This kind of matchup is the rarity.
James Madison has never played a regular-season game against a Big Sky opponent before, nor have the Dukes ever traveled as far west previously as they will for this Saturday’s bout with Weber State at Stewart Stadium in Ogden, Utah.
The contest pitting No. 3 JMU against No. 9 Weber State is the premier FCS game in Week 3, and a more-than-adequate substitute for the matchup the Dukes couldn’t secure against an FBS opponent for this fall.
“I look at it like we’re going to play a real quality team,” JMU coach Curt Cignetti said Monday during the Colonial Athletic Association coaches video conference. “It’s a team that’s normally top five in the country or top ten for sure.”
Of course, the Dukes and the Wildcats have playoff history, meeting in the 2017 quarterfinals and the 2019 semifinals. JMU took both win-or-go-home games.
This year, the Wildcats are 1-1 after their 41-3 win at Dixie State this past weekend and loss to FBS Utah in their opener. JMU is 2-0 and has outscored first pair of opponents 123 to 17.
“They’re really good,” Cignetti said, “and it’s going to be their home opener, so they’re going to be all juiced up playing at home. [Weber State] Coach [Jay Hill] has done a great job there and the defense is really good, but they got some really good running backs on offense and speedy receivers, and it’s going to be a very, very tough test for us.
“We are going to have to have our A game to go on the road in a hostile environment, keep our poise every play – and that’s play in, play out – to come out with the result we want.”
There’s also adjustment of having to play at elevation. The town of Ogden ranges between 4,300 feet and 5,200 feet above sea level, but Cignetti said he doesn’t anticipate that change being an issue.
“We’ll have some oxygen tanks on the sideline,” Cignetti said. “Corey Hetherman our defensive coordinator, [with Maine] went out there in 2018 for a [playoff] game against Weber and they consulted with a lot of NFL teams, and the information they got back was to go out there as late as possible, which we will do too. So, we’ll get out there late Friday night. We’ll have the oxygen tanks where needed and I don’t think it’s going to be a big factor.”
Maine beat Weber State in that 2018 quarterfinal contest, 23-18.
- Looking back at JMU’s win over Maine this past Saturday, Cignetti said he thought the staff did a good job to get wide receiver Antwane Wells Jr. frequently against single coverage.
“When we get him one-on-one, he’s a hard guy to cover,” Cignetti said.
Wells Jr. was named CAA Offensive Player of the Week for his 179 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
- Kicker Ethan Ratke was named National Special Teams Player of the Week by Stats Perform FCS and CAA Special Teams Player of the Week for setting the subdivision’s all-time record for points and tying the record for career field goals during the Dukes’ win over the Black Bears.