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3 players, 2 matchups, and 1 prediction for Virginia football versus JMU

Previewing Saturday’s in state battle with an analysis of JMU’s key players and the most important matchups

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Virginia vs Tennessee Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a week one loss that everybody knew was coming, the real competition starts for the Virginia Cavaliers football team. Now they must face a JMU team that finished 8-3 last year and led the Sun Belt Conference in their first season as an FBS team.

The Dukes are coming off a 38-3 win over FCS foe Bucknell. Bucknell finished 3-8 last year, so that’s not particularly impressive. JMU is good, don’t get me wrong. But they were blown out by Louisville in their lone Power-5 game last year. Then again, they also crushed ODU, a team Virginia squeaked by 16-14. The Dukes have a very good defense, but their offense is going to make or break their season.

JMU does not have the massive physical advantages that Tennessee had. That gives Virginia a chance. The problem is, they may be without QB Tony Muskett. Muskett was far from great against the Vols. Averaging 5.5 yards per attempt is not good. But he actually earned a decent grade (65) from Pro Football Focus. On 23 drop-backs, he was sacked 4 times and pressured 11 times. He completed 9/17 (52%), with two drops.

Anthony Coleandra will start if Muskett can’t go. Coleandrea was given a grade of 38.2 by PFF, completing 1/6 for 11 yards. And that was entirely against backups and third-stringers for the Vols.

Game Time: Saturday, Sept 9, Noon Eastern
Streaming: ESPN3

Three Players to Watch

MLB Taurus Jones

You’re usually going to see a QB leading off in this spot. But not for the Dukes. In part because they have an outstanding defense. But also in part because they don’t actually have a QB, they have three (or maybe four). More on that later.

The Dukes last year were eighth in the nation in total defense. They held Bucknell to just 208 yards. Then again, Bucknell was one of the worst offenses in FCS last season. Virginia, at least, was one of the worst offenses in FBS last year. So they gotta be better than Bucknell, right?

Jones led the team in tackles a year ago and was second in TFLs with 10.5. Against Bucknell, Jones had a team leading 9 tackles, 2 TFLs, and a sack. He’s undersized at 6’1” 214, but he can run. Getting a hat on him on running plays is key. And, especially if Muskett is out, Virginia is going to have to run the ball.

This is a little bit of a coverage sack, but Jones comes a long way and just outruns the Bucknell QB. He’s very fast and covers a ton of ground for the Dukes.

QB Jordan McCloud

Here’s the QB. Last week, the Dukes had three QBs listed with “OR” on the depth chart. Alonzo Barnett started, and led the team to two TD drives in the first half. But he completed just 3/11 passes for 15 yards. Muskett’s 5.5 ypa was bad, but 1.3 ypa is really very bad. Barnett also threw a very bad INT, but did run for 29 yards and a TD on 5 carries. McCloud took over in the second half and completed 7/11 for 144 yards and 2 TDs.

McCloud spent three years at USF, starting 17 games. Then two years at Arizona, where he barely played. McCloud is on top of the depth chart this week, though we may see Barnett as well. Wake Forest transfer Brent Griffis was the third QB last week, but he is not on this week’s depth chart.

DT James Carpenter

Carpenter was third on the team in tackles, second in TFLs, and third in sacks. You don’t generally see that level of production from interior defensive linemen.

Carpenter was initially a walk-on at JMU. And now he’s a team leader and captain and one of the best interior defensive linemen in the country. Ty Furnish needs to improve over last week’s performance. At least he isn’t massively undersized against this defensive front. Carpenter is listed at 282, the exact same weight as Furnish. Fixing the snaps issue is also important. The bad snaps did not help the offensive struggles in the first half.

Two Key Matchups

Virginia offensive line vs JMU defensive line

This may be a theme all season. The Virginia OL was outmatched against Tennessee. This was a surprise to nobody. The Vols’ defensive line is almost definitely the best Virginia will face this season. But the JMU DL may not be that far behind.

Virginia’s OL struggled in pass blocking, highlighted by Ugonna Nnanna giving up multiple sacks. But Nnanna was solid in run blocking, earning a 63 grade from PFF. Ty Furnish struggled with his snaps and was overmatched while run blocking (team low 38 run blocking grade), but was OK in pass blocking.

McKale Boley was the opposite of Nnanna. He was solid in pass blocking, but couldn’t move anybody in the ground game. Boley lost some weight since last year. That may have made him more athletic and mobile, but it may have hurt his ability to fire out on the DL.

If the JMU DL has anywhere near the success Tennessee’s did, this will be along long day for the Virginia offense. But there is hope that this unit will be back to full strength, and will improve as the season goes on.

JMU wide receivers vs Virginia defensive backs

Virginia’s defense looked good at times against a very good Tennessee offense. But they also had some breakdowns.

This is Tayvonn Kyle at the SPUR, and he’s beaten badly. Luckily for the Wahoos, the Tennessee WR drops the pass. There were multiple cases of Virginia DBs losing a Tennessee WR. Again, Tennessee has immense speed at WR, but the DBs also have to be better. The return of safety Anthony Clary may help alleviate some issues, but the CB depth isn’t great.

JMU’s WRs obviously are not as good as Tennessee’s. But they are solid and deep. There’s Reggie Brown, who catches the TD from McCloud up above. There’s also Phoenix Sproles, who is the cousin of former NFL RB Darren Sproles. Sproles started 29 games at North Dakota State and won 3 FCS national championships before transferring to JMU.

One Prediction

If Tony Muskett can’t go due to his shoulder injury, Virginia really has no chance in this game. Muskett was under pressure almost the entire game last week. And yet he still played decently enough. Anthony Colandrea spent most of his time running and handing it off. When he passed, he looked like you’d expect a true freshman QB to look against an SEC defense.

If Virginia has to count on Coleandrea, expect a lot of zone-read-option and a lot of RPOs.

He’s very athletic, and seemed adept at running the zone-read. The downside is if Coleandrea takes a hit and gets hurt, the Wahoos are in real trouble. The passing game will be simplified, with easy reads and lots of QB rollouts with RPOs.

Against a veteran unit, with speed all over the field, this will have limited success. At some point, you have to be able to drop back and throw the ball. Not a great situation for a true freshman.

If Muskett does go, Virginia can absolutely win this game. JMU will try to run the ball, and Virginia’s defense will have to be better against the run. They struggled against Tennessee (once again, no surprise). But they also struggled all of last season. If they can’t stop the JMU running game, the rest may not matter. But if the DL is able to slow down the Duke’s RBs, this should be a fairly low scoring affair. Which means anything can happen. A turnover, a blocked kick, anything can turn the game around.

Virginia will very likely need Muskett to win this game. They will also very likely need a near flawless game from the defense to win this game. JMU is more experienced, possibly more talented, and seemingly better coached. Though a winnable game for the Wahoos, Muskett’s uncertainly makes it an easy pick for the Dukes.

Prediction: Dukes 24, Virginia 10