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JMU running back Kaelon Black drives through Maine on Sept. 11.

The caliber of No. 3 JMU football’s matchup against No. 9 Weber State hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Dukes are preparing for their highest-ranked matchup of the season thus far. It’s an FCS top 10 matchup, and it’s the first time the Dukes visit Weber State. 

JMU’s preparations are never ending, but the Dukes say they’re excited and ready for the opportunity.

“We’re feeling hungry still,” redshirt junior linebacker Diamonte Tucker-Doresy said. “We know there’s a lot at stake with this game, and we’re just ready to play.”

From the office: what coach is thinking

Both games against Morehead State and Maine had big defensive plays, but head coach Curt Cignetti is focused on eliminating defensive penalties. The Dukes had seven penalties called against them, and while the team played well overall, Cignetti has used it as a point of focus in practice.

“We still can improve … [we committed] seven penalties after 20 minutes of play and a number of missed assignments across the board,” Cignetti said. “We have some areas we have to clean up.”

Cignetti said he believes it’s a simple fix — focus on the details. Many of the penalties happen while trying to reach the quarterback or when defending a long pass, and JMU is no exception. Although no game will ever be perfect, the Dukes realize that Weber State can capitalize on sloppy JMU errors.

“I look at this game like we’re going to play a real quality team,” Cignetti said. “They’re going to be really juiced up, and their coach has done a great job …  It’s going to be a really good test for us.”

Traveling to Utah, the Dukes have a new problem they’ve never seen before — altitude. Weber State has a much higher altitude than what JMU’s accustomed to at Bridgeforth Stadium, which can change some preparations for the team. Cignetti said, however, defensive coordinator Corey Hetherman spent time researching with NFL coaches on the best ways to prepare for altitude changes.

“[Hetherman] went out there in 2018 for a semifinal game with Maine,” Cignetti said. “I don’t think it will be a big factor for us.”

A few JMU players have taken personal preparations as well, some running additional sprints after practice while wearing masks. The Dukes plan to arrive in Ogden, Utah, on Friday night, and Cignetti confirmed oxygen masks will be available if a player needs one at any point during the game.

Although typical for what Cignetti expects of his team, the emphasis to play hard increases against the Wildcats this week. He’s determined to see the offense continue its newfound proficiency, thanks to the chemistry between redshirt senior quarterback Cole Johnson and both the running back and wide receiving cores. Defensively, JMU has allowed nine rushing yards in the last two games.

On the field: what the players see

The Dukes say they know this game isn’t going to be easy, but the team is still excited to take on Weber State. It’s JMU’s first road game of the season, and it’s a nationally ranked matchup. To add to the excitement, some players have seen the history between the two teams before.

“We’re still playing the same way, there aren’t too many ways to get things done,” Tucker-Doresy said. “We know there’s one right way, and that’s being us.”

JMU expands on what Cignetti believes, saying that keeping a clean and aggressive game is key to defeating Weber State. The team acknowledged their improvement from Morehead State to Maine, but the missing details are a constant focus. Both keeping penalties to a minimum and maintaining the right mindset are factors the players have motivated with individually and as a team.

“We’re just understanding what type of game it’s going to be,” Tucker-Dorsey said. “We know there’s a lot of stuff we have to clean up from the last two games, so we’re coming together and focusing on the same goals.”

Heading into the game against Maine, JMU was determined to come out with more energy in the first half. The Dukes had a sluggish first half against Morehead State but flipped around with Maine. Looking at Weber State, the players understand their energy level can’t be anywhere but at the max.

“We’re all excited to get our first away game in and travel again,” redshirt senior wide receiver Scott Bracey said. “Last year, we didn’t travel too much, so everyone is ready to get this new experience.”

Both Tucker-Dorsey and Bracey said the trust these players have with one another has been a key to their recent success — a factor  both expect to see this Saturday. 

“Looking at last year, I’ve been trying to see how I could improve … and then understanding what I needed to do for my teammates as well,” Tucker-Dorsey said. “knowing what they need and making myself accessible to them.”

Adjusting on the fly comes with having depth on the roster — and JMU has depth. JMU is still missing some key players, including redshirt senior running back Percy Agyei-Obese, but the Dukes have relied on multiple running backs in the previous games while the Preseason All-American is out. 

Weber State is effective in both passing and running the ball, so the defense has to adapt to either situation at every down. In addition, the Wildcats aren’t afraid to call trick plays under the element of surprise. Weber State has faked punts and field goals in games before, including both games against JMU. 

“It’s been a big point of focus in practice this week,” Bracey said. “We definitely have to be aware of that so we’re not making any mistakes.”

JMU is determined to keep its winning streak alive on the road, and with a difficult CAA schedule ahead, getting a win against the Wildcats sets the stage for a strong showing in conference play the rest of the regular season.

“Everything that we want to get done is right in front of us,” Bracey said. “We’re ready to just stay true to ourselves then go out there and play our game.”

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