After picking up their first win of the season, the Villanova Wildcats will be taking a short break from FCS play to face a familiar foe, Temple, in the revived Mayor's Cup rivalry series.
This is the 34th all-time meeting between both teams, with Villanova taking a slight 16-15-2 edge over Temple. The Owls won the latest edition of the rivalry in a lopsided 41-10 victory back in 2012. They took a break from playing each other since then, but they are slated to return to battle for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
After enjoying back-to-back 10-win seasons in the last couple of years, Temple took a step back in a harsh beatdown loss to Notre Dame. The Owls begin the season 0-1 after suffering the 49-16 defeat in South Bend.
With Lincoln Financial Field set to host the Villanova-Temple game on Saturday afternoon, here are three things to watch for heading in.
Against the Odds
It's always a big deal when a FCS team is able to elevate itself to beat a bigger FBS school. Since Villanova restored its football program in 1985, the Wildcats have been fortunate to pull off the upset three times ever since: 2002 (Rutgers), 2003 (Temple), and in 2009 (Temple, again). Aside from that, the Wildcats are 3-18 against FBS competition. Before the Mayor's Cup rivalry was revived for 2017-18, the 'Cats and Owls squared off over a four-year stretch from 2009-12. While Villanova pulled off the upset in that first year, Temple would win the next three meetings pretty convincingly. For Villanova to beat its city rival, it will need to get ahead early. The Wildcats would need to gain an advantage, or at least keep the Owls within reach. Playing from behind is difficult and often leads to FCS teams eventually falling to their FBS foes. Besides the gap in talent level, the other major disparity when dealing with FBS and FCS teams is depth. FCS schools don't have the luxury of having as many players ready to go or bodies on the sidelines. As a result, FBS teams benefit from FCS schools usually wearing down in the second half and towards the end of games. It's crucial to build a lead early and hope that it's able to sustain itself until the final whistle blows.
First and 10, Do it Again?
Last week, Villanova was locked in a shootout with Lehigh, and the Wildcats came out on top. Putting Lehigh's FCS status aside, the Wildcats were blazing hot offensively, racking 475 total yards of offense. Zach Bednarczyk did not look like a game manager and really showcased his development and growth. When he played against Lehigh in 2016, Bednarczyk barely threw the ball and the passing game was an afterthought. Last week, the Wildcats boasted a balanced offense that was more than competent on the ground and through the air. The Villanova offense was seemingly able to do whatever it wanted to the Mountain Hawks. Will that fly against the Owls? It remains to be seen, but expect a much tougher defensive effort. Although Temple suffered an embarrassing loss to Notre Dame, the Owls should be more competent and talented defensively than Lehigh was. On the bright side, it's possible that Temple is still figuring itself out. The Owls only returned five starters on offense and four from a defense that held opponents to an average of just 18.4 points per game, but expect them to be more determined to not get embarrassed again. This new-look defense from a year ago struggled against Notre Dame's Brandon Wimbush, who torched Temple through the air and on the ground for a combined 290 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in the 2017 season opener. If Bednarczyk can get himself going again, with the rest of the offense following suit, Villanova might have a chance.
After new head coach Geoff Collins kept his starting quarterback decision a secret all throughout the offseason, it seems like he has chosen redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi to lead the Owls' offense. Marchi, who had thrown just six passes before getting the job, looked pretty good at South Bend in what was an ugly loss for Temple. Marchi demonstrated poise in a harsh environment and in the face of a tough Notre Dame defense that wasn't making it easy for the Owls. His completion rate was a tad low (19-of-35) but he threw for 245 yards and a pair of touchdowns without any interceptions. He is a true pocket passer that loves to get the ball to fellow classmate Isaiah Wright and senior Keith Kirkwood. If he wasn't entirely fazed by the Fighting Irish defense and a sold-out crowd of nearly 80,000 people, it might be hard for the Wildcats to get to him. While Villanova's offense clearly impressed last week, its defense was shockingly headscratching. The Wildcats got pushed around by a tough Lehigh passing attack and the blame game might not have a clear picture yet, but this would be a redeeming opportunity for a unit that had been one of Villanova's strengths last season. An improved effort would go a long way, especially against a FBS team and your crosstown rival.