With Week 1 done and dusted, JMU football head coach Curt Cignetti spoke to members of the media in the CAA Football Coaches Teleconference. Here, he discussed the Dukes’ 20-13 loss to West Virginia and looked ahead to St. Francis (PA) on Saturday.
No. 1: Cignetti enjoys having a deep running back group
JMU ran the ball double the number of times West Virginia did, out-gaining the Mountaineers 172 to 34. Four running backs and redshirt senior quarterback Ben DiNucci were the primary runners throughout the contest, and the Dukes’ only touchdown came on the ground via redshirt freshman running back Solomon Vanhorse.
“We ran the ball really, really well in the first half,” Cignetti said. “I thought we were getting a great surge on the offensive line. We were pushing them back. The backs were running really well, making people miss … It was good to get everybody involved in the run game, and overall, our production was good. I did think we got a little worn down up front in the second half. Their D-line started to win the one-on-one battles, but all in all, I think it’s something to build on.”
Cignetti’s offense requires multiple running backs to be ready at his disposal. Saturday’s game showed how evenly distributed the carries will be throughout the year, but Cignetti also noted that whoever is playing well will start to see more action than others.
“As we get going, it’ll be who’s got the hot hand,” Cignetti said. “I can tell you, even down at Alabama, you’ve got to have three or four guys ready to go because those guys can go down. I’m glad we got four guys that we can play, I think we’ve got one or two that we can also stick in there if we have some injuries. We’ll evaluate it daily and see how it plays out.”
No. 2: Expect to see more passing in the coming weeks
Against West Virginia, DiNucci went 13-for-20 for 156 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. On multiple occasions, the Pittsburgh-transfer used his legs to escape the pressure, but he was still sacked four times.
The turning point in the contest was DiNucci’s costly interception in the fourth quarter. After escaping the pocket and avoiding another sack, DiNucci launched a prayer that fell into the hands of West Virginia’s redshirt senior cornerback Keith Washington Jr. Three plays later, the Mountaineers extended their lead to 10, which would prove to be the go-ahead touchdown.
“That should’ve been a 15-yard gain,” Cignetti said. “We’re not looking where we should’ve looked. We’ve got to clean up the negative plays, but in terms of a guy that competes, he played with a lot of heart and made a lot of plays.”
The running game clearly worked for JMU, but through the air, it needed to find more production to make it a dynamic attack. The next two games will present the Dukes with chances to improve their passing game.
Cignetti noted that he thought his offensive line was worn down in the second half, but was pleased with its first half performance. If the front line can give DiNucci time in the pocket, the mistakes will decrease and the pass attack will benefit.
“We hope to protect the quarterback better. He’s got to have confidence in the protection so he can sit back there and go through his progression,” Cignetti said. “We’ll want to have more production out of pass game.”
No. 3: Turnovers, mistakes cost JMU against West Virginia
It’s no secret that whoever wins the turnover battle has an advantage as the game goes on. For a defense that prides itself on causing opponents to make mistakes, the Dukes failed to do so on Saturday.
After two fumbles early in the first quarter and a blocked field goal in the second, it was clear the mistakes would hurt JMU’s bid to upset the Big 12 school. If the Dukes want to see success as the season continues, those mistakes must be kept to a minimum or other teams will capitalize on them.
“The blocked field goal was very disappointing to me,” Cignetti said. “Our field goals have been excellent in camp, our kicker has been great. On the right side at right guard and right tackle, we didn’t do the right thing. That was disappointing, so we’ve got to get that firmed up. To [Ratke’s] credit, we did come back and kick a couple more field goals.”
However one chalks it up — first game jitters, intimidating atmosphere — Cignetti will continue to work on taking care of the ball and not leaving points on the field. The more games the Dukes play, the less mental mistakes players might make.
“Those four turnovers led to 13 points,” Cignetti said. “That was the biggest difference in the game right there. I was very proud of the effort. Obviously, the guys were disappointed that we didn’t come out with the W, everyone expected to win. All eyes now are on St. Francis.”
St. Francis, who’s coming off a 14-13 win over Lehigh, will give JMU a chance to regroup and find its rhythm. Cignetti now has the luxury of seeing how his team played in an actual game, rather than scrimmages or practices.
“I think everybody understands we have the chance to be a good football team,” Cignetti said. “But right now, we’re an 0-1 football team seeking its first win on Saturday.”
Contact Noah Ziegler at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.