Marshall at James Madison: What to watch for

— By Bill Cornwell

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The search for Marshall’s first Sun Belt Conference win continues Saturday when the Thundering Herd visits James Madison for a 3:30 p.m. game that is being shown on ESPN+.

The matchup at Bridgeforth Stadium is a sellout.

Marshall lost at home last Wednesday to Louisiana 23-13, while JMU then ranked 25th in The Associated Press Poll, suffered its first loss at Georgia Southern, 45-38.

This will be the third meeting between the Thundering Herd (3-3, 0-2) and Dukes (5-1, 3-1). Marshall leads the all-time series 2-0, and both previous matchups came in Division 1-AA playoff games.

Here are three things to look for Saturday afternoon:

TWO-QUARTERBACK SYSTEM STAYS IN PLACE

Marshall head coach Charles Huff reiterated his commitment to a two-quarterback system this week, saying the MU coaching staff always has offensive packages within a game plan for both Henry Colombi and Cam Fancher. 

Many coaches hesitate to use two quarterbacks in games, but Huff seems to be comfortable with the idea ane believes both quarterbacks bring different skill sets and offer different challenges to opposing defenses.

The system could work, but it’s crucial that Colombi and Fancher get better blocking from a Marshall offensive line that has struggled for much of the last month after holding its own through the first two games.

Both Colombi and Cancer would also benefit from Herd receivers doing a better job of getting open downfield, which could stretch the Dukes’ defense and create more opportunities for tailback Khalan Laborn in the running game. 

It won’t be easy against a James Madison defense that is the best in the nation against the run, giving up only 36 yards per game. The Dukes have not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.

STAY STINGY ON ‘D’

While James Madison’s defense is the stingiest against the run nationally, Marshall’s rush defense is just behind the Dukes and No. 2 nationally, surrendering just north of 77 yards on average.

It will be critical for the Herd to make JMU one-dimensional Saturday afternoon as coach Curt Cignetti’s team prides itself on offensive balance. 

The Dukes have been productive through the air (307 yards per game) and on the ground, where they are gaining nearly 213 yards on average.

Both teams possess a surplus of defensive speed, and  and MU defenders such as Koby Cumberlander, Owen Porter, Charlie Gray, Abraham Beauplan and Eli Neal need to have a performance similar to what they showed in the Herd’s Week 2 win at Notre Dame for Marshall to slow the Dukes.

TRANSFERS APLENTY

A heavy influx of transfers have been counted on consistently, including Laborn, quarterback Henry Colombi and defensive linemen Damion Barber Jr. and Isaiah Gibson. 

Sep 24, 2022; Boone, North Carolina, USA; James Madison Dukes quarterback Todd Centeio (1) takes a snap in the fourth quarter against the Appalachian State Mountaineers at Kidd Brewer Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

Laborn has been by far Marshall’s most productive offensive player, surpassing 100 yards in each of his first six games with the Herd while amassing 851 rushing yards with 10 touchdowns through six games.

The Dukes’ starting lineup is also manned by plenty of transfers performing in key spots. Among them is starting quarterback Todd Centeio, who came to JMU from Colorado State and is a dual threat behind center with 2,113 combined offensive yards (1,780 passing and 333 rushing). 

Two former VMI players have also been big contributors to the Dukes in receiver Kris Thompson (37 catches, 652 yards, 5 TDs) and free safety Josh Sarratt (24 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack). 

JMU’s top defensive transfer is defensive end Abi Nwaguoku-Okonji, who came from Minnesota and has 11 tackles this season, including 3.5 for loss with 1.5 sacks.

NOTE: Marshall’s Homecoming game October 29 against Coastal Carolina will begin at 7 p.m. The contest will be aired on NFL Network, marking the Herd’s third time this season playing on the network. MU previously lost to Bowling Green and Troy in its two other games featured on NFL Network this season.





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