I may have a new favorite team in James Madison. A team that comfortably covers as a three-score favorite is a great team that I want to continue to back. The Dukes, in their first year in the FBS, are 4-0 straight-up and against the spread and one game short of leading the Sun Belt East Conference behind Coastal Carolina. JMU is my team of the week to cover as a favorite.
This is the first meeting between the two teams and the first trip to Arkansas State for JMU. The trip from Harrisonburg, Virginia, to Jonesboro, Arkansas, will actually be the Dukes' longest road trip of the season, clocked at 816 miles. Could that play a role for a favorite to not cover on the road? Perhaps, but I still see a mismatch.
This matchup has similarities to JMU’s 40-13 win last week over Texas State in that the Red Wolves have a one-dimensional passing offense coupled with inefficient quarterback protection.
Arkansas State quarterback James Blackman has been sacked 13 times this season, ranking bottom 30 in QB sacked percentage. One of the strengths of the James Madison defense is having a top-10 pass rush, generating 12 total sacks with DL Mikail Kamara leading the way. JMU’s big 32-28 win over App State was in part due to the pass rush, which put up four sacks and forced one interception.
If a team is pass-heavy, then it becomes vulnerable to turnovers. The Dukes are 16th in the FBS for takeaways. That includes LB Jailin Walker's two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Blackman has thrown only one interception this season but it did come against Old Dominion last week, another defense that is top 15 in takeaways.
Offensively, James Madison should find success both in the passing and ground game. The Arkansas State secondary is 115th in the FBS, giving up 12.9 yards per pass to Memphis and another 13.2 yards per pass to Ohio State. JMU quarterback Todd Centeio has been holding steady thus far with 11 touchdown passes to just one interception, while averaging 8.8 YPA.
Arkansas State has already shown that it can't play catchup in a 45-12 loss to Ohio State followed by a 44-32 loss to Memphis. The James Madison defense will be the star of this show but it will be Centeio exploiting the Arkansas State secondary that will lead to a road cover.