Evolution of JMU offense

Published: Dec. 3, 2021 at 5:14 PM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - The James Madison football team’s offense has continued to evolve as the Dukes prepare to play in the FCS Playoffs.

JMU earned the No. 3 seed in the bracket and is getting set to host Southeastern Louisiana in the second round Saturday afternoon at Bridgeforth Stadium. SLU brings the No. 1 scoring offense in the FCS to Harrisonburg but with JMU featuring one of the nation’s best defenses, it might be the Dukes’ offense that decides the game.

JMU has traditionally featured a strong rushing attack under head coach Curt Cignetti but the offense has taken on a different look in 2021. Injuries at the running back position and personnel changes along the offensive line have contributed to struggles in the run game for JMU this season. James Madison ranks 39th in the country with 161.6 rushing yards per game while averaging 4.1 yards per carry. In 2019, the most recent full FCS season, JMU averaged 242.9 rushing yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry.

“A lot of our backs get hurt and that’s affected our run game,” said JMU head coach Curt Cignetti. “But fortunately we’ve got a good quarterback, we’ve good receivers. We’ve got backs that are healthy still. They can catch the ball out of the backfield.”

The Dukes’ passing game has flourished as one of the most efficient units in the FCS. Led by quarterback Cole Johnson and standout wide receivers Antwane Wells Jr. and Kris Thornton, JMU has ranks fourth in the country in passing efficiency with a rating of 167.60. Johnson has thrown for 2,953 yards and a JMU-record 32 touchdowns. Thornton has 69 receptions for 896 yards and 11 TDs while Wells has hauled in 67 catches for 994 yards and 11 scores.

“I think we have kind of learned to get in a rhythm with the RPOs early and get those easy passes in,” said Johnson. “Then take our shots when we have a chance and that will help set up the run game. I think we have done a really good lately of getting 1-on-1 coverage with our guys Kris and Antwane, getting them in 1-on-1 man coverage.”

James Madison ranks fourth in the country in scoring offense with an average of 39.5 points per game.

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