Both Rashad Robinson and Dimitri Holloway pointed it out.
“Getting ready for the smoke and mirrors,” Robinson, the James Madison senior cornerback, said Thursday following the team’s practice in preparation for the Jan. 11 national title game against North Dakota State.
“They do what they do,” Holloway, the Dukes senior linebacker, said. “You’ll see a little bit of smoke and mirrors before the play.”
The “smoke and mirrors” Robinson and Holloway referenced are the pre-snap motions and shifts the North Dakota State offense will regularly use to put itself in advantageous situations against opposing defenses.
North Dakota State boasts the fourth-best rushing offense (288 yards per game) and seventh-best scoring offense (37.9 points per game) in the FCS entering the championship matchup, so the Dukes’ defense is immersed in readying for the various formations they’ll see and the adjustments they’ll have to make on the fly.
Simply, Robinson, Holloway and company want to avoid any confusion before the ball is snapped.
“They motion almost every play,” said Robinson, who added he and his defensive teammates discussed those Bison tricks with defensive coordinator Corey Hetherman in meetings — and even with position coaches.
“It’s very similar to New Hampshire,” Robinson said of that fellow CAA program. “And [cornerbacks coach Matt] Birkett actually told us that it’s a New Hampshire-type of offense with more of a power-run scheme than finesse-passing scheme.
“But it’s basically the same thing with all the smoke and mirrors and all the shifts and motions to make sure different guys are running different things on defense. We’re just trying to make sure all 11 guys are running the same defense.”
JMU coach Curt Cignetti said: “Structurally on offense, they’re very multiple. They play a lot of different guys, tight ends and a lot of different personnel groupings with shifts, motions, and they huddle. They’ll come out in three tight ends, one back and shift. Things like that, so they’re the most multiple team that we’ve faced.”
Holloway said North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, who earned Missouri Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors while accounting for 41 total touchdowns and no interceptions, runs the complex system exceptionally well and doesn’t make mistakes.
Lance is the Bison’s second-leading rusher with 934 yards on the ground. Three running backs – Ty Brooks, Adam Cofield and Kobe Johnson – all have at least 660 rushing yards this season.
“You just got to make sure you’re focused up on the right things and looking at the right pieces,” Holloway said. “You can tell they still like to do the power game, they have the counter game and there’s a lot of outside zone, so at the end of the day, they like to run the ball. You know what they’re going to do and you’ve got to buckle up as a defense and get ready to go.”
- JMU returned to practice Monday after taking a week-long break for Christmas. Holloway said: “You could tell the guys were ready to get back and start practicing.”
- Cignetti said all of the install will be done at practices in Harrisonburg before flying to Frisco on Wednesday for the activities the team participates in prior to the game. “Our quality work really needs to be done here,” he said. “Because once we get down there, there’s a lot of different functions for the team. We’ll get a couple of walkthroughs and that’s about it. When we get down there, it’ll be about maintaining our edge.”
- Cignetti said redshirt sophomore quarterback Patrick Bentley is playing the role of Lance, the NDSU quarterback, on the scout team.
- Senior center Mac Patrick said he doesn’t see the national championship game being too big of a stage for JMU. “I think Coach Cignetti kind of set the tone with that,” Patrick said. “He tells us every day to take it day-by-day.”