ITLR 9/23

JMU graduate transfer quarterback Todd Centeio scrambles and digs up turf eyeing a Norfolk State defender Sept. 10. The Dukes face their biggest test of the season so far Saturday when they travel to Boone, North Carolina, to face Appalachian State, which is seven-point favorites. 

First road test, first conference game. JMU versus Appalachian State could mean a lot for both teams. 

With the Dukes, currently 2-0, playing their most difficult game this season, a win could make a statement across the conference and country of JMU’s new era. For the Mountaineers, a win against JMU keeps their national momentum going. 

“It's gonna be a good measuring stick, I think, for us,” JMU head coach Curt Cignetti said. “Right now, the focus is kind of trying to put ourselves in the best position to play our best on Saturday.”

There’s a lot on the line for Saturday afternoon, and Cignetti and his team have a few things in mind for what they expect in Boone, North Carolina. 

What the coach is saying: Rested and ready

Cignetti’s thought process is simple — nothing’s changed, he said, so why make a big deal out of it?

The JMU head coach said the past week has been good for the Dukes in many ways. For one, a bye week allowed a few “dinged up” players to get some rest and recharge. Redshirt junior running back Solomon Vanhorse, who had been nursing an injury and hasn’t played yet this season, is now listed on JMU’s two-deep as the starting kick returner. 

“Well, [the bye week] came when it came,” Cignetti said, “so you make it a positive. And one of the positives is you got a couple of guys some time to heal up if they're dinged up and get out, recruit a little bit and get a little jump on the next opponent.”

And while the Dukes are visibly deeper at this point in the season than they were last year, having that rested roster can become an asset as Cignetti calls the shots throughout Saturday’s game. 

The bye week also gave Cignetti time to watch film — a lot of it. He said he spent time watching App State versus Troy and other conference opponents’ matchups, and Mountaineers games from earlier in the season into last year, too. With the Mountaineers riding on a lot of momentum with back-to-back big wins, the extra week to study for App State has been a benefit, Cignetti said. 

For the most part, however, Cignetti said it’s still business as usual. Nothing changes with road games, at least from a strategic viewpoint, he said, but there’s an added emphasis on the offense for preparing to deal with the crowd noise and maintaining composure throughout the game. 

“Once you get down there, and you're playing on the road, you’ve got to really stay locked in place,” Cignetti said. “In some respects, you’ve got to create your own energy through positive performance.”

What the players are saying: Stick to the script

This will be the first time JMU plays in front of a true, sold out crowd, and it’ll be in the Mountaineers’ favor. App State announced the sellout against JMU back in early September, so it’s been on both teams’ radar for some time now. 

However, JMU said this week is about sticking to its game plan and playing its version of football and no one else’s — particularly in the trenches. 

“I think it’s very key because that's where the game was won and lost, really on the line of scrimmage,” redshirt senior defensive lineman Isaac Ukwu said. “If you can dominate the line of scrimmage, most times you can win the game offensively and defensively.”

App State is competitive on both sides of the ball, with redshirt senior quarterback Chase Brice at the offense’s helm and a pair of linebackers on defense waiting to pounce on the Dukes. 

“It's an odd defense, so that's our first odd defense we’ll play this year,” redshirt junior offensive lineman Nick Kidwell said, referring to the Mountaineers’ defensive front-seven alignment. “But I think we got [a] plan where we can expose them all.”

Kidwell is one of the Dukes who’s faced loud crowds before, including inside NDSU’s FargoDome, and said that while it can be a difficult aspect of the game to adjust to, the offensive line is fairly used to a loud crowd and doesn’t expect much to change. 

“I mean, crowd noise is crowd noise,” Kidwell said. “You just kind of lock in with your communication, you’ve got to get that down pat during the week so at game time, you don't have any hiccups.”

The Mountaineers’ “Rock,” Kidd Brewer Stadium’s nickname, has been the site for a lot of history, and JMU’s first conference match against App State will likely add on to that last. And while it’s an exciting endeavor to see a new place for the first time, nothing’s really changed for JMU. 

“I think it's gonna be really cool, especially going into an environment where they love football as much as JMU,” Ukwu said. “They're gonna have a sold out crowd — a real hostile environment.”

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