Former JMU football player Jimmy Moreland stood in the Dukes’ endzone, eyeing the Spiders in an attempt to hold Richmond to a field goal — JMU was up 14-3 in the second quarter in 2018.
Former Richmond quarterback Kevin Johnson took the snap, threw a pass and Moreland intercepted it, taking it 100 yards to the house — the longest interception returned for touchdown in JMU football history — with Dukes’ fans screaming in Robins Stadium.
That play was one of many in a 63-10 victory for JMU the last time it was on the road at Richmond. The victory was the Dukes’ largest road win in program history, and they accumulated 543 total yards of offense.
It’s Richmond week, and JMU is back in Virginia’s capital for the first time since that dominating performance. The Dukes are coming off a loss, hit the road for two weeks and lead the historical series with the Spiders 20-18. This one should be a show.
From the office: What Cignetti is saying
“This is football.”
That’s the mindset of JMU head coach Curt Cignetti heading into the matchup with Richmond on Saturday. As he said postgame following JMU’s loss to Villanova, “Nobody died today.” It’s what he told the team after the loss to Villanova, and it’s the focus heading into this weekend.
“It happens; you don’t like it, but you have to learn from defeat,” Cignetti said. “[A] team always has two choices: They can step up and get stronger or go in the tank, and I affirmatively believe we got the leadership and the right stuff on his team.”
Regarding Villanova, Cignetti said JMU was playing well in spurts. He was happy with the offensive and defense production in the second quarter and that the team won the turnover battle — he emphasized it's something JMU needs to continue to do.
Cignetti credits two of Villanova’s touchdowns in the first half to missed assignments by the Dukes’ defense. The head coach said staying in position is key to taking down Richmond and to not letting sloppy plays happen.
“This week, it’s really important from the top down that we pay attention to detail,” Cignetti said. “The details of the game plan, and everything that we do, make sure our standards are high.”
Despite the miscues and home upset, Cignetti said the Dukes are focused this week and are putting in hard work at practice. He was happy with JMU’s focus Monday but said the harder work days come Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I look in general at our attitude, our energy and focus,” Cignetti said. “It’s got to be good every day.”
For Cignetti, it’s a week-by-week process and can’t be “just talk” — action has to come with it. It’s about “the grind,” the effort level, the dedication to getting better and putting words into actions, Cignetti said.
“We got some [players] playing at a high level or improving weekly getting to a high level, and we got some [players] that need to step up,” Cignetti said. “You got to move on, learn the lessons and come out stronger.”
Cignetti also highlighted how JMU needs to win one-on-one matchups.
Some of that has to do with redshirt freshman wide receiver Antwane Wells Jr. Cignetti said Wells Jr. sprained his ankle against Weber State and hasn’t felt 100% since. The Richmond, Virginia, native hit 1,000 receiving yards over the weekend despite the injury, but as the No. 1 receiver on the left side, it’s about getting him back to where he was.
“Every week, [Wells Jr. is] getting close to being 100% again,” Cignetti said. “Depending on what style of defense you’re going to see, the opportunities open up, relevant to what [defense] they’re playing.”
Cignetti said he liked the tempo of the Dukes on Saturday. He cited the fourth quarter third- and fourth-down conversions and early offensive bursts because of tempo. He added that JMU’s used more shifting and motioning as a result of keeping the same personnel on the field.
“Our tempo’s traditionally always been good here,” Cigentti said. “I like tempo, I like playing fast; plus, you see things on the field sometimes.”
Cignetti’s coached in rivalry games before and knows what they entail. He has high praises for Richmond and knows he’s dealing with a tough Spiders team come Saturday.
“This is a rivalry game,” Cignetti said. “We can’t fall into the trap that we ran into last spring … I don’t think that’s going to be an issue because this is such a rivalry game.”
On the field: the players’ perspective
JMU players’ ties run deep in Richmond, and the Dukes-Spiders rivalry brings the game to another level.
There are 13 players on JMU football’s roster who are from Richmond or the greater Richmond area. Cignetti said many are key players and coming home to play in front of family is important to them. Redshirt senior defensive lineman Mike Greene is one of those players, and he said he’s excited about the opportunity to play in front of family in his final season.
“[I] got a lot of family coming out this week; [we] need like 12 tickets,” Greene said. “It feels good to get back down there to Richmond.”
While it’s exciting to return home to face the Spiders, the Dukes know the task at hand — the most important game is the next one. Greene, redshirt senior running back Percy Agyei-Obese and Cignetti all emphasized how Richmond is going to be hungry and how the Dukes have to pay attention to assignments Saturday.
“[Richmond] is going to bring their all every single time we play them,” Greene said. “They’re not going to want to lose in front of their home crowd … It’s just going to be another big week for us.”
Greene and Agyei-Obese said it’s all about focus. They said focusing on the next game, making the plays that need to be made and adjusting are key for a potential win over the Spiders.
“Everybody’s just making sure they do their job,” Greene said. “It’s another week of just playing football … It’s a huge week, and you just have to prepare like it’s any other week.”
Agyei-Obese was at the 2018 Richmond road game and remembers what the atmosphere is like. He said he remembers the Spiders’ defensive line and run defense — and how much they’ve improved since that matchup.
“Their front seven, the [defensive] lineman and their linebackers [are] veterans, and they’re very stout,” Agyei-Obese said. “We know we’re playing a seasoned group.”
Something to note: injured Dukes returning to play. With an undiscloed injury to redshirt freshman running back Kaelon Black, the running back depth with Agyei-Obese injured was short, but now that he’s back, it’s another area JMU’s improved in — the redshirt senior scored two touchdowns last Saturday.
“Just to have everyone back, it really just straightens the line in our group,” Agyei-Obese said. “It gives us some comfort … [We’re] happy to have the whole group back.”
It’s rivalry weekend for the Dukes, and while it’s exciting to head to visit their CAA foes, this is still another important game — every win counts in the CAA. It’s the halfway point and the playoff push is here — that starts with the Spiders.
“Coach Cignetti does emphasize the rivalry,” Agyei-Obese said. “You come to JMU, you know the rivalry runs deep. There’s got to be a fire set under us.”
Contact Savannah Reger at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.