Villanova's Explosive Offense Will Put New Hampshire's Defense To The Test

REPLAY: Stony Brook vs Villanova

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When New Hampshire interim head coach Ricky Santos looks across the field at Wildcat Stadium on Saturday afternoon, it'll be hard for him not to be at least a little envious.

Santos will be looking at a Villanova team that’s second in the Colonial Athletic Association in scoring offense (37.0 ppg), third in total offense (449.6 ypg.) and has scored at least 33 points in seven of its eight games. 

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Villanova quarterback Daniel Smith, a transfer from Campbell, has accounted for 28 touchdowns (21 passing, six rushing and one receiving), which ranks fourth in the FCS, and has thrown for at least 200 yards in his last five games.

In short, Villanova has the kind of offense Santos undoubtedly wishes he had.

“Their quarterback is playing as well as anybody in the conference and in the country,” Santos said. “He’s explosive. He can make plays with his feet. He’s accurate from the pocket and also can run around and make improvised plays. He’s somebody we have to keep in the pocket — keep inside and in front and make sure we can contain him. 

“They do a good job running the ball as well. Big, physical offensive line, and they create explosive plays — seven or eight a game of over 20 yards.”

Villanova (6-2, 3-2 CAA) scored four touchdowns of 20 yards or longer in Saturday’s 36-35 loss to Stony Brook. Big plays like that have been scarce for UNH this season.

“Our biggest deficiency right now as a team is (not) making explosive plays in the passing game,” Santos said. “If we can make some of those plays it’s only going to bode well for our offensive success.”

UNH is limping along with an offense that’s inexperienced at key positions, namely quarterback and receiver. Villanova has scored 40 touchdowns, and UNH (4-3, 3-1) has scored 14 — and two of those came from the defense. No other CAA team has scored fewer than 24 TDs this season.

“On offense they’re not scoring a ton of points, they’re only at 19 game, but they’re 3-1 in the league, so they find ways to win,” Villanova coach Mark Ferrante said. “They don’t beat themselves. They don’t make mistakes.”

Fresh Faces

Villanova turned to a pair of freshman running backs when Justin Covington sustained a season-ending knee injury against William & Mary on Oct. 5. Covington was averaging a league-best 121.2 yards rushing per game when he was injured.

DeeWill Barlee has run for 400 yards and four touchdowns on 66 attempts, and TD Ayo-Durojaiye has rushed for 102 yards and one touchdown on 26 carries.

“Those two freshmen have done a phenomenal job,” Ferrante said. “You never know which freshmen are going to step up, and you never know which freshmen are going to be called upon to carry the load that these two guys have been forced to carry right now through injury and so on. They’ve done a really good job of executing the game plan. We’re real proud and real pleased with their performance up to this point in time.” 

Ferrante said Jalen Jackson, the team’s No. 3 rusher (217 yards on 39 carries), will likely miss Saturday’s game with an injury.

Crossing The Line

Ferrante on UNH’s offensive line, which has helped the team average 4.4 yards per carry (fourth in the CAA), 159.7 yards per game (fourth) and has allowed 12 sacks (third):

“Their offensive line is always athletic. They’re not always the biggest — I don’t think they have any 300-pounders in their starting lineup. They’re all 290 or below and athletic, and they play hard. They come off the ball.

“Even when you look at the pro level, offensive linemen aren’t firing out the way they used to. A lot of times they’re kind of stepping off and kind of screening guys more than driving them off the ball. Well, New Hampshire’s not like that. They’re still coming off with flat backs and they’re still coming after it and moving their feet on contact.”

’Cat Scan

  • UNH is tied with James Madison for first in the CAA and ranks No. 7 in FCS in scoring defense (16.1 ppg). The Wildcats have held five of their six FCS opponents to 16 points or less.
  • UNH has forced 10 of its 11 turnovers in the past four games.
  • Villanova ranks 15th in FCS in rush defense (106.8 ypg) and has held five opponents to less than 95 yards on the ground.
  • Villanova has allowed eight sacks, which is the fewest of any CAA team.
  • UNH ranks last in the conference in red zone offense (67 percent). The Wildcats have scored nine touchdowns and five field goals in 21 trips inside the 20.

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