Jacksonville heads on the road one final time this weekend to battle Valparaiso in another Pioneer League matchup. Dolphins fans will fondly remember that last time JU traveled up to northern Indiana, when they dominated to the tune of 86-7. That was 2010, and Valpo is much improved. Also, JU is coming off of a heart breaking loss in the waning moments to Drake at home last week, and needs to avoid the “one loss becoming two” problem that plagues college teams with regularity. It is also the final game of the year for Valpo, so you can beat they will be ready.
Another strong week for Rylan Wells, who threw for 113 yards and a touchdown while running for over 100 yards again, a week after becoming the first QB in the history of the program to do it against Davidson. All while not turning the ball over for the third straight game. He needs to find ways to help the offense score six instead of three this week.
Freshman Jimmy Seewald has thrown for over 1200 yards and 11 touchdowns on 55 percent completions to this point, but he left with concussion-like symptoms last week in the loss to Dayton. If he cannot go, last years starter Ryan Clarke, who has played in eight games and thrown for 744 yards and three TDs himself this year would get the nod.
Edge: Jacksonville. The question mark surrounding the Valpo signal caller further cements the advantage for JU.
JU continues to operate without some of its top guys, but welcomed back senior Ulysses Bryant against Drake, who rumbled off 74 yards and a TD in his first game action in nearly two weeks. Jake Brito is expected back this week as well, after sitting out last week’s loss with a leg injury. Freshman Irvin Riley flashed, with 39 yards on five carries. JU “only” rushed for 262 yards last week, but that should improve this week.
Three different Valpo backs have rushed for over 100 yards on the season, with Jarrett Morgan serving as the workhorse, accumulating 522 yards and two scores on 139 carries. The team has only rushed for 947 yards this season, almost a full thousand yards less than it has surrendered this year.
Edge: Jacksonville. The running game should feast for JU.
Seven more catches for Prince Gray, only one for Brian Burnett but it went for a score, the third straight week he has found the end zone. Jacksonville continues to be efficient throwing the ball, but like the rest of the offense, bogged down from the 30 yard line in last week. That will have to improve.
A much better team through the air, Valpo has seven pass catchers that have over 100 yards receiving on the year. Junior Frank Catrine and sophomore Jean Rene lead the way, with 884 yards and eight touchdowns between the two of them. They will need everyone to get involved the way Drake did last week to be successful.
Edge: Valparaiso. Depth a huge advantage here.
A tough effort for the line, which surrendered two sacks and did not give Wells as much time to throw or the backs as much space to work with as they had grown accustomed to over the previous few weeks. Sophomore Andrew Guthart returns at center after missing a few games, and should provide some stability.
This group has shuffled some this year, and are surrendering almost two sacks a game because of it. That, coupled with the largely ineffective running game, and it has not been a banner year for the midwestern boys up front.
Edge: Jacksonville. Guthart’s return should fuel a vintage performance from this group.
Injuries hampered this unit last week. Austin Yeloushan missed the game with an injury, and Jareeq Crenshaw was limited as well. Justin Horton left it all on the field, but did not have enough left in the tank at the end. Good news: Yeloushan and Crenshaw should be full go against the Crusaders.
Brandon Doepke leads this group with 39 tackles, five for loss and five hurries, but there are not a ton of playmakers here. Doepke is not even listed as the starter at defensive tackle.
Edge: Even. Both these units need to bow up this week.
Grady Redding had a quiet nine tackles after starting the game strong, and Harrison Rodormer was hit with a costly personal foul penalty in the fourth quarter that help set up a TD. This group needs to get back to its flying, playmaking ways this week.
Three of the top seven tacklers on the team are in the linebacking corps. Weakside backer Drew Snouffer is certainly on pace to go over 100 tackles on the year if he has another normal game against JU. But he is more than just a sure tackler, with four sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble as well. This unit will have to try and do something that has been difficult for JU opponents as of late: force turnovers.
Edge: Valparaiso. Easily the most dynamic part of the defense.
Emon Smith lead the team in tackles from his free safety spot, which is never a great sign. Three interceptions were the highlights, allowing Drake to complete a fourth and long and then the go-ahead touchdown on a similar play on the final drive was the lowlight. Thomas Oporto returns to the lineup this week, coming off perhaps his best game at Morehead State before he was injured.
Of the Crusaders 12 interceptions (third best in the PFL), 10 of them are from secondary members. However, the pass defense is ranked in the bottom third in the league, and it has surrendered a league high 20 passing touchdowns.
Edge: Even. Jacksonville is steadier, Valpo is more boom-or-bust. Both prone to lapses.
A good day all around, with Javier Arce-Ramirez converting both field goal attempts and Ryan Giaratano averaging 39 yards a punt on six boots with limited returns. The freshman Torre Parker and Riley have given a spark to the kick return game and Gray is still being kicked away from. He really wants a chance to bust another long return.
Two kickers have attempted field goals for Valpo this year, and combined they are hitting just 60 percent. Jake Simpson seems to be the preferred option, as he has attempted more and is a perfect 21 of 21 on PATs. Alex Ng is averaging 38 yards per punt. Bailey Gessinger has a kickoff return for a TD as well.
Edge: Jacksonville has put the special in special teams lately. If Gray ever gets another shot to return a punt…
If JU avoids the hangover, the team has actually played better on the road this year, losing only the opener to Liberty. A win this weekend would ensure a non-losing record in Ian Shields first year at the helm, which considering the program attrition, would be a huge win.
Jacksonville at Valparaiso kicks off at 2 p.m. and can be heard on 92.5 FM in Jacksonville and mixlr.com/judolphins.