After a rough start, Richmond has bounced back emphatically to grab control of their own destiny within the CAA race.
Who: Richmond (5-4, 4-1 CAA) at No. 18 Villanova (6-3, 3-3 CAA)
When: Saturday, Nov. 9, 1 p.m. ET
Where: Villanova Stadium; Villanova, Pennsylvania
Although the 2019 Colonial Athletic Association season has been wildly turbulent, the championship picture has surprising clarity. Not many teams can catch front-running James Madison, but Richmond’s one of them.
The Spiders’ CAA title hopes, and potentially a berth in the FCS Playoffs, hinge on continuing their current streak. They take a four-game winning streak into Villanova on Saturday to face a Wildcats team eager to bounce back from tough losses.
With an already thin roster, Villanova’s endured injuries since beginning 2019 with its best start in 16 years. The Wildcats dropped a 28-20 decision last week to New Hampshire, their second straight loss by a single possession and third consecutive loss overall.
“The bottom line is we’ve got to do a better job protecting the football, and we’ve got to do a better job controlling the line of scrimmage,” said Villanova coach Mark Ferrante.
Those two facets set the scene for Saturday’s matchup between two teams on differing trajectories of late.
Live vs. Line
Ferrante’s assessment of line control certainly pertains to Saturday’s matchup. Villanova comes in having allowed the fewest sacks of any teams in the CAA – however, five of the Wildcats’ seven yielded came in losses to James Madison and New Hampshire.
James Madison’s pass-rush has produced the most sacks in the Colonial with 29; second to the Dukes with 25 is Richmond.
Spiders defensive end Maurice Jackson has built a strong case for Buck Buchanan Award consideration with seven sacks, 13 tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries on the season.
Getting into the backfield has been key for the Spiders defense much of the season, and has been a proven recipe for slowing Villanova’s explosive offense. Wildcats quarterback Dan Smith, one of the most dangerous passers in the nation, threw three interceptions against James Madison and two against New Hampshire; it’s no coincidence those two defenses also made the most sacks of any of Villanova’s opponents.
Set & Keep The Pace
Jay Wright isn’t the only coach at Villanova with a team that can score in droves. The Wildcats football team is the CAA’s third-highest scoring at 33.2 points per game, a pace that they have been able to mostly maintain despite losing running back Justin Covington to a knee injury while he was leading the nation in rushing.
Among the games Covington missed, Villanova scored 35 points against a good Stony Brook defense. The Wildcats also put up 20 in the first half vs. New Hampshire, and 24 through three quarters against James Madison.
The key for Villanova now, especially against Richmond, is setting a high-scoring pace and continuing it. Smith will throw the ball all over the field, favoring big-play threat Changa Hodge, and the running-back duo of DeeWil Barlee and TD Ayo-Durojaiye have each shown flashes.
Keeping it up for four quarters now is the big test, as Richmond’s flourished in slowing opponents down. The Spiders held UAlbany, the second-highest scoring team in the CAA, without a point for more than 40 consecutive minutes of game time.
Again last week vs. Stony Brook, the Spiders held the Seawolves in check after a long, second-quarter touchdown made the game 13-10. Stony Brook did not score again.
Star Quarterback Play
Villanova’s Smith turned heads this season with his excellent play. The Campbell transfer has passed for 22 touchdowns and rushed for another seven.
Few can match his dual-threat ability, but Richmond’s Joe Mancuso has been similarly productive in recent weeks.
Mancuso’s come alive both in the running and passing game, tallying 10 touchdowns in the last three CAA contests; and 13 scores in Richmond’s last four games.
Both Smith and Mancuso throw to two of the most explosive deep threats in the conference with Villanova’s Hodge, and Richmond’s Keyston Fuller.