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JMU head coach Curt Cignetti walks the sidelines during the Dukes' game against Saint Francis (PA).

JMU head coach Curt Cignetti talked with the media Monday following the Dukes' dominant 44-7 win over Saint Francis (PA) on Saturday. Cignetti was pleased overall with his team’s performance and is now beginning to look at this weekend’s matchup against Morgan State.

No. 1: Running backs need to be prepared to play at anytime

For the first two weeks of the season, redshirt freshman running back Solomon Vanhorse has seen the majority of the action out of the backfield for the Dukes. He’s carried the ball 26 times for 141 yards and three touchdowns during only six quarters — Vanhorse didn’t play in the second half against Saint Francis. 

“He's not a real big guy, but he packs a punch,” Cignetti said. “He's got excellent speed, quickness and vision and [has] a real feel for the game. So, you know, he's been doing this since spring [and] fall camp, but the first run Saturday was a 30-yard run, and the touchdown run was very impressive.”

While Vanhorse has thrived early in the season under Cignetti, the head coach is adamant that that rest of his backs will be ready to go at any time. Junior Percy Agyei-Obese, redshirt junior Jawon Hamilton and freshman Austin Douglas have also seen double-digit carries so far this season. 

JMU has racked up 467 yards on the ground this year, with Vanhorse leading the way followed by redshirt senior quarterback Ben DiNucci, Agyei-Obese, Hamilton and Douglas. Vanhorse is the only running back to have over 100 yards so far, but Agyei-Obese and Hamilton are closing in on the mark with 80 yards each. 

“It's about moving those chains and making people miss, and [Vanhorse is] doing a great job [and] all the other guys are doing a good job too,” Cignetti said. “We're fortunate to have four players of that quality because, as you know, that position can change real fast.”

No. 2: Red zone execution needs improvement

In Saturday’s contest, JMU scored on five straight possessions, but to Cignetti, the problem arose when the Dukes settled for field goals on three of those opportunities. JMU’s last two possessions before the half, ended with field goals from redshirt junior kicker Ethan Ratke. He also started the scoring in the second half with a 23-yard field goal to give the Dukes a 30-0 lead.  

“We got to get better in the red area scoring touchdowns,” Cignetti said. “We should have scored touchdowns on at least two of the drives, and it's just a lack of execution … but special teams was pretty clean … Ratke was really good on field goals [and] PATs.”

For two of the drives that ended in field goals, Cignetti saw where they could be improved on moving forward. One, a tight end slipped where Saint Francis attacked from, leading to a three-yard loss near the end zone. Another play, which was a designed run, DiNucci looked to the end zone where there wasn’t a read, and on the following play, there was a player open in the corner that DiNucci couldn’t connect with. 

“It's just kind of getting guys to do their job,” Cignetti said. “[They’re] pretty simple things …  There's moments we play really well, but, you know, our consistency and performance can still improve.”

No. 3: Limited film on Morgan State provides slight challenge in preparation

JMU has one more home game this weekend before a three week period of away games — two of which feature CAA opponents. This weekend’s contest will pit the Dukes against Morgan State, which is coming off an early-season bye week. 

The Dukes and the Bears have only met one time previously — that game came in 1995 when JMU won 76-7. Saturday’s game will be one with limited information available to the Dukes on the kind of team Morgan State is. 

“They didn't have spring football, so they've had limited practice,” Cignetti said. “They went into the opener, and now they've had two weeks to kind of assess where they are as a team.”

Last season, Morgan State sent the blitz on the majority of its defensive snaps, leaving the secondary in man coverage — something that could benefit the Dukes this weekend if that’s how the Bears play. With the speed of the Dukes’ wide receivers, they could thrive if they face a defense that falls into man coverage with no deep help, something Cignetti said Morgan State did often throughout 2018 with its high-risk blitzing. 

In Morgan State’s Week 1 game against Bowling Green, the defense featured more players helping deep, whether it was someone in the middle of the field or two deep safeties. With only one game played so far this season by the Bears, JMU only has a little to go on about what this team will look like. 

“The challenge is more in terms of preparation,” Cignetti said. “Who are they going to be? What are they going to be? Is it going to be more like they played Towson and Albany last year? … It is sort of the unknown and, you know, usually when you're in a situation like that, you kind of go back to what are the things we do well and let's execute those.”

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

Pat Summitt, Erin Andrews and Lindsay Czarniak were three names that inspired me growing up. Here I am now at JMU, Czarniak’s alma mater, taking steps to live out my dream. As Pat would say, “I’m going to keep on keepin’ on, I promise you that.”