This autumn, the Dukes’ offense hasn’t needed to go very far when they had the ball. They have even begun more drives that ended in touchdowns in the opponent’s territory than in their own. Curt Cignetti, head coach of the JMU football team, stated, “We’re capable of stringing lengthy drives together, but odds are we’ll have a couple of short fields as long as we’re playing terrific defense and doing a nice job on special teams.”
Through two weeks, JMU’s average field position on touchdown drives has been the 49-yard line of the opposition. Among all Sun Belt Conference teams during that period, this is the smallest distance.
JMU’s offense only needed to travel 65 yards or less on each of their first five touchdown drives against Middle Tennessee in Week 1. The Dukes were in even better positions in Week 2 at Norfolk State, needing no more than 40 yards to score on four of their first six scores — seven of their nine touchdown drives entered the endzone after 44 yards. In its two games, JMU has produced some lengthier drives, according to Cignetti, measuring 77, 80, and 82 yards.
The Dukes have had a sizable sample size as well. With 15 touchdowns scored in two games, they are tied for #1 in the FBS in terms of points scored per game (53.5). Louisiana’s touchdown drives cover the second-shortest distance in the conference, going four yards farther than JMU but scoring six fewer touchdowns. With four touchdowns through two weeks beginning at about own 25-yard line, Old Dominion ranks last in the Sun Belt for advantageous field position on such drives.
Here’s how the rest of the Sun Belt’s starting field position on touchdown drives shakes up:
- Appalachian State: own 45-yard line
- Georgia Southern: owns 41
- Arkansas State: own 41
- South Alabama: own 40
- Troy: own 37
- Marshall: own 35
- ULM: own 35
- Coastal Carolina: own 33
- Georgia State: owns 29
- Southern Miss: own 27
- Texas State: own 27
The field position of JMU has also been stimulated by special teams. Grandin Wilcox, a freshman punter at Norfolk State, had eight punts against the Dukes on September 10 that averaged 28.4 yards, including one bad punt that sailed out of bounds from 10 yards. Josh Sarratt, a redshirt junior punt returner, has proven reliable; he has returned six punts for a total of 64 yards this season.
After the Middle Tennessee game, Cignetti remarked, “There’s no doubt [Sarratt] did a terrific job today. The transfer from VMI returned four punts for 52 yards, highlighted by returns of 17 and 18 yards. He made a few great returns, and I thought he did well.
When the ball is in plus territory, JMU’s offense adopts a different strategy. Graduate running back Percy Agyei-Obese stated if JMU is closer to the endzone, “I had a fire sparked under me.” Cignetti claims it opens up the play-calling more.
The advantaged field position might be ascribed to the weak opposition; nevertheless, Cignetti stated that he anticipates being placed in riskier positions coming ahead when facing the other nine FBS teams on the schedule, beginning with Appalachian State in nine days.
The first two games’ small fields were lucky for us, Cignetti added. We are aware that it won’t last the entire season.
Despite giving up 63 points in their season opener defeat to North Carolina on Sept. 3, the Mountaineers pinned the Tar Heels further back than JMU has been accustomed to this year. On their own 25-yard line, the Tar Heels started eight of their thirteen possessions. The only touchdown by North Carolina came on a drive that began from the Appalachian State 28-yard line, but it came after an interception; previous Tar Heel scoring drives never dipped below 66 yards.
The defense for Appalachian State improved the following week when they faced No. 6 Texas A&M. On a total of eight drives, the Aggies never started a possession in a better location than their own 39-yard line, score or not. 17–14 was Appalachian State’s victory.
Nick Kidwell, a redshirt junior offensive lineman for JMU, is good with that.
Anywhere on the field, we know: It’s time to lock in, take care of business, and score points, Kidwell said.
However, that starting position on the field, whether near or far from the endzones’ black paint and yellow lettering in Kidd Brewer Stadium may make a difference on September 24 in Boone, North Carolina.