Finally! Football season is here! We are back! Excited enough yet? Let's get right into it.
Maryland is coming off a 7-6 season that included a bowl game, their first under Randy Edsall. James Madison went 6-6 last season and lost their last three games. Interestingly enough, both Maryland and James Madison went 3-5 in their respective conference slates.
The Dukes were picked to finish eighth in the CAA this year. Eighth! No one in the CAA is all that high on JMU and Maryland is coming into this game with a little hype and a chip on their shoulder to prove that they have what it takes to play in the Big Ten this season.
This might surprise some Terp fans but James Madison actually has higher averages in points per game, rushing yards and rushing yards per game from last year than Maryland does. We can at least somewhat chalk this up to JMU playing in the FCS and playing against much easier opponents week to week.
This is not Old Dominion from last year. They were led by a record breaking quarterback in Taylor Heinicke and their offense was totally ineffective against Maryland. This James Madison squad does not have a good offense. Maryland does. Maryland will get wideouts Stefon Diggs and Deon Long back from injury and quarterback C.J. Brown will be under center for a third year. Quarterback Vad Lee transferred to James Madison after playing for Georgia Tech for the last two seasons. Lee is a very competent quarterback but he can't do it all on his own. Maryland's offense is very good and they are going to score points on Saturday. A lot of them.
Just like with the stats from the offenses last year, James Madison holds a slight edge in major categories such as points allowed per game, total defense and sacks. The strength of the JMU defense last year was its rush defense. The Dukes only gave up 2.7 yards a carry and 98.6 yards per game. That might help to explain why they were able to hold FCS runner-up Towson to only 28 points last year. Maryland will test out just how strong the front seven of James Madison really is. If James Madison is able to limit Maryland's effectiveness running the ball, that is a bad sign for the Terps when they go into Big Ten play.
Fortunately for Maryland, their strength is passing the ball. With Diggs, Long, and C.J. Brown, the JMU defense is going to be stretched thin. Brown's dual-threat ability to run and throw will keep the Dukes honest and will make it hard for them to sell out stopping the run or the pass. Maryland's defense this year is under-rated and they should have a field day going up against this JMU offense. Expect to see similar things from the game against ODU last year. A lot of Terps in the opposing backfield and a lot of guys making plays.
James Madison's best player is their free safety, Dean Marlowe. He has made the All-CAA team all three years that he has played. Last year, not only was he an all-conference safety, he made the All-CAA third team as a punt returner. While it helps the Dukes that he can roam around in coverage, he can't do it all by himself. It is very rare to have a defensive player dominate a game to such an extent that they help determine its outcome. Those players are normally defensive ends (such as Suh, Watt, and Clowney) or corners (such as Revis, Sanders and Sherman). The duo of Diggs and Long should be too much to handle for the James Madison secondary.
The Special Teams
James Madison was 12-17 on field goal attempts last season. That is poor. Maryland's Brad Craddock was 21-25 and only missed twice inside of 50 yards. He is also on the Lou Groza Award Watch List, which is awarded to the nation's best field goal kicker. Maryland has an obvious edge in the kicking game.
James Madison's return man is Dean Marlowe. He may be very good but Stefon Diggs is better. Diggs is electrifying and made the Maxwell Award Watch List given to the nation's best player. He is one of the country's most explosive play-makers and I have my colleague Todd Carton on record saying that he will take one to the house this weekend. Good enough for me!
Maryland is a much more talented football team than James Madison. They are used to playing tougher opponents and they have more key pieces returning. History also favors the Terps since Randy Edsall is 3-0 in season openers at Maryland. Most importantly, Maryland has a healthy Stefon Diggs, Deon Long and C.J. Brown. This game could get ugly, early. Time for some other predictions:
- The defense will come up with three or four turnovers
- Diggs will have three touchdowns and Long will have one
- C.J. Brown will throw for four touchdowns and will run for one
- The starters will be out of the game for the fourth quarter
- Papa Johns is going to be giving out a prodigious number of free toppings on Tuesday.