UVA Opponents Series: JMU will bring revamped offense over the mountain for Game 2

Countdown to Kickoff

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a 12-part series previewing Virginia’s opponents this season, compiled by correspondents Harry Farley and Clay Meeks

By Harry Farley
Jerry Ratcliffe.com Correspondent

Photo: James Madison University Athletics

James Madison comes to Charlottesville in the first home game for Virginia in Week 2, in what will be a huge in-state matchup.

The Dukes are entering just their second year of FBS play and are looking to improve on an impressive debut year which saw them start the season 5-0 and even make an appearance in the AP Top 25.

James Madison finished 8-3 overall and 6-2 in the Sun Belt, tying Coastal Carolina for a division championship but not advancing to the conference championship due to NCAA rules on FCS-to-FBS transitions. 

The main challenge for the Dukes will be the performance of a largely revamped offense, with a rehaul of skill positions from the transfer portal including a new starting quarterback (Jordan McCloud), running back (Ty Son Lawton), and wide receivers (Elijah Sarratt and Omarion Dollison).

The 2022 team led the Sun Belt in offensive scoring, averaging 37 points a game, and McCloud will have big shoes to fill. Key departures on the offensive side of the ball include quarterback Todd Centeio, running back Percy Agyei-Obese, and wide receiver Kris Thornton.

Centeio threw for 2,697 yards (seventh-most in program history) on 63.7-percent completion rate, Agyei-Obese rushed for 908 yards on a staggering 5.7 yards per carry, and Thornton hauled in 59 catches for 1,015 yards (fifth-most in program history). Not to mention the accolades that some of the offense picked up. Centeio was Sun Belt Offensive Player and Newcomer of the Year, Agyei-Obese was named Third Team All-Sun Belt, and Thornton was named First Team All-Sun Belt and All-American

While the Dukes have seven offensive starters returning and the offensive line remains largely intact, the success of their transfers at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver will almost certainly determine the outcome of their season.

Shutting down offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan’s offense will be a must for Virginia defensive coordinator John Rudzinski if the Cavaliers want to win.

Despite again not being postseason-eligible as a result of the NCAA transition rules, the Dukes will be hungry to impress in the regular season regardless. The schedule is challenging, but should be another successful season for James Madison as it tries to continue establishing itself in a conference that has clearly demonstrated it is full of legitimate teams and talent.

Notable games for the Dukes feature road matchups at Troy, Marshall and Coastal Carolina, while they will host the likes of Old Dominion, UConn, and Appalachian State over a four-week stretch towards the end of the season. Troy, Marshall, and Coastal Carolina finished a combined 30-10 last season and the Sun Belt championship game saw Troy defeat Coastal Carolina.

Again, those away games will be great benchmarks for how the Dukes stack up against their Sun Belt counterparts, but if last year was any indication (including a 32-28 road win at Appalachian State and a 47-7 drubbing of No.23 Coastal Carolina), they should be more than prepared with the help of head coach Curt Cignetti and the rest of his staff.

James Madison Dukes

Saturday, Sept. 9
Scott Stadium
Head Coach: Curt Cignetti
2022 W-L Record: 8-3
Conference Record: 6-2 (Sun Belt)
Offensive Starters Returning: 6
Defensive Starters Returning: 7
All Time Record vs. Virginia: 1-2
Last Meeting: Virginia won 21-14, Sept. 17, 1983
Top 6 Players to Watch: RT Nick Kidwell, RB Ty Son Lawton, QB Jordan McCloud, DT James Carpenter, LB Taurus Jones, CB Chauncey Logan