HARRISONBURG, Va. – Top-ranked James Madison travels south to 11th-ranked Elon for the regular season finale.
Saturday marks the sixth meeting between JMU and Elon, with the Dukes holding a 5-0 record.
JMU CLINCHES AT LEAST SHARE OF RECORD THIRD STRAIGHT TITLE
By virtue of JMU’s win over Richmond and Elon’s loss to New Hampshire, the Dukes clinched at least a share of the CAA championship on Nov. 11. It’s the program’s third straight conference title, marking the first time in school history that JMU has won the title three years in a row. Prior to last season, JMU had never won back-to-back league crowns.
JMU has now won the conference championship seven times (1975, 1999, 2004, 2008, 2015, 2016, 2017). The Dukes seek their second straight outright championship, and a win at Elon this weekend will accomplish that feat. It would also be their third-ever outright title, having also gone 8-0 in 2008. A win for JMU would also mark the ninth time in CAA history a team has gone 8-0. JMU and New Hampshire are the only teams to date to have gone 8-0 twice in league play.
OFF TO BEST START EVER
JMU improved to 10-0 last week, extending its best start to a season in the 46-year history of the program. The Dukes began 2015 with a 7-0 record. Historically, JMU does have one unbeaten season, going 9-0-1 in 1975. The Dukes opened that year with a tie before reeling off nine straight wins.
JMU outscores opponents by an average of 36.4 to 9.6, which ranks second in the FCS in win margin (+26.8). JMU paces the nation in scoring defense while ranking 11th in scoring offense. JMU has not allowed any team to score more than 14 points and has held eight of nine FCS foes to under 300 yards.
The Phoenix has certainly been the surprise of CAA Football this season, as it enters the regular-season finale with an 8-2 record and 6-1 mark in CAA play. Elon was picked to finish 11th this season. It averages 22.6 points per game while conceding 23.9 per outing. After dropping a 34-point loss to Toledo in the opener, Elon has seen all of its wins come by eight points or less. Five of eight triumphs have been by a field goal or less.
Davis Cheek ranks third in the CAA in passing yards (210.5) and fourth in total offense (219.3). Defensively, Warren Messer is second in tackles (9.6), Greg Liggs Jr. is third in passes defended (13) and Marcus Willoughby is eighth in sacks (6.0) per game. Curt Cignetti is in his first season at Elon and has a career record of 61-19 after a successful six-year stint at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He was also wide receivers coach at Alabama, where he won the 2009 national title.
ROAD WARRIORS LOOK FOR 10
JMU set a program record for consecutive road wins at William & Mary on Oct. 21, and it extended the record on Nov. 4 in the win at Rhode Island. The Dukes have won nine in a row in true road games dating back to Sept. 24, 2016. That includes eight straight CAA road wins during the stretch.
DUKES “SHARP” ON FINAL DRIVE
Richmond knotted the game at 13-13 with 4:04 remaining but the Dukes put together a 71-yard drive to capture the win. Trai Sharp led the way by carrying the ball seven times for 54 yards, setting the Dukes up for the go-ahead score. After a third-down conversion by Bryan Schor, Sharp capped off the 10-play drive with a seven-yard TD with only 44 seconds remaining. After the game, Sharp tweeted, “This one is for you Dad! I love you!”
WIN STREAK AT 22, TIED FOR 4TH IN FCS HISTORY
JMU’s 20-13 win over Richmond last Saturday marked JMU’s program-record 22nd consecutive triumph, which extended the CAA record and longest mark in all of Division I. Only one other FCS team has a 10-game win streak in the MEAC’s North Carolina A&T. Three FBS teams have claimed 10 or more, led by 14 from Miami out of the ACC. Wisconsin from the Big Ten has won 11 straight, while the SEC’s Alabama has won 10 in a row.
The Dukes have also won a CAA-record 17 straight conference games and seeks to become the league’s first team ever to go 8-0 back-to-back seasons. The 22-game mark is tied for fourth all-time in FCS history with Harvard (2013-15). The Dukes last saw defeat on Sept. 24, 2016 – a 56-28 setback at ACC-foe North Carolina. JMU has also won 23 straight games against FCS opponents, with the last loss coming on Dec. 5, 2015 versus Colgate in the second round of the playoffs. The Dukes have won 14 straight at Bridgeforth Stadium and hold a program-record nine-game road win streak heading into this weekend.
JMU’s defense has risen to the occasion week in and week out since the start of the season and has quickly turned into one of the tops in FCS. The Dukes lead the FCS in five categories, including scoring defense (9.6), total defense (228.8), passing defense (147.7), interceptions (19) and pass efficiency defense (78.45 rating). They rank in the top 10 in 13 total defensive areas, as they also rank second in both takeaways (27), and sacks (4.0), third in red-zone defense (60%) and fourth in both defensive scores (4) and first-down defense (14). Other top-10 areas include seventh in rushing defense (81.1) and ninth in both turnover margin (1.2) and third-down defense (30.7).
The secondary has been solid all year, having only allowed four passing touchdowns and collecting a CAA-best 19 interceptions. Jordan Brown ranks second nationally with six interceptions while Rashad Robinson and Jimmy Moreland are close, with five and four, respectively. Moreland, Andrew Ankrah and Darrious Carter all lead the team in fumble recoveries (2).