The Morehead State Eagles and James Madison Dukes get their NCAA Division I FCS spring football season underway when they meet Saturday in a non-conference matchup. Morehead State, which finished seventh in the Pioneer Football League at 3-5 and was 5-7 overall in 2019, was 2-4 on the road last season. James Madison, meanwhile, which finished first in the Colonial Athletic Association at 8-0 and was 14-2 overall a year ago, was 9-0 on its home field. With seven games scheduled this spring and 11 in the fall, the Eagles could play their most games ever in a calendar year if there are no cancellations.
James Madison (0-0) vs Morehead State (0-0) Game Preview
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Why Morehead State Will Win
Date: Saturday, February 20
Game Time: 12:00 ET
Venue: Showker Field, Harrisonburg, VA
Network: FloFootball/NBC Sports Washington
The defense has to do something to take the ball away early and often.
The run D isn’t going to be there, and the O that had such a problem hanging on to the ball in 2019 isn’t likely to be all that sharp in mid-February in a weird season, but this group can hit and it can take the ball away.
QB Mark Pappas returns – JMU QB Ben DiNucci isn’t – and has to be careful with the ball and keep the chains moving. And then he and the attack have to rely on the defense to hold on because …
Why James Madison Will Win
The Dukes are going to run all day.
Yeah, the offense might not have DiNucci around anymore, but the ground game will be devastating with the 1-2 punch of Percy Agyei-Obese and Jawon Hamilton bringing a nice mix of pop and speed against what should be a porous Eagle defensive front.
Starting with Mike Greene on the defensive front, the No. 1 defense in the FCS a few years ago will soon be every bit as producing and tough again, but …
What’s Going To Happen
JMU has to replace a ton of star talent. DiNucci can be replaced, but the defensive side is missing the killer pass rushing tandem of Ron’Dell Carter and John Daka along with leading tackler Dimitri Holloway.
It’ll be fine.
Morehead State’s defense will get pounded on early and won’t have the offensive pop – even with the experience returning – to keep up the pace against a team that should grow into a national championship level good.
Why James Madison can cover
The Dukes return a number of key starters from a year ago, including senior running backs Percy Agyei-Obese and Jawon Hamilton. Agyei-Obese led the team in rushing, carrying 259 times for 1,216 yards (4.7 average) and 19 touchdowns. As a junior, he played in all 16 games, making two starts. He was a first-team All-CAA running back, and rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown in the FCS Quarterfinals against Northern Iowa. He also rushed for a career-high 130 yards and three touchdowns against New Hampshire.
Hamilton also played in 16 games with eight starts. He carried 168 times for 919 yards (5.5 average) and five TDs, and was named to the All-CAA third team. He also had 15 receptions for 124 yards and a score, and returned nine kickoffs for 263 yards, averaging 29.2 yards per return. He registered two 100-yard rushing performances, including a career-high 150 yards and a touchdown at Rhode Island.
Why Morehead State can cover
The Eagles return starting quarterback Mark Pappas, a redshirt junior. Pappas appeared in 11 of 12 games and became the team’s starting QB in 2019. He completed 57.4 percent of his throws, connecting on 171 of 298 passes for 2,327 yards and 19 touchdowns. He finished with a passer rating of 137.3. In the first game of the season against Union, Ky., Pappas completed 15 of 21 passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns, including three passing, in less than three quarters of action.
Defensively, Morehead State is led by junior defensive end Vaughn Taylor Jr., who recorded a Pioneer Football League-best 17 tackles for loss, including four games with at least two stops behind the opponent’s line of scrimmage. He also tied for the conference lead in sacks with 5 1/2. He was selected to the College Sports Journal Preseason All-American list. He played in all 12 games and finished second on the team in total tackles with 61, including 28 solo. He had a team-best seven quarterback hurries, along with one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
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James Madison vs Morehead State Prediction, Line
James Madison 52, Morehead State 13
Bet on college football with BetMGM
Line: James Madison -42.5, o/u: 56
Must See Rating: 2
5: Real football games in spring
1: Spring “games” that are just intrasquad scrimmages