William & Mary has shown some promising signs of improvement early in the 2019 season, but undefeated Villanova enters Saturday's contest as one of the hottest teams in the country — and may have an appetite for revenge, to boot.
Who: No. 5 Villanova (5-0, 2-0) at William & Mary (2-3, 0-1)
When: Saturday, Oct. 5, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Zable Stadium; Williamsburg, Va.
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball
For two football programs rich with history and tradition, Saturday’s meeting in Williamsburg commemorates a few milestones.
First, it comes almost 20 years to the day of their first meeting: Oct. 9, 1999. William & Mary rolled in that one, 45-10. Subsequent encounters were almost always closer – considerably closer.
Eight of the 10 meetings since the inaugural Colonial Athletic Association season in 2007 were decided by 11 points or fewer. That includes a 14-13 classic in the semifinals of the 2009 FCS Playoffs.
This season marks the 10-year anniversary of both that game and Villanova winning the national championship. Echoes of 2009 are beginning to swirl a decade later, as the Wildcats arrive at Zable Stadium sitting at 5-0 for the first time since that campaign. They’re also ranked No. 5 in the latest FCS STATS poll, the result of back-to-back wins over then-No. 5 Towson and then-No. 12 Maine.
Saturday’s matchup also has historical significance as the first between these programs in which neither Andy Talley nor Jimmye Laycock on the sidelines.
Two of the standard-bearers for the CAA, Talley retired following the 2016 season and handed the keys to Villanova over to longtime assistant Mark Ferrante. Laycock called it a career after last season. He was replaced by Mike London, a national championship-winning coach at Richmond.
Ferrante’s Wildcats aim to extend their perfect start to 6-0, while William & Mary seeks a landscape-altering win in the Tribe’s first home game of the CAA slate.
Run D Takes Center Stage
Covington’s FCS-best 674 yards rushing buoy Villanova’s prolific 40.4-points per game offense coming into Saturday’s matchup. But Covington’s breakout stardom only scratches the surface on the Wildcats’ outstanding run game.
Jalen Jackson rushed for 186 yards before his quad injury, but DeeWil Barlee has come on to keep the multifaceted look with 179 yards. Then, Smith added another 176 yards. Among the four of them, the lowest per-carry average is six.
That’s an astounding number and a credit to the Villanova offensive line. No wonder coach Mark Ferrante said the coaching staff is “excited about our play up front.”
The front is paving holes that the ball-carriers have been more than happy to oblige running through. William & Mary’s chief responsibility on Saturday is plugging those lanes.
The Tribe come in ranked No. 69 in total rushing defense, but the per-carry yield is a decent 4.46. Opponents have only scored six rushing touchdowns on the Tribe, which ranks in the top quarter of defenses in FCS.
William & Mary has a talented defensive front with Bill Murray, Will Kiely, and Carl Fowler. The trio may need to play its best collective game to slow Villanova’s potent rush.
Giveaways played a critical role in William & Mary’s Week 5 loss at UAlbany. The Tribe coughed up a pair of fumbles and were intercepted twice.
“That’s always going to be a critical issue in your opportunities, a team having four turnovers and you don’t have any,” London said. “And then, where we lost the ball gave them field-position opportunities that resulted in a touchdown or field goal.”
Ten second-half points off turnovers, one gained at the William & Mary 49-yard line and the other at 21, proved difference-making in a game decided by eight. And although one of the picks came on the end-of-game Hail Mary attempt, interceptions are still of significance faced with Villanova’s defense.
During the break, check out some of our first half highlights:— Villanova Football (@NovaFootball) September 28, 2019
Changa Hodge 77-yard TD reception
Elijah Solomon blocked punt
Drew Kresge 38-yard field goal
Daniel Smith rushing TD #1
Daniel Smith rushing TD #2 #GoNova #TapTheRock pic.twitter.com/aEppqZ2viO
The Wildcats’ seven interceptions tie for fifth in the nation, and no team has returned as many for touchdowns as Villanova with three. Star cornerback Jaquan Amos accounts for two of those on his own.
On the flipside, William & Mary has excelled in generating takeaways in its own right. Although the Tribe lost the turnover battle 4-0 at UAlbany, they made six interceptions in the previous four games and, with 10 total takeaways, are tied for sixth nationally.
A testament to the versatility of William & Mary’s defense, six different players account for the six interceptions. Latrelle Smith and Isaiah Laster each account for two turnovers with a pick and forced fumble.
Special On Special Teams
A defining quality of the CAA through five weeks has been its outstanding special teams play. Villanova and William & Mary have been two of the standard-setters on this front.
#FCS Plays of the Week 🏈— FCS Football (@NCAA_FCS) October 1, 2019
2️⃣ | He can’t be stopped🛑🛑 Bronson Yoder with a 98 yard KO return for @WMTribeFootball touchdown!! This is his second 90+ yard KO return touchdown of the season!! pic.twitter.com/N2rPw0rOEC
Tribe freshman Bronson Yoder is one of only two return specialists with a pair of touchdowns this season. The other, Maine’s Earnest Edwards, managed 100 yards on four opportunities against Villanova last week. The Wildcats' coverage team prevented him from breaking the big one, however, and as a result, each of the Black Bears’ first six possessions began from their own 25-yard line or further from the end zone.
On the flipside, Villanova return man Dez Boykin has been reliable but has not yet gone the distance. A big return this week on one side or the other could be a pivotal difference-maker.