Photo credit: Jacksonville University Athletics
The Jacksonville Dolphins (1-1) are coming off of the first win of the Ian Shields era, a 41-7 handling of Edward Waters at home that was largely expected. Now comes the first real test of 2016, as JU starts off league play on the road against in-state rival Stetson (1-1) in a game that should give us a much clearer picture of where this team is at. Let’s break it down.
Rylan Wells looks more comfortable in the offense after throwing for 187 yards and two touchdowns and adding 50 more on the ground. Mostly, he seems to be getting the timing down better. Passing needs some work, as both of his TD passes were underthrown, but he has shown the arm strength and that is half the battle.
Gavin DeFilippo is a first year starter for the Hatters, who have been searching for an answer at QB since restarting the program back in 2013. His numbers are decent so far, averaging 227 yards per game, while completing 62% of his passes and adding three touchdowns. This will be the best secondary he has faced.
Edge: Jacksonville. Experience and skill should win out here.
Ulysses Bryant rumbled his way to 90 yards and a touchdown on 6.4 yards a carry last week, as Jacksonville was able to establish the dive play against the Tigers. In total, nine Dolphins carried the ball for 258 yards and averaged six yards a carry. This is what the offense is designed to look like. Can it continue against improved competition?
Cole Mazza is a senior who carries a chip on his shoulder for not being recruited by his home town team, but has not been able to put together a vindictive effort against JU yet. He has rushed for just 15 yards on three carries in his career against Jacksonville.
Edge: Jacksonville. Deeper, and rolling with some momentum.
Prince Gray had two catches that both went for touchdowns last week, and averaged 56.5 yards a catch. That is good, but the Stetson secondary is pretty good, and JU will need the receivers to stretch the field to keep the defense honest.
Three Hatter receivers have at least eight catches through two games. 6 foot 8 inch tight end Donald Parham has nine catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns this year and could be a real matchup problem.
Edge: Stetson. Numbers are a little deeper; Parham could be looking at a big game.
The young line is starting to jell, and paved the way for a big rushing week while not allowing a sack for the second week in a row.
Two seniors and three sophomores start up front for the Hatters, and they have only allowed two sacks this season. Could use better push in the run game.
Edge: Jacksonville. A huge question mark entering the year has answered the bell so far.
Six sacks on the year, all of them coming last week. Looking for another big game from Justin Horton (Four tackles, 1.5 sacks, forced fumble vs. Edward Waters).
Have not put the quarterback on the ground much through the first two games (just two sacks) but Davion Belk has 10 tackles, two for loss and a QB hurry and is a monster at end.
Edge: Even. Both sides have playmakers, both teams looking for more collectively.
Grady Redding and Harrison Rodomer continue to pile up tackles, but freshman Caysaun Wakeley (Seven tackles, two sacks vs. EWC) looks like a potential breakout star.
All three starters pile up tackle numbers (Senior David Lazear has the least with 15 so far) and this is a veteran group of two seniors and a junior. They do not leave the field.
Edge: Even. Maybe the strongest group for both teams defensively.
Free safety Thomas Oporto picked up this unit’s second interception this season last week, but a few other opportunities were dropped. JU won the turnover battle often the last two years because of INT’s, and had four off of Stetson last year.
Preseason FCS All-American Donald Payne leads this group, but do not sleep on his deep safety counterpart Glenn Adesoji, who is a playmaker in his own right and has one of Stetson’s four interceptions this year.
Edge: Stetson. Playmakers abound, and you know they have a chip on their shoulder after giving up five TD’s through the air to JU last year.
Freshman kicker Javier Arce-Ramirez missed his first field goal attempt of the season last week (from 42 yards) and added a missed PAT and kickoff out-of-bounds. He is looking to bounce back. Ryan Giaratano continues to average 40 yards a punt. Return game is looking for a breakout.
Grant Amick has missed three kicks this year (1-3 FG, 5-6 PAT) but Eric Fogle is averaging 39 yards per punt. Kickoff return game has been solid with Dre Long and Kegan Moore averaging about 21 yards a return.
Edge: Stetson. Both sides have strengths at punter, a potential weakness at kicker. Edge goes to home team.
Pioneer League opener for both teams, and Stetson, who has never beat Jacksonville, must see this as its best chance in the team’s four meetings. If Jacksonville can continue to win the turnover battle, something it has consistently done vs. Stetson, and hit a big play or two, they should be looking at a 1-0 PFL record. But this is the first chance to really get an idea of who this team is.
Jacksonville kicks off PFL at Stetson’s Spec Martin Stadium at 7 p.m. The game can be watched on ESPN3 and heard locally on 1010 AM and mixlr.com/judolphins.