Jacksonville is on a two game win streak, after vanquishing Pioneer League foe Stetson 24-7 last Saturday. The Dolphins come home for the second time this year to face the Duquesne Dukes, a scholarship program from Pittsburgh that play in the Northeast Conference. The Dukes made its first ever FCS playoff appearance last year, and are picked to repeat as NEC champions. It’s going to take a strong all around effort for Jacksonville to continue an home winning streak that dates back to September 28, 2013.
Rylan Wells is coming off his most efficient game this year. The junior completed his first six passes of the evening and finished 10-16 for 213 yards and two touchdowns, adding 29 yards on the ground. He has not turned the ball over since the first game and will need to continue to be efficient and careful with the ball.
Dillon Buechel threw for nearly 300 yards and two touchdowns in Duquesne’s 36-28 loss to Kennesaw State last week, but tossed a career high four interceptions. The redshirt senior has plenty of experience though, and is top five in many active career passing categories in the FCS.
Edge: Duquesne. Buechel has seen everything in his time in Pittsburgh, and should bounce back. But if he starts throwing picks again…
Ulysses Bryant was well on his way to 100 yards rushing last week before Stetson stacked the box in the second half and slowed him down. He finished with 72 yards and is averaging 4.8 a carry through three games. Freshman Jared Morris burst on to the scene last week with a touchdown and 35 yards on six carries & showed soft hands too.
Starter PJ Fulmore is expected to return after missing the last two games with an injury. But he is going to have to split time with freshman AJ Hines, the 220-pound bruiser, who has flourished in Fulmore’s absence, earning NEC Rookie of the Week after piling up 152 yards from scrimmage (91 rushing, 61 receiving) and has five touchdowns on the year.
Edge: Jacksonville. The strength of this team is even better with growth of Morris.
Jacksonville is leading the country in yards per completion with 21.04. Prince Gray and Brian Burnett have lead the way, racking up huge yards after catch the last two weeks. That will need to continue to take pressure off the running game.
The Dukes have three receivers with double digit catches and over 200 yards receiving on the year. Buechel shares the ball well, so defenses cannot focus on shutting down just one or two guys. The passing offense is second best in the NEC.
Edge: Even. Duquesne is deeper, Jacksonville is more explosive.
The line has been a pleasant surprise to start the season, considering how young the pieces up front are. Veteran right tackle Robert Ritterhoff got dinged up last week, and Jacksonville will need him to be close to 100 percent and this unit to set the tone up front.
There are some big boys up front for the Dukes. All five starters are 290+. But they surrender over two sacks a game and pave the way for just the fifth best rushing attack in the league.
Edge: Even. Pleasant surprise versus underachievers.
The defensive front is not deep, but did sack Stetson’s quarterback Gavin DeFilippo twice last week and dominated up front for much of the game. The return of end Jareeq Crenshaw, who missed the second half last week with a groin injury, will help a lot.
The front of the Duquesne 3-4 defense is more responsible for eating blocks than anything else, but this group has been gashed in the running game to the tune of 178 yards a game. Redshirt senior Jake Radzuikinas leads the way with 17 tackles.
Edge: Even. Whoever wins this battle up front might have the advantage in the game, either slowing down JU’s rushing or DU’s passing attack.
Junior Harrison Rodormer was named PFL Defensive Player of the Week after piling up nine tackles, three for a loss and a sack against Stetson. Justin Horton continues to harass quarterbacks (eight tackles, a QB hurry and a tackle for loss last week) and Grady Redding is a tackle machine.
The three top tacklers reside in the linebacking corps. OLB Carter Henderson is tied for fourth in scoring on Duquesne with a pick six and a fumble returned for a touchdown this year. The other outside backer, Christian Kuntz, has 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks this year. The inside guys clean up.
Edge: Duquesne. This one is tough, but the two units that have the most playmakers for both sides is slightly better for the Dukes.
This unit is not racking up interceptions the way is has the last two years and is a little banged up at corner, but the safeties are really stepping up. FS Thomas Oporto and Rover Gabe Stewart were great in run support and down the field last week.
Four sophomores start and only one of the teams three interceptions has come from a defensive back. Too many tackles and not enough passes defensed for this group.
Edge: Jacksonville. Going to need the back end to get back to its turnover forcing ways.
Kicker Javier Arce-Ramirez made his first career field goal last week (43 yards), but Ryan Giaratano saw his punting average dip. Ulysses Bryant replaced Prince Gray as a punt returner, we will see if that sticks.
The Dukes are averaging negative one yard per punt return this year, but have been much better at returning kickoffs (20.4 yards per return as a team). Redshirt senior Austin Crimmins handles all of the kicking duties and is 7-9 on field goals.
Edge: Jacksonville. Home field advantage and speed on the turf.
Despite the matchups, Duquesne is a bigger, faster better team. They should win Saturday. But they will be traveling to hot Jacksonville, playing an offense they are unfamiliar with and are coming off of a tough loss. If the Dolphins play top end football, they can win. But they will need to play like last week, and not week one.
Jacksonville hosts Duquesne at DB Milne Field at 1 p.m. Saturday. The game can been seen on ESPN3 and heard on mixlr.com/judolphins.