JMU football (4-1, 1-0 CAA) came to Rhodes Stadium wanting revenge for last season’s 27-24 loss to Elon. The Dukes did more than avenge the loss as they cruised to a 38-10 victory over the No. 24 team in the FCS.
Outgaining the Phoenix (2-3, 0-1 CAA) in total yards 521-227, going a perfect 6-for-6 in the red zone and causing five sacks and 10 tackles for loss was the recipe for JMU’s statement win. With a target on their back, the Dukes have shown they’re ready for the tough competition the CAA presents.
“It was far from perfect. There’s a lot of things that need to be corrected, but it was a good win,” head coach Curt Cignetti said. “[I] had a sense at halftime that we had a chance to take control of the game, and we did.”
Now 1-0 in CAA play after having earned its fourth consecutive win, JMU continues to show it’s fixed the inconsistencies from last season. With one game left on a three-game road trip, the Dukes are on the right track for being in the driver’s seat for the conference crown.
It wasn’t pretty for the Dukes’ defense as they began the game. Junior quarterback Davis Cheek connected with sophomore wide receiver Avery Jones — who caught the game-winning touchdown in last season’s contest — for a 66-yard touchdown on the second play of the game. Then, it was all JMU.
In what seemed like a hard first punch thrown by Elon, JMU responded with ease. Redshirt senior quarterback Ben DiNucci led the Dukes down the field before redshirt freshman running back Solomon Vanhorse ran into the endzone for his fourth touchdown of the season.
The secondary didn’t let Cheek pick it apart for the remainder of the game, forcing the Matthews, North Carolina, native to go 14-for-32 for 189 yards, one touchdown and one interception, which was his first since September of 2018.
“Someone mentioned it to me earlier in the week, but we just try to go out there and make turnovers,” redshirt senior cornerback Rashad Robinson said. “We didn’t think about the streak or anything like that, it just was us doing our job in the back.”
Robinson complimented the defensive line’s play throughout the game, saying the pressure forced Cheek to throw the ball into a dangerous area. Throughout the game, multiple defensive linemen found themselves in the backfield, forcing mistakes that led to critical points in the game.
All aspects of JMU’s game thrived against the Phoenix. Garnering 336 yards on the ground compared to Elon’s 29, the Dukes continue to boast one of the best run attacks in the country. Vanhorse ended the day with two touchdowns, while redshirt junior running back Jawon Hamilton and DiNucci added one each. Freshman running back Latrele Palmer also added two touchdowns in his third collegiate outing.
“If you can have a big back fresh late in the game, that’s a huge advantage,” Cignetti said.
Initially, Palmer was assumed to be redshirted this season to retain a year of eligibility. However, Cignetti says the chance of him not using a redshirt on the Boyds, Maryland, native is high.
Despite not throwing for a touchdown, DiNucci used his arm to spread the Elon defense, opening the field for JMU’s potent ground game. The Pittsburgh transfer finished 13-for-21 for 185 yards.
“[I] try not to dwell on the past too much, but obviously they came into our place last year and were able to do some things to us we didn’t like,” DiNucci said. “We tried to keep it simple this week, just focus on what we can we can control.”
With a pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Jake Brown in the third quarter, DiNucci became 10th all-time in career passing yards at JMU. Through 18 games as a Duke, he’s accumulated 1,066 passing yards and 23 touchdowns.
JMU’s defense bounced back from a nightmare first drive with a suffocating performance. It held Elon to 3-for-14 on third down, sacked Cheek five times and Robinson nabbed his first interception of 2019.
“They're a good football team. I don't think they're a 35-point better than us football team,” Elon head coach Tony Trisciani said.
Robinson, who sustained an injury in Week 3’s win over Morgan State and didn’t play against Chattanooga, left the game in the first quarter with an injury. However, after a visit to the medical tent, the Richmond, Virginia, native returned in the second quarter.
JMU will return to Harrisonburg before departing for Stony Brook, New York, for the last leg of the road trip. The Dukes and Seawolves will kick off at 6 p.m.
Contact Noah Ziegler at email@example.com. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.