Jacksonville (3-3, 2-1 PFL) is coming off of its most impressive win of the season. After trailing the entirety of a first-half shootout, the Dolphins settled down on defense, continued scoring on offense, and made winning plays on the road to put away a pesky Morehead State team.
Now, JU heads on the road again, this time to face league bottom-feeder Davidson (2-6, 0-5 PFL), and must avoid a letdown as the team tries to get back above .500 heading in to the final month of the season. Time to break it down.
Rylan Wells is coming off of perhaps his most complete game this season, engineering an offense that rumbled its way to nearly 600 yards of total offense with balance and precision. A neat 165 yards passing and two touchdowns through the air complemented the dynamic and versatile rushing attack. Wells might be hitting his stride.
The Wildcats start a true freshman, despite last years starter still being on the team. Stockton McGuire is a dual threat, but is more accomplished with his feet than his arm at this point in his career. He is averaging 51 yards per game rushing and has scored three times, but is completing just 47% of his passes and has thrown only one more touchdown than interception (7 to 6).
Edge: Jacksonville. The veteran presence and cool handed leadership of Wells gives the Dolphins a leg up here.
Ulysses Bryant got dinged up early on last week, and Jamal Adjamah has missed most of the year, but it did not matter as Jacksonville tied its school record for most rushing yards in a game with 433. Even more impressive, no one back went for over 100 yards. Jared Morris had 93 and a TD, while Jake Brito added 88 and a score. In total, seven Dolphins had double-digit rushing yards.
McGuire averages the most yards per game on the team, but his lead back Keylan Brown is right there with him. Austin Wells has been effective in limited touches this year. The Wildcats rushed for 141 yards in the loss last week to Marist.
Edge: Jacksonville. Injuries are starting to plague this group, but so far the “next man up” philosophy has worked.
Prince Gray and Brian Burnett continue to be two of the most efficient receivers in the country, seemingly always making the most of their touches. Both had five catches and receiving scores last week, and both are averaging over 50 yards a game.
Four receivers have double digit catches this season, lead by Jaris Scott’s 24. The one-two punch of Scott and Cam Cheuvront is as good as there is in the Pioneer League.
Edge: Davidson. It’s close, but the depth of Davidson’s pass catchers gives them a slight boost.
The Dolphins are hoping to get starting center Andrew Guthart back this week from injury, but if they do not, freshman Zach Hughes proved to be a more than capable replacement. Wells was not sacked once last week, and we know how the running game went…
The smallest Wildcat starter is 282 pounds and they have only surrendered eight sacks all season. They leave a little to be desired in point of attack in the run game, but all in all a solid group.
Edge: Even. Jacksonville’s front rallied together and Davidson’s is good not great. One of the key units to watch on both sides.
Highs and lows for this unit. Morehead State quarterback Austin Gahafer was sacked twice, and hurried a handful more times, something that does not happen often. But the Eagles ran for 316 yards. Depth continues to be an issue here.
Perhaps the strength of the Davidson defense. All four starters have at least 20 tackles and three of them have more than three tackles for loss. A veteran, if not undersized group, will be tested in their discipline this week, not unlike the good Morehead State d-line was last week.
Edge: Davidson. Talent and depth here gives the ‘Cats the edge. Tough matchup this week though.
Grady Redding added to his already stellar resume last week with his first career pick six, and the rest of the group continues to do what they do best: tackle.
Two upperclassman and a freshman start for Davidson, but the backup middle linebacker Ryan Samuels will get a lot of play too. Nothing flashy for this group, will need to get off blocks Saturday.
Edge: Even. Similar styles in both teams corps.
Jacksonville might be without starting safety Thomas Oporto this week, due to an injury suffered late against Morehead State, but this unit had perhaps its best outing last Saturday considering the opponent and circumstances. Still looking for interceptions from these guys.
The ‘Cats secondary has double the number of interceptions of the entire JU defense, lead by playmaker Jaylen Mize’s three. He also has 40 tackles this year from his safety spot and is the unquestioned leader of the back end. That being said, they did surrender 367 yards and two touchdowns through the air to Marist last week.
Edge: Jacksonville. Some of the young guys are starting to have an impact in the deepest position area JU has.
Javier Arce-Ramirez was nearly perfect kicking last week, hitting both field goals and 7-8 extra points (one was blocked because Jacksonville only had 10 men on the field to block for it). Add in a punt return for a touchdown, good kickoff returns all day and a successful fake punt, and the unit really was “special” Saturday.
Trevor Smith is making only 55% of his field goals, but is 20-21 on PATs. Ben Rowell is averaging 23 yards per kick return and 14 yards per punt return. They have surrendered a kickoff return for touchdown this year.
Edge: Jacksonville. The emphasis placed on this unit is starting to pay off.
Jacksonville is certainly a better team, but this is not your average “roll over and play dead” Davidson bunch this year either. A road win is never easy, and you can bet the Wildcats are hungry for a conference win. Stat to watch out for: Davidson’s worst quester this year has been the third, in which it has been outscored 59-17. Jacksonville’s best quarter? You guessed it, the third, outscoring opponents 76-48. Look for it to perhaps be the difference maker again.
Jacksonville at Davidson can be heard on 1010 AM and mixlr.com/judolphins. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.