20-18. JMU has dominated in recent years, entering Saturday’s game on a five-game winning streak against Richmond. The Dukes are used to having strong performances in Robins Stadium, holding a 10-8 record when traveling to the Spiders’ territory. 

The 8,700-seat stadium has nearly sold out for the game. The anticipation has been a motivating factor for the Dukes, Agyei-Obese said, and the rich history has become part of JMU’s culture and history.

“We really need to stay focused as a team,” Agyei-Obese said. “We have to remember even though we lost a game, the season’s not over. All of our goals are still attainable, and we just have to go out there and prove it.”

The Spiders enter Saturday’s game 2-3 record (0-2 CAA) and rested after their bye week. Despite that, Richmond will be without starting quarterback graduate Joe Mancuso, as he’s still rehabilitating a hand injury from Virginia Tech. Instead, graduate quarterback Beau English is projected to make the start against the Dukes. English made his lone start against Elon in a 21-10 loss.  

A player to watch on Richmond’s offense is redshirt junior running back Aaron Dykes, who’s coming into the game off a career-high five receptions for 73 yards against the Phoenix. In addition, redshirt sophomore running back Savon Smith had nine carries for 65 yards. The Spiders are a more mature offensive unit than the Dukes but run a similar scheme. Green and Cignetti both said that recognizing and adjusting to the Spiders’ similar plays has been emphasized in practice from defensive coordinator Corey Hetherman.

“You know [when] two good teams play, they’re gonna make plays and we’re gonna make plays,” Cignetti said. “It’s just who makes more plays.”

Richmond’s defense is yet another mature group JMU’s facing. It’s highlighted by sophomore linebacker Tristian Wheeler, who made 12 tackles against Elon, and redshirt senior defensive end Kobie Turner, who made five tackles the same game. Both were named Second Team FCS All-Americans during the 2020 season and continue to be the two defensive leaders this season. 

“[Richmond’s] front seven are very strong and stout,” Agyei-Obese said. “Coming into this game we know we’re playing another seasoned group so we can’t look down on them or think they’re worse than they are — especially with the rivalry.”

The Dukes lost multiple active streaks following the loss to Villanova, including a 14-game CAA win streak. Agyei-Obese scored two touchdowns against the Wildcats, in his first full game this season. Redshirt senior quarterback Cole Johnson threw for 140 yards with no interceptions and scored a touchdown as well. All touchdowns scored against the Wildcats were in the first half.

“You have to learn from defeat,” Cignetti said. “You handle it in the locker room after the game … The team has two choices — step up and get stronger or tank.”

Cignetti emphasized the need to improve the defense’s discipline each play. Over the last two games, the head coach shared postgame that there’s been missed assignments on defense — particularly when forcing opposing quarterbacks outside the pocket. Because Mancuso and English have different playing styles, adjusting to how they play will be another focus.

“We’re making sure that everybody does their job,” Green said. “That way we can work together as a team to get everything pat down.”

JMU is 2-0 in the last five seasons in games following a loss — an early sign of motivation to succeed.

“It’s going to be exciting — everyone knows the rivalry runs deep,” Agyei-Obese said. “So we have to fire under our belt to have a good bounce back this week and come into the game ready to play.”

Contact Madison Hricik at breezesports@gmail.com. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.