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JMU football celebrates a big play vs. Villanova.

This game is always interesting, right?

Halfway through the highest ranked CAA matchup of the season, JMU leads 27-16. The Dukes fell early, trailing 13-10 at the end of the first quarter. In what’s been an intense first half, JMU has its fair share of good and bad — along with Villanova. 

The good: Percy Agyei-Obese

Redshirt senior running back Percy Agyei-Obese made his season debut against New Hampshire, but the Dukes finally got to use his potential early against Villanova. Agyei-Obese opened the scoring for JMU with his first career touchdown to tie the game at seven. 

Fast forward to the second quarter, a sack and fumble recovery from redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Abi Nwabuoku-Okonji paved the way for Agyei-Obese to force himself through the goal line five yards out — breaking the tie for career touchdowns at 30 with former JMU running back Curtis Keaton (‘99). 

The bad: JMU defense adjustments

Even with the offensive success in the second quarter, the Dukes’ defense struggled to keep up with the Wildcats. By the end of the first quarter, Villanova was outgaining JMU in yards 205-75. Villanova graduate quarterback Daniel Smith was mobile throughout the half as JMU head coach Curt Cignetti predicted earlier this week. 

Nwabuoku-Okonji’s fumble recovery and the combined sack with redshirt freshman Jalen Green and redshirt senior defensive end Bryce Carter midway through the second quarter are proving to be signs of adjustments but the Dukes can’t continue to miss assignments as Smith moves in and around the pocket. 

For the Dukes to limit Villanova in the second half, they need to clog holes at the line of scrimmage. If JMU can close off space for Smith and graduate running back Justin Covington, the defense can potentially shut out the Wildcats in an all-important second half. 

The ugly: Villanova penalties

In the first quarter, both teams dolled out multiple penalties. Villanova committed a targeting call and two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties — the penalties put the Wildcats in a difficult position, with the targeting call leading to JMU’s first touchdown of the game.

Coming into the matchup, both teams expected a physical and aggressive game. Regardless, the referees aren’t tolerating any undisciplined play — trying to keep it as clean as possible. As the second half begins, both teams need to stop these actions as emotions run high. The Wildcats could push their aggression, but JMU can’t let it get to its head.

The Dukes, once again, can run away with this game. But both teams have shown excellence in the second half — particularly in the fourth quarter. How Villanova plays immediately starting the second half will be a strong indicator of if the Wildcats make up the deficit.

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