One week after running all over The Citadel, No. 25 Elon heads to Richmond to take on a Spiders team looking to bounce back in front of the home fans after a trip to Boston College.
Who: No. 25 Elon (1-1, 0-0 CAA) at Richmond (1-1, 0-0 CAA)
When: Saturday, Sept. 14, 6 p.m. ET
Where: Robins Stadium; Richmond, Virginia
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball
The depth of this year’s Colonial Athletic Association places particular importance on starting strong. To that end, expect Richmond and Elon to come out with midseason intensity when they meet Week 3 in the CAA opener for both.
Elon visits Richmond back in the Top 25 after rebounding emphatically from a Week 1 heartbreaker at North Carolina A&T. The Phoenix played a solid all-around game to beat The Citadel, 35-28, showing off a diverse offensive attack and stingy rushing defense.
Richmond is back at home following its trip to ACC Country to face Boston College. The Spiders aim to rebound from the loss and begin the process of proving doubters wrong in the conference race, as standout defensive end Maurice Jackson described.
Two of the premier defensive ends in the Football Championship Subdivision headline both defenses on Saturday night. Richmond’s Jackson came into 2019 as a well-known commodity, named Preseason CAA Defensive Player of the Year and an All-American.
He hasn’t disappointed, either: He has nine tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, and two quarterback hurries through two games.
Elon has its own stellar defensive end in Marcus Willoughby, the STATS FCS National Defensive Player of Week 2. Willoughby’s 14 tackles were crucial in Elon shutting down The Citadel’s triple-option rushing attack, and on the season he’s made three tackles for loss.
The opposing offensive lines will have their hands full in this one.
Change Of Pace
Elon and Richmond have both mixed up their rushing looks through two weeks, with positive results. Four Spiders — Joe Mancuso, Xavier Goodall, Savon Smith, and Aaron Dykes — have carried at least 11 times. All four have produced at a clip of 6.2 yards per carry or better.
The trio of the quarterback Mancuso and running backs Smith and Goodall combined for 172 of Richmond’s 215 rushing yards against a good Boston College defense, averaging between 5.1 and 7 yards per carry.
Richmond’s ground attack is the second straight prolific and multifaceted run game the Elon defense faces, but it’s a much different look than the triple option the Phoenix stymied Week 2 vs The Citadel. Offensive coordinator Jeff Durden has an impressive resume working with dual-threat quarterbacks; Jacob Huesman passed for 64 touchdowns and rushed for 43 in his time under Durden at Chattanooga, and CAA legend Rodney Landers was electric as a two-way star for Durden at James Madison.
The Phoenix bring to Robins Stadium their own multi-dimensional offensive look, which shined in Week 2’s win. Running backs Jaylan Thomas and Brelynd Cyphers both broke off explosive runs and combined for three touchdowns, while short-yardage back De’Sean McNair ran for his third touchdown on the season.
“Real impressed with how we were able to put together the game plan and really make a big jump and improvement from Week 1 to Week 2,” said Elon coach Tony Trisciani. “We need to continue to get all three kids carries. When you can continue to rotate in fresh legs at that position, when it comes down to the end of the game in the fourth quarter and you’ve got a running back with some fresh legs who can bounce plays like that…is a big piece of that.”
In last year’s meeting, three Phoenix scored rushing touchdowns and Thomas went off for 150 yards.
When Elon beat Richmond last October, 38-28, the Phoenix scored touchdowns on runs of 18 and 22 yards, as well as passes of 60 and 30. The Phoenix averaged a whopping 29.3 yards per completion, 10 more than Richmond gave up last week at Boston College.
The return of a healthy Davis Cheek to the Elon lineup gives the Phoenix a varied look that can be taxing for an opposing defensive coordinator. The Spiders can sell out on the run, which North Carolina A&T did effectively in Week 1, holding Elon to less than a yard per carry.
The difficulty then becomes mitigating the damage done on explosive passing plays. Elon averaged 12.6 yards per completion, which is still a somewhat high number – that would rank about 50th in the nation currently among FCS teams. But if the rush is slowed, that’s the kind of figure that plays to the defense’s favor: more passes being thrown, more opportunities for takeaways, limiting time-consuming drives.
How much pressure Richmond can generate on Cheek is a factor. The Citadel was unable to get into the Phoenix backfield, giving Cheek time to operate. With Jackson, Colby Ritten and Caleb Brooks on the line, the Spiders have the playmakers.
UR must also limit Kortez Weeks, who is fast becoming a favorite big-play target for Cheek. Weeks has touchdown receptions of 14 and 21 yards in the first two contests.