They’re the only team in the country that can say this.

James Madison is the lone squad in the FCS sitting in the top ten nationally for third-down conversion percentage on offense and stopping third-down conversion attempts on defense.

The Dukes are second for both with a conversion rate of 54 percent on offense while limiting opponents to a 29-percent clip on defense.

“It all starts with being able to stop the run in those short-yardage and medium-yardage situations,” JMU coach Curt Cignetti said Monday during the Colonial Athletic Association coaches teleconference about his defense’s success on third down. “And making the [opponent’s offense] one-dimensional.”

JMU has the second-best run defense (69.1 rush yards per game allowed) in the country and the two correlate.

This past Saturday, the Dukes held Richmond to 61 rushing yards and only three third-down conversions on 11 tries. Of the 11 tries the Spiders had on third down, eight came in third-and-10 or worse scenarios after JMU limited Richmond to no rushing yards or forced UR backward with a tackle for loss on first- or second-down snaps.

“When we do that, we have the ability to put good pressure on the quarterback,” Cignetti said, “so we don’t have to cover quite as long and our coverage has tightened up here the last four or five games pretty good. So I think it has to do with that – putting pressure on the quarterback and the tight coverage.

“Of course, we’re like everyone else and we’ll mix the calls up as much as we can, so we’ve been good on offense and good on defense and it’s a key down, so it’s got to keep going.”

Cignetti also said quarterback Ben DiNucci has aided the offense when the Dukes need to keep drives alive.

“The plays he makes with his legs,” Cignetti said. “I can’t tell you how many first downs he’s run for on third down.”

RB Palmer Out For Now

During his press conference on Monday, Cignetti said freshman running back Latrele Palmer could return during the postseason.

Palmer suffered an ankle injury in JMU’s 54-16 win over New Hampshire on Nov. 9.

“Latrele, I think, will be available later in the playoffs,” Cignetti said. “He had a very similar procedure done that Tua [Tagovailoa] had done at Alabama. And if we play well, we take care of business and we’re playing some games, he could be available there near the tail end.”

Palmer has 303 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 40 carries through seven games this season.

Holloway Named DPOW

JMU senior linebacker Dimitri Holloway was named CAA Defensive Player of the Week by the conference on Monday.

Holloway registered 15 tackles, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and half a sack in the Dukes’ win over Richmond on Saturday.

Dukes Hold At No. 2

JMU stayed put at No. 2 in the latest STATS FCS Top 25 released on Monday.

The Dukes have held the second spot behind top-ranked North Dakota State for 13 straight weeks beginning with the preseason poll.

Behind JMU, No. 3 Montana, No. 4 Sacramento State and No. 5 South Dakota State round out the top five. Other Colonial Athletic Association programs to be ranked are No. 10 Villanova and No. 19 Towson.

Contact Greg Madia at 574-6296 or gmadia@dnronline.com

Follow Greg on Twitter: @Madia_DNRSports

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