Villanova finally has its home opener. The No. 7-ranked Wildcats (1-1) host Lafayette (0-2) this Saturday, at 6 p.m. Villanova downed Lafayette last year on the road, in their first meeting since 1920, winning 31-14.
The Leopards enter Saturday’s game looking for their first win after dropping the first two against Monmouth and Sacred Heart.
Here are three things to watch for this weekend’s game:
Familiar Face at Head Coach
It hasn't been a hot start for Lafayette's new head coach, John Garrett. The Leopards have dropped their first two games of the season, but if there was a way for them to turn it around and get a win against a top 10-ranked team like Villanova, Garrett would know how. He arrived at Lafayette with over two decades worth of coaching experience, with stops at FBS schools and a handful of NFL teams. His brother, Jason, is currently the head coach for those darn Dallas Cowboys. Most recently, Garrett was the offensive coordinator at fellow CAA school Richmond. His time there was brief, only staying aboard for one season before jumping at this head coaching opportunity. At Richmond, the Spiders enjoyed a 10-win season, boasted one of the top offenses in the conference, and they found a way to crack the vaunted Villanova defense along the way. Richmond won 23-0, scoring the highest amount of points--for a FCS school--against Villanova. Garrett is familiar with Villanova, and while the Wildcats' schemes may be the same, he can direct his offense to take advantage of some of the newer guys. The Wildcat defense didn't look too good against Lehigh, and while it did do well against FBS school Temple last week, this isn't the same personnel and cast from last season that included Tanoh Kpassagnon and a leading tackler in linebacker Austin Calitro.
Lafayette's ground game is virtually non-existent. Senior DeSean Brown has returned to the backfield, and it doesn't seem like his numbers are changing from years past. In fact, he's experiencing an even slower start this season, tallying only 45 yards off of 21 carries. As a team, the Leopards average less than one yard per carry and 19.5 per game. With that said, expect a lot of passing to get the job done. This isn't a rushing attack to fear. Freshman Sean O'Malley is in at signal caller and despite his lack of collegiate experience, he hasn't looked too shabby in his first two games so far. He was named Patriot League Rookie of the Week after his much-improved recent outing against Sacred Heart. In the loss, he completed 25-of-44 passes for 236 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. O'Malley likes to target Nick Pearson, a sophomore wide receiver who has caught 12 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown this season. Pearson was on the receiving end of nine passes in the Sacred Heart game. The Leopards also bring back their top three receivers from last season--Matt Mrazek, Joey Chenowith and tight end Dylan Wadsworth. The wealth has been spread amongst these guys, although Chenowith has quieted down it seems in favor for Pearson. This pass-heavy team will be another test for the Villanova secondary.
Next Man Up
Things haven't been so easy for the 'Cats to start the season. While they've split their first two games of the year, this will be a nice break for them before resuming their road trip. Villanova starts its 2017 campaign with four of five games on the road. This Lafayette game comes nicely into the middle of this stretch. With that, it allows Villanova to assess its situation. The Wildcats were down two receivers going into the start of the regular season. Last week, the 'Cats lost two more with injuries to Alex Padovani and Changa Hodge. Padovani (Achilles) is done for the year, and Hodge (foot) is slated to miss the next few games. Hodge battled injuries last season and against Temple, he had his best game so far with four catches for 100 yards. The Wildcats can rely on Taurus Phillips and Ryan Bell to take care of business like they have so far, but will need a couple more to step up. Josh McGrigg has mainly been a special teams player, he should see more time in the rotation. Meanwhile, Brandon Chadbourn will also see some more burn. The big question is will this be Jarrett McClenton's time to shine? He's gotten some action in the last couple of seasons, but he hasn't been the dynamic playmaking threat so far. He's been relatively quiet in the first couple of games, and could this be an opportunity he seizes? Villanova has had a nicely balanced attack so far, especially with the improved play at Zach Bednarczyk at quarterback. Can the Wildcats sustain it?