Analysis: Dukes No. 1? Maybe
Posted: October 15, 2012
HARRISONBURG — Four of the top five teams in The Sports Network’s Division I-AA football poll lost on Saturday. Could have been all five.
The lone survivor, No. 4 James Madison, escaped with a 27-26 double-overtime victory over William & Mary only because Tribe junior Drake Kuhn blew what would have been a game-winning 31-yard field goal at the end of regulation
Now, JMU is in line to be No. 1.
Maybe. After the Dukes were outplayed much of the day at home against a middle-of-the-road opponent, some voters in the poll — which will be released today — might pause before elevating James Madison that high.
“Am I No. 1? No, not after that game,” Dukes coach Mickey Matthews said, when told of Saturday’s results. “I don’t think anybody in this room would vote [for us].”
North Dakota State, last year’s national champion and the team that knocked Madison out of the playoffs last year, lost 17-14 at home to Indiana State on Saturday, meaning the top team in the nation will take a fall in the I-AA pecking order.
No. 2 Montana State lost 27-24 at home to No. 6 Eastern Washington, which can now make a solid case for itself to be the new top team (its only loss was against a I-A team, the Pac-12’s Washington State, and it earlier defeated I-A Idaho).
No. 3 Old Dominion, that scoreboard-turning CAA club, couldn’t muster much in a 38-14 home loss to Villanova. No. 5 Wofford lost 17-9 at Georgia Southern.
JMU, well, it got the job done at home – barely – and will likely be ranked first or second in the upcoming poll. JMU and Eastern Washington have the same record, but the Eagles’ wins have been more impressive on paper.
The Dukes have shown a propensity to pull out Spandex-tight games the past two weeks. It’s good to be clutch, or a bit lucky. The cynic can see that JMU’s offense hasn’t been able to generate enough production to make those wins comfortable.
On Saturday, Madison (5-1 overall, 2-0 in the CAA) managed 10 total yards in the fourth quarter. Last week, the offense had just 66 yards in the second half before it finally found itself trailing, and Justin Thorpe guided a game-winning 79-yard TD drive to beat Towson.
“We’re battle-tested,” Thorpe said Saturday. “I can say that much.”
In their post-game press conference, JMU players had a win’s-a-win attitude. But some blemishes have certainly surfaced – especially for a team that might be considered No. 1 this week.
The Dukes’ first three offensive drives ended in a missed field goal from 46 yards out, a Thorpe fumble and a Thorpe interception. They did have a nicely run, 68-yard TD drive in the second quarter, but they scored their only other non-overtime touchdown after starting on the W&M 7-yard line, following a blocked punt.
William & Mary might be better than its 2-5 record, but it certainly isn’t a powerhouse like JMU. Yet it took an opponents’ kicking blunder and two overtimes to beat the Tribe. Yes, a win’s a win, but it certainly didn’t seem like a poll-vaulting win while it happened.
Matthews noted that no games are easy in the ultra-competitive CAA, which is now led solely by JMU – the only team undefeated in league play.
“The strength of our league has never been at the top,” Matthews said. “I never thought our teams have been better than other teams across the country. The strength of our league is the overall strength. We get in the playoffs, we watch playoff films – they’re playing some weak teams at the bottom of their leagues. … That’s not the case in our league.”
As usual, the Dukes’ defense did its part. All five of William & Mary’s drives that started in the second or third quarter were three-and-outs. Eventually, the Tribe found cracks in a JMU “D” that was again on the field longer than its counterpart. (Last week Towson won the time of possession battle 35:38 to 24:22; on Saturday, W&M outpossessed Madison 32:58 to 27:02).
“We have a great defense, but we don’t want to put the pressure on them to stop people every week,” Thorpe said. “We just have to execute.”
Linebacker Stephon Robertson, who recorded a game-high seven tackles, said the defense didn’t get tired in the second half. It just couldn’t sustain its three-and-out dominance in perpetuity.
“It’s a game of football, I mean you’re not going to completely shut down an offense or stop them,” Robertson said. “I would say we were dominant in the second half when it counted, and made the stops. Might have gotten lucky, I guess you can say, here or there.”