In the week leading up to the football game between James Madison and Old Dominion this Saturday, the topic of whether JMU and ODU have a rivalry has been addressed by coaches, players and fans. The truth is that there is no football rivalry yet; the contest between the two schools will be the first, and one team is much more established than the other. But the lack of football competition has not prevented an overall rivalry from existing.
Over the years the teams have competed at a high level as members of the CAA, both against each other and on the national level. The men’s basketball teams were the class of the CAA between 1990 and 1997; the schools won the regular season six of the eight years, as well as the CAA tournament four of those years. Dukes fans cheer and Monarchs fans cringe at the mention of Kent Culuko and the 1994 CAA tournament final.
As the men’s basketball teams struggled during in the late 90’s, the schools’ other sports would continue to compete fiercely. From 1992 through 2008, the Lady Monarchs won an NCAA-record 17 consecutive conference titles in women’s hoops. James Madison has won the last two, as the conference has caught up to ODU. Additionally, it was the Lady Dukes who ended ODU’s 115-game conference winning streak in February of 2001.
The schools have a combined ten national titles in women’s field hockey, of which ODU has nine. The baseball Dukes have reached the NCAA’s three times the last decade, including 2011 when they defeated ODU in the CAA tournament final. The soccer Monarchs have experienced recent NCAA success and are ranked tenth in the nation at the time of this article. James Madison even has four NCAA national titles in archery since 1995.
Such continued, broad success between two conference opponents spanning decades naturally breeds contempt. Whereas Blaine Taylor turned around Old Dominion’s basketball program the last decade (four NCAA appearances since 2005), James Madison has experienced significant success in football. A national title in 2004, a semi-finals appearance in recent years and the 2010 road victory over Virginia Tech highlight the program’s achievements.
It is against this backdrop that two similar public universities in Virginia face off for their initial football game. Football is the marquee sport in college athletics, and ODU’s new program puts the schools in position to extend their rivalry to the gridiron. The importance of the game was not lost on ODU’s athletic department, which is reinstating the Oyster Bowl for the contest. Football greats such as Roger Staubach and Bruce Smith participated in past Oyster Bowls.
As if all this history is not enough to make a compelling game, the teams enter this weekend as top 25 foes battling for playoff positioning. The visiting Dukes are coming off their bye week at 5-2 (3-1), with their losses coming to UNC and CAA-leading Maine. Meanwhile the upstart Monarchs are 6-2 (3-2) and looking for a signature victory.
There is a stark contrast in style between the teams. James Madison relies on an outstanding defense (leading the conference in scoring defense at 19 points/game) and ball-control on offense. Contrast this against the Monarchs, whose quick-strike offense leads the CAA in scoring offense at 37 points per outing.
The Zone analyzes the three key areas that will decide the outcome of this game below.
James Madison’s Rushing Attack
The Dukes lead the CAA with an average of 243 yards rushing per game. They are led by two outstanding sophomores in Dae’Quan Scott (86 yards/game) and Jordan Anderson (81/game). Both players are in the top seven individually in rushing yards per game. The Dukes rely so heavily on the run that they’ve attempted only 92 passes in seven games; the next-fewest pass attempts in the CAA is by Towson, with 172. Old Dominion’s defense is third in the conference in allowing 115 yards per game, but they lost to the only team they faced with a potent rushing attack as JMU’s – the Towson Tigers.
Old Dominion’s Passing Attack
In three-plus games since replacing starting quarterback Thomas DeMarco, freshman Taylor Heinicke has completed more than 75% of his passes with ten touchdowns against one interception. Six different Monarchs have at least 18 receptions to date. Nick Mayers leads the team in receptions (34), yards (446) and touchdown catches (five). Meanwhile James Madison is first in overall defense in the conference, allowing only 301 yards per game. The Dukes are second in the conference with 21 sacks this season, and will need to disrupt the freshman in his fourth career start.
This season the Monarchs have blocked five kicks, executed two onsides kicks and converted two fake punt opportunities. Following his team’s win over Villanova, ODU coach Bobby Wilder referred to the aggressive play-calling as “calculated opportunities” rather than “chances” to get more possessions for his offense.
As opposing coaches see more film on the Monarchs, the element for surprise is reduced. Evident by his accomplished track record at James Madison, there is no doubt that head coach Mickey Matthews will identify tendencies of both his special teams unit and Old Dominion’s. Expect the Dukes to be prepared for a “trick” play of two. One special team’s play could be the difference in a game between two top 25 teams.
The sleeping giant that is the rivalry between JMU and ODU is about to awake. If the two teams compete against each other in football at the same level as in their other sports, the conference and its fans can expect to have another great rivalry on their hands for years to come.
CAAZone’s Joe Suhoski will be at the game and he’ll provide insight and updates throughout via Twitter. Follow Joe @VaBeachRep for his comments during the game.