Within 14 hours of this post, Old Dominion University will be hosting the 62nd Annual Oyster Bowl. We've been busy writing for the CAAZone and SaturdayBlitz.com, to the point that we haven't posted anything here in three weeks.
But this weekend's game for ODU is more than just another game. It pits the Monarchs against potentially the best team it has played in its two-plus seasons. As a student in the mid/late 90's, I always looked at the Dukes as ODU's biggest rival based on the teams' performance in basketball in early 90's. Old Dominion has to win some playoff games before it can consider itself to be in anyone's ballpark, but the ingredients for a long-term rivalry are there.
For my assessment of how the ODU/JMU rivalry got to the schools to this point even without a football series, read my post for the Zone here.
The fine folks at JMU Sports Blog asked me a series of questions, which I was more than happy to address. You can read the article at their site. They were kind enough to answer questions of my own, which are posted below. You can follow them at Twitter here and their site is definitely worth the read! Big thanks to the good people who root for the purple.
Go Monarchs! Hopefully we won't take another three weeks between posts.
1. How has the atmosphere at Bridgeforth this season compared to that prior to the expansion?
Kind of tough to gauge. There's no doubt this season in the new stadium has brought incredible excitement, especially among long-time Dukes fans, but everyone's also been just kind of feeling their way as many of us are adjusting to new seats and neighbors. CCSU and Nova were underwhelming performances ON the field and tough to get excited about in the stands. UR atmosphere for Homecoming was great for the first half, but JMU pulling away in a steady, cold rain in the second dampened things a bit. One thing that's been incredible is the student turnout. JMU now has 8000 student seats and they have filled them each game! Lots of alums and hardcores like to complain that students always leave early, but 8000 is nearly half the student body and it seems the upgrade in facilities is doing a ton to convince the skeptics among them (many of whom arrive at JMU as nominal VT, UVa, or UNC fans as I'm sure Monarch fans understand) that a Dukes game is more of a big-time event than in years past. Can't wait to see what the stadium's like for a night game against a rival like App. St. or a home playoff game someday!
2. What has Jace Edwards brought to the offense that is different than what Justin Thorpe did?
Edwards is more of a true QB and Thorpe was more of an outstanding athlete, who just happened to playing QB. Jace is young, but he definitely has helped the passing attack. He's throw a better ball than Thorpe and so far, has made better decisions in the passing game. He clearly works through his progressions and looks for other receivers to throw to if the primary option is covered. Jace was more likely to just tuck it and run if the primary option was covered. As a result, we think the entire offense has become better because it's less predictable.
3. How has the defense performed compared to last year? I'm aware most of the starters from last year's squad returned but I'm curious whether it is performing up to 2010's standard.
Actually the strength of our D has been a bit of a misconception among Dukes supporters and opponents this year. No doubt JMU has a bevy of talent, two-deep in most cases, in the back seven, but I think a lot of folks underestimated how thin the interior of the D-Line was. The pass-rushers on the edges, notably DJ Bryant, have been held in check more this year as they've been forced to help against the run due to decimating injuries at the tackle spots. The only game with a fully healthy D-Line was UR, when the Dukes had 7 sacks, but losing Army transfer Nick Emmons has been a blow.
JMU also switched this year from their long-time 4-2-5 formation to a more traditional read-and-react 4-3 and it seems this has led to more soft zone coverage leaving lots of holes to find in the passing game, especially when the pressure doesn't materialize up front. Our guess here is after the extra time to prep for ODU during the bye, we'll see a bit more of the old 4-2-5 with an extra rusher from different angles. Watch out for strong games from Bryant and SS/Rover Vidal Nelson.
4. What is your favorite JMU/ODU memory? Your least favorite?
My favorite JMU/ODU memory is defintely when Kent Culuko hit a 3 at the buzzer to win the CAA tourney and get the Dukes into the dance my freshman year in 1994. My least favorite memory is a tie between practically every single other basketball game between the 2 schools since then. I can't believe we're nearing a 2 decade absence from the NCAA tourney.
5. What is your prediction for this game (and I don't mean in terms of streamers)? What players other than Thorpe, Scott and Anderson should ODU fans be aware of?
Well, there will be streamers and hopefully plenty of them for JMU touchdowns. We're definitely nervous about this game, but are comforted by the fact that Matthews has had the bye week to prepare. Mickey can definitely make us scratch our heads at times with his in-game decisions, but he typically comes up with good gameplans for big games. We expect that trend to continue this week. Offensively, look for Kerby Long to make some big plays. He was out against Maine and the Dukes definitely missed him. He's dangerous in space with the ball in his hands. Brian Barlow is a big tight end and lots of fans believe he's one of the top 3 or 4 players on the team. Look for Jace to get him the ball early to establish a rhythm. On D, Stephon Robertson is the leader. He'll a big hitter and probably JMU's most consistent tackler. The game is going to be close, but we like JMU's chances, especially if it rains which will only help the rushing attack. JMU 24 - ODU 13.