It's homecoming weekend for the Wildcats, who are coming off of a bye after a road loss to defending champion James Madison. No. 13 Villanova (4-3) hosts No. 10 Elon (6-1), who comes into Saturday's game with serious momentum.
This is only the second time that the Phoenix and the Wildcats will meet and as evidenced by Elon's record, Villanova will be facing a much different team than the one it destroyed, 42-7, last season.
The Phoenix are coming off of a second half rally, in which it beat Rhode Island, 35-34, to remain undefeated in FCS play. Kickoff for Saturday's game is at 3:30 p.m.
Here are three things to watch for this weekend:
Battle of Freshmen Quarterbacks
Earlier this week, Wildcats' head coach Mark Ferrante announced that he will be switching things up going into the Elon game. Since starting quarterback Zach Bednarczyk went down with an injury in the Towson game, redshirt freshman Jack Schetelich has been starting ever game ever since. On Saturday, that will change. Ferrante is giving the nod to local Germantown Academy (Pa.) product Kyle McCloskey, who came in midway through the James Madison game to relieve the struggling Schetelich. This will be McCloskey's first career start, and only his second game of collegiate football action. The true freshman quarterback went 2-for-7 through the air for 15 yards, one touchdown, and one interception against James Madison. He also ran for a team-high 43 yards off of 16 carries in the Oct. 14 showdown. He's had the bye week to prepare, and his head coach seems to be excited for his start. For the visiting Phoenix, it also will feature a true freshman quarterback in Davis Cheek. Cheek is already a seasoned product and has had a handful of starts under his belt. He's mainly a pocket passer had has completed 62.8 percent of his pass attempts so far, throwing for 1,193 yards, 10 touchdowns, and five interceptions this season. Ever since top 10 FCS rusher Malcolm Summers suffered a season-ending injury a couple of weeks ago, Cheek has continued to maintain the passing attack, while the Phoenix seek to find a replacement for the ground game. Cheek was most recently named CAA Rookie of the Week for his play in leading Elon in a strong second half performance to win the game over Rhode Island.
Risen from the Ashes
Since Elon came to the CAA in 2014, the Phoenix hasn't really been able to find its way or establish itself in the conference. In its first season, it only won one game. Over the first three years, the program combined for seven wins and never got close to a winning season, let alone breaking even. It may have done worse than usual bottom-feeder Rhode Island. Now under first-year head coach Curt Cignetti, the football team is seeing a huge overhaul and turnaround. Cignetti comes to Elon after a recent head coaching gig at IUPUI, as well as a four-year stint as wide receiver coach at Alabama. This Phoenix squad is just one win away from matching their win total from the previous three seasons. Since losing to FBS school Toledo in the season-opener, Elon has yet to lose a game. On top of that, his men are battle-tested, winning all games by a margin of victory of eight points or less. Cignetti has a familiar face helping him out, as former Villanova secondary coach Tony Trisciani left during the offseason to take the defensive coordinator job at Elon. He took many of the same schemes that former Wildcat defensive coordinator Billy Crocker ran during his time on the Main Line, which means expect a lot of the same 3-3-5 stack when Villanova's offense takes the field. While it might not be an exact copy of what Villanova ran, with a few facets tweaked differently, this could help the Wildcats in preparation, especially for McCloskey's sake, as he will be going against a familiar defense.
Also helping out Trisciani and Cignetti is another former Wildcat, 2015 graduate Dillon Lucas, a former Villanova linebacker. He is now the defensive line coach for the Phoenix.
Defend This House
It's only the third home game for the Wildcats this season, but when they play at Villanova Stadium, they have shown to be lights out defensively. In the two home games thus far--Lafayette and Maine--Villanova has scored a combined 90 points, while keeping opponents scoreless. Elon's quarterback, Cheek, might have to work hard to keep the offense going, as Villanova has absolutely shut down the run game so far. Opponents average a meager 1.7 yards per carry against the Villanova defense. which is the best run-stopping unit in the FCS. Aside from that, the Wildcats boast a top-10 scoring defense, holding opponents to 15.6 points per game (sixth in FCS), and have given up the ninth fewest yards in the FCS.
Cheek mainly tries to get the ball to Corey Joyner, Tre Lennon, and Kortez Weeks. The spread is pretty evenly distributed among these three guys, and together they account for almost 70 percent of receptions. They also combine for just under 1,000 yards. The ‘Nova “No Fly Zone” will look to key on them. Defense will be a necessity once again, especially if McCloskey can’t get it going on offense.