The CAA’s newest members, the Elon Phoenix will host Villanova on Saturday after winning their first league game of the season on the road at William & Mary. The now 2-2 Phoenix, went from looking like a probable victory to another stop on the CAA grind. Their victory over the well-ranked opponent last week certainly caught the attention of Andy Talley. The Villanova coach expressed some concern about facing a new opponent on the road and playing on grass for the first time in a while.
As we were last week, we are a little short on history with this opponent. To help get us caught up on all things Elon football, we reached out to some new friends at Fight in Flight, an Elon Phoenix Sports Blog. Check out our answers for them as well.
1. Elon has a good all-time record and at the end of the last decade was often found in the FCS top-25. Why did the program struggled the last couple of years?
In the 17 seasons since joining I-AA/FCS, Elon has only managed six winning seasons, with its most successful run occurring from 2006-10 under former head coach Pete Lembo, who lead the Phoenix to a 35-22 overall record and the program's lone FCS playoff birth in 2009 (a 13-16 loss at #4 Richmond).
A victim of it's own success, the FBS came and plucked Lembo away from the Phoenix (he took the head coaching job at Ball State University) at the end of the 2010 season and things have not been the same ever since. Post-Lembo, the Phoenix are 17-44, but appear to be (slowly) heading towards becoming an elite FCS program again under the direction of third-year head coach Rich Skrosky. Skrosky was actually an assistant under Lembo during Elon's "glory days" and expectations are that he will get the program back on track.
Aside from losing Lembo, the Phoenix struggles in football were further compounded when the university made the decision to realign with the CAA back in 2014. Don't get us wrong, the move to the CAA was a terrific decision, however the timing was not ideal to make a leap up to a more competitive conference - the football program was coming off a 2-10 season and going through another coaching change. Never-the-less, the Phoenix appear to be rising once again "from the ashes" after improving from a 1-11 (0-8) record in 2014 to 4-7 (3-5) last year and, most recently, securing a big win at #8 William & Mary last Saturday to move to 2-2 (1-0) on the year.
2. After a rough start, the Phoenix have won their last two and knocked off a top-10 opponent on the road. What has been the key to their momentum the last two weeks?
In Elon's first two games they lacked a bit of consistency on defense and wore down in the second half, letting a 3-3 tie at halftime snowball into a 31-6 lopsided loss against Gardner-Webb in the season opener and a 7-0 lead after the first quarter against Charlotte turn into a 47-14 route. On the other side of the ball, the Phoenix offense was struggling to convert promising drives into TDs. However, last week against William & Mary everything seemed to click -- offense, defense and special teams, resulting in 27-10 victory. You have to keep in mind that Elon has one of the youngest and most inexperienced rosters in all of the CAA. When the season began, 73 percent of the team had at least three years of eligibility remaining. So naturally, some inconsistency to begin the season is to be expected. It will be interesting to watch how the team handles the high of last week's big win and if they can be mature and focused enough to refocus for Saturday's bout with Villanova.
3. Malcolm Summers had a monster game for Elon last week on offense with 120 rushing yards and two scores. Who else has the potential to break off some big plays this weekend?
Malcolm Summers was due for a big game and he couldn't have picked a better moment to have one. If you watch him run, you can see he has a great initial burst through the line and is tough to bring down. We expect to see several more 100 yard games for the sophomore running back before the season is through. Keep an eye on Elon's young receivers this weekend, specifically freshman WRs Jeremiah Bridges and Cole Taylor. They rank #2 and #3, respectively, in receptions and each have hauled in a TD. The Phoenix also incorporate junior RB Brandon Gentry into the passing game, he actually leads the team in catches (12) and is tied for the lead in TDs (2). Elon's QB is sophomore Daniel Thompson. Thompson was actually the backup QB heading into the season, but a season-ending arm injury to starter Connor Christiansen gave him the job. Through 4 games he is averaging 174 yards per game, good enough for fifth best in the league, but has only two TD passes to his 4 interceptions.
4. After giving up a lot of points to Gardner Webb and Charlotte, the Phoenix's last two opponents haven't been as effective finding the endzone (or uprights). Who have been the leaders of that defensive turnaround?
Elon's defense has shown an ability to shut down offenses, particularly to start off a game. Through four games, the defense has only given up 3 points in the first quarter. However, putting together a full game of consistent defense had been plaguing Elon until the last two games against Fayetteville State and William and Mary. In those games, the Phoenix limited the opponents to 13 total points combined. Elon is led on defense by senior LB John Silas (36 tackles) and freshman DB Khalil Moore (25 tackles). Moore was actually just named CAA co-rookie of the week for amassing 10 tackles and knocking down two passes against William and Mary.
5. We don't know too much about Elon football. What should Villanova fans know about the school and its football tradition?
The Phoenix are relatively new to I-AA/FCS football, having made the move up in 1999. However, Elon has been fielding a football team since 1909 and has been fairly competitive throughout its program's history; tallying an all-time record of 494-436-18 (.531) and claiming a pair of NAIA back-to-back national championships in 1980 and '81. There are no real sustained rivalries to speak of in the program's history -- jumping around from conference to conference will do that to you. The university has gone through major changes the last 20 years, including a change in its name (Elon College to Elon University) and its mascot (from Fightin' Christians to Phoenix). For 'Nova fans traveling to the game on Saturday, Rhodes Stadium offers a fun gameday experience. The stadium, which seats approx. 12,000, opened in 2001 and a new 30,000 square foot field house was added in 2011 behind the north endzone of the stadium.