JMU football has come face-to-face with the Stony Brook Seawolves five times. When the teams were pitted against each other the first time back in 2013, the Seawolves left Harrisonburg with an upset win over the No. 25 team in the nation.
Since then, the Dukes have controlled the series.
In five meetings, JMU has prevailed four times, outscoring Stony Brook 142-102. But just last season, the Dukes narrowly escaped with a 13-10 victory in front of a homecoming crowd. This year, JMU makes the trip to Long Island, New York, for the first time since 2014 as it looks to play spoiler to Stony Brook’s homecoming.
1. Anticipated matchup: preview of Stony Brook
Seawolves’ head coach Chuck Priore has had his encounters with JMU. The Long Beach, New York, native has led Stony Brook into all of its games against the Dukes. He’s seen only one win against JMU but has endured near misses, falling two times by a field goal.
This year, though, the Seawolves have continued to get stronger over recent years and pose a credible threat to the Dukes’ perfect record against FCS opponents this year. Like JMU, Stony Brook currently holds a 4-1 record with its only loss coming at the hands of FBS Utah State.
A week after facing their first CAA program of the season in Rhode Island, the Seawolves will have to bunker down and face the No. 2 team in the FCS. But, it’s something Priore and his team are ready for, and they’re happy to take the Dukes at home.
“It's been a while,” Priore said during the CAA Football Media Teleconference. “The CAA this year has been successful on the road, so we like to say it's a home field advantage, but it's not [necessarily] showing out each and every week.”
JMU’s coming off one of its most complete games this season. The rush attack got started early and was supported by redshirt senior quarterback Ben DiNucci’s smart decisions when throwing the ball.
2. Coach’s corner: Play never too high and never too low
It’s been head coach Curt Cignetti’s mantra all season. He often reiterates it to members of the media, and he expects it from his team. The first-year head coach wants his players to remain focused and not let past results or distant opponents cloud their minds.
This Saturday, that motto will be key in JMU’s matchup with Stony Brook. The Seawolves tested the Dukes last season and almost claimed the victory late in the game.
“They're playing really well right now,” Cignetti said. “I'm sure it's their homecoming, and they're going to be hyped up, so, I mean, we're going to have to play our A-game.”
Stony Brook currently boasts the top rush attack in the CAA with a strong 264.6 yards per game average. The Seawolves, though, will be forced to try and crack the No. 1 rush defense in the conference against JMU on Saturday.
Through five games, the Dukes haven’t allowed over 85 yards rushing and currently only allow 61.8 yards per game on the ground. JMU has an almost endless amount of experience on its defensive line, but the Seawolves have the strength to test the line with a one-two punch in redshirt senior Isaiah White and redshirt sophomore Seba Nekhet. In 2019, the duo has combined for 860 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.
“When you look statistically at the rushing offense and defensive stats, Stony Brook and us are one-two in all of them,” Cignetti said during the teleconference. “It's going to be a very physical game. I think they're built very similar to [how] we are and how they approach the game.”
The Dukes will also need to control a quarterback who’s been a threat both on the ground and through the air so far this season. Redshirt junior Tyquell Fields has thrown for 938 yards and added 248 rushing.
3. Player’s perspective: Do your job
In JMU’s commanding 45-10 victory over Elon last Saturday, the offensive line’s performance didn’t go unnoticed. While it’s not common to see an offensive lineman claim any stats for themselves, the numbers the players around them rack up are in direct correlation with how the line plays.
The Dukes offensive line helped the team reach its highest rushing total this season with 336 yards on the ground — the most since last season’s bout with Towson where JMU rushed for 395 yards. And, for the first time since Oct. 7, 2007, against Northeastern, the O-line posted a clean sheet, keeping its opponents from recording a sack or tackle for loss.
“I have no idea [about the stat]. I found out on the bus ride off Twitter,” senior center Mac Patrick said. “It's a great stat, feels good. But, to be honest, we're on to the next one. That one really doesn't matter. We're trying to get that goal again this week.”
On the CAA Football Media Teleconference this week, Cignetti said he and his staff thought Patrick played his best game against Elon — and the success his teammates around him saw pays dividend to that. A third-year starter, Patrick knows what it takes to play in big games and be triumphant while doing so, and this weekend’s contest is no different.
Stony Brook’s defense is second in the CAA against the rush, behind only JMU. The Seawolves’ defensive line has held opponents to only 88.8 yards off the carry this season. As the Dukes prepare to make the trip north, Patrick is keeping his approach to the game simple.
“I've just got to do my job,” Patrick said. “If I do my job and trust the guy next to me to do his, we’ll be successful.”
For the JMU defense, Saturday’s matchup against Elon didn’t have an ideal start. The Phoenix made quick work of its opening drive, taking only two plays to find the end zone off a 66-yard pass. After that, the JMU defense was stout.
Junior cornerback Wesley McCormick played a key role in the defense’s strong showing last weekend. He posted three solo tackles and tackle for loss. Now in his third year with the program, the Germantown, Maryland, native has seen his part steadily grow. Last year, McCormick recorded 10 total tackles in 12 games, and through five games this season, he’s already matched that.
“Each and every year, you learn different things, you get adjusted to the college game,” McCormick said. “Since Coach Cignetti and them have been here, I looked at that as my opportunity to get on the field a little bit more … To do that here'll be certain things I have to do I have to put in a little bit more extra work.”
This weekend, McCormick and the defense will be tasked with containing the CAA’s No. 1 team in total offense on its home field. While the Dukes are making the 400 mile trip to Stony Brook, they’re not changing their preparation for team ahead just because they're on the road.
“We prepare for each and every game the same,” McCormick said. “That's the only way that I feel like you have some type of consistency with your team.”
4. Editor’s input: tough but manageable game
While Stony Brook may be ranked the same as Elon when the Dukes came to town last week — No. 24 — don’t expect a similar outcome.
While it won’t be a surprise if the Dukes walk away with the victory, it shouldn’t be too surprising if Stony Brook takes the game in front of its home crowd. Through the early portion of this season, these two programs have been a shining example of why the CAA is one of the best — if not the best — conferences in the FCS.
The Dukes are equipped to win this football game, but with the skill on Stony Brook’s offense, its No. 2 ranked defense in the CAA and a home crowd, JMU will need a clean game to extend its win streak to five.
Even with the strength the Seawolves possess, the Dukes will improve to 2-0 in conference play. JMU beats Stony Brook, 34-14.
Contact Catie Harper at email@example.com. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.