When James Madison reconvened as a team on Monday, coming off its upset loss to Villanova on Saturday, Mike Greene made sure to pitch in to the Dukes’ energy level.
Greene, a former Highland Springs standout turned All-America defensive lineman, is a valued Dukes leader, a fifth-year senior. He wanted to help ensure JMU began to move forward productively and keep the sting of the team’s first Colonial Athletic Association loss since 2018 from lingering.
“Just forgetting the past, brushing it off and then get on to the next week because you don’t want last week to affect this week,” Greene said. “So just bringing that juice in the [weightlifting session], and bringing that juice in practice, was a big thing for me [Monday].”
Coach Curt Cignetti has built a 25-4 record at JMU in three seasons. Only two of those losses, including Saturday’s, have come in the regular season. The other was to FBS West Virginia in the first game of his tenure in 2019.
So Cignetti and Co. have rarely had to try to rebound from a result like Saturday’s. But a team, Cignetti said Tuesday, always has two choices in such instances.
It can step up and get stronger, or it can go in the tank, he said. He added that he believes JMU has the leadership and mettle to learn from its mistakes.
The eighth-ranked Dukes’ first chance to prove it will be at rival Richmond (2-3, 0-2 CAA) on Saturday at 2 p.m.
“We got some guys that are playing at a high level, or improving weekly, getting to a high level,” Cignetti said. “And we’ve got some guys that need to step up. That sometimes you get a little comfortable in your role, and you think everything’s OK. That’s when complacency sets in.”
For JMU (4-1, 2-1), inconsistency in execution has hurt — most notably in the second half — both against Villanova and in a narrow 23-21 win at New Hampshire the previous week.
There were times in both games when the Dukes seemed primed to take control. They executed a touchdown drive in the final two-plus minutes of the first half at UNH to grab a 17-7 halftime lead. In the second quarter this past Saturday, they outscored Villanova 17-3 to claim a 27-16 halftime advantage.
But in both games, rough third quarters shifted the tenor and put JMU on its toes. At UNH, two third-quarter turnovers — an interception and a lost fumble — were part of a period in which the Dukes were held to 27 yards of total offense and UNH took a 21-17 lead.
A fourth-quarter touchdown drive and a game-saving interception by Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey swung the game back the Dukes’ way.
In the third quarter against Villanova, JMU was limited to 12 yards of total offense while Villanova scored 12 unanswered points to take a 28-27 lead it didn’t relinquish.
Asked about inconsistency this week, Cignetti spoke of the importance of winning the one-on-one matchups within each play. When the Dukes are performing well, they’re winning such matchups, he said. When they’re not playing well, such as in the third quarters the past two games, they’re not winning those matchups.
“You’re always [asking], requiring kind of consistency in performance throughout the entire game,” Cignetti said. “But when two good teams play, you’re going to make plays, they’re going to make plays. You just got to make more than they do.”
In practice this week, and in general, Cignetti eyes his team’s attitude, energy level and focus. Those things have to be good every day, he said.
But this week, in particular, Cignetti said it’s important that the Dukes pay attention to detail.
“The details of the game plan, and everything that we do, to make sure our standards are high,” he said.
The Dukes will hope sharp and energetic preparation will lead to cleaner and more consistent execution at Richmond.
“The past two games really opened up our eyes,” running back Percy Agyei-Obese said. “‘OK, this is what we got to do, this is how we got to start to practice.’ And, moving forward, we’ve seen our mistakes, so now let’s learn from our mistakes and move forward.”