Toyota Press Pass: JMU defense preparing for true freshman as Utah State makes QB swap

JMU looks to cap off a perfect road trip at Utah State
Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 7:56 AM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - The James Madison football team will look to cap off a perfect road trip Saturday night when they pay a visit to higher altitude to take on Utah State.

It’ll be the first matchup between the two schools. JMU head coach Curt Cignetti said during Tuesday’s news conference the Dukes were originally scheduled to play Miami (OH). However, the schedule changed when JMU made the transition to FBS.

“When we moved up, [Miami (OH)] expressed a desire to not play us since our scholarship numbers were going to go up,” said Cignetti.

Cignetti said with ESPN playing a role in scheduling, they asked JMU if they’d be interesting in playing Utah State.

Utah State resides in the Mountain West Conference. The Aggies sit at 1-2 on the season, most recently coming off a road loss to Air Force.

“They have the ability to spread you out, throw the receiver screens, the switch routes, box count runs,” said Cignetti. “They make you play in space. Get the ball out of the quarterback’s hand quickly before the pass rush can get there.”

JMU running back Kaelon Black noticed on tape the Aggies defense plays with a lot of effort.

“They have tough linebackers and a tough d-line as well,” said Black. “They don’t blitz a lot but they play really hard.”

Quarterback swap

Utah State head coach Blake Anderson announced on Monday he’d start true freshman McCae Hillstead against JMU.

Last time out against Air Force, Hillstead came in relief of struggling starter Cooper Legas and provided the Aggie offense a spark. The true freshman was 18 of 27 passing for 202 yards with three touchdown passes.

“I hate being in the situation we’re in but it’s my job to assess it and move forward as I think fits our team the best and gives us the best chance to win right now,” said Anderson. “I think we have the skill position players around McCae to allow his skill set and the confidence that he has in delivering the ball across the field. I think it gives us the best opportunity to win.”

Cignetti noticed Hillstead’s ability watching the tape on Utah State.

“He can spin it, he’s a smart guy, and he’s mobile too,” said Cignetti.

Saturday night’s game kicks off at 8 p.m.