The ‘Cats didn’t receive much respect in the preseason polls. They were left off the Top 25 rankings. In the CAA, they were tabbed to finish ninth.
They didn’t pay much attention to them, determined to just prove themselves on the field with a healthy roster.
With a fresh start, after plenty of injuries over the last couple of years, the ‘Cats thrived in their season opener against No. 13 Colgate.
The Raiders, known for their stalwart defense, had allowed just 26 second quarter points all of last season. On Saturday, the Wildcats put up 27 points in the second quarter alone, en route to a lopsided 34-14 victory over Colgate.
It was a scoreless game, until Villanova had a quick 14-point blitz early in the second quarter. Malik Fisher forced a fumble, which quickly became an 18-yard touchdown pass by Daniel Smith to Jalen Jackson for the first score of the game. After kicking the ball off to Colgate, the Wildcats followed up with another touchdown, this time off of a Jaquan Amos pick-six.
Villanova’s defense frustrated Colgate in the first half, holding the Raiders to just 99 yards over the first two quarters. It didn’t help that they were unable to convert a single third situation, going 0-for-6, and the turnovers gave ‘Nova the lead.
Before the half, the Wildcats would add two more scores. Smith launched one deep to Changa Hodge, for a 45-yard touchdown reception. Later in the game, with seconds left in the first half, Smith threw another touchdown pass, this time to sophomore wide receiver Andrew Perez, giving the ‘Cats a 27-0 lead at the break.
In the second half, the Raiders made some adjustments, tightening up defensively to slow down the ‘Cats.
Colgate quarterback Grant Breneman started to get the Raiders going, finding a rhythm with his neophyte wide-receivers. A couple of key receptions by Garrett Oakey helped get the Raiders near the goal line, and eventually led to a touchdown catch by Nick Draught to get the Raiders on the board before the start of the fourth quarter.
After a few more stalled-out Villanova drives, Colgate scored again to cut the deficit in half. Breneman scored on a fourth down goal line keeper, making it 27-14 with 13:26 remaining in the game.
The Wildcats regrouped and started to work their way down the field, as Smith added an insurance touchdown on a nine-yard quarterback draw.
Villanova outgained Colgate, 444-288. In his Wildcat debut, Smith completed 14-of-29 pass attempts for 205 yards and three touchdown passes. He also had seven carries for 37 yards and a touchdown. Justin Covington finished with 134 yards on 19 carries. Forrest Rhyne had a team-high eight tackles.
For Colgate, Breneman went 21-for-36 under center, throwing for 211 yards, one touchdown, and an interception. He also had 13 carries for 11 yards and a score. Abu Daramy-Swaray led the Colgate defense with 11 tackles.
- Smith gets the nod as QB1: After much discussion surrounding Villanova’s wide-open quarterback competition, the newcomer from Campbell was called upon to start the game. Days before the game, Ferrante alluded that he would potentially work in his three finalists—Smith and returning quarterbacks Jack Schetelich and Qadry Ismail into the game as well. However, on Saturday, Smith was on for all four quarters. Although it was a bit rocky in the beginning—in part to conservative playcall—once the Wildcats got on the board in the second quarter, he and the offense got into a groove and got things going. After a record-breaking career at Campbell—in just three years—the graduate transfer impressed with his decision making, passing, and ability to scramble. It was a solid debut for Smith, who was responsible for four touchdowns—three in the air, one on the ground.
- Running back and offensive line depth: As expected, Covington filled in seamlessly as the lead running back for the Wildcats. He’s quick, but also a strong runner with great vision on the field. At one point, he helped ‘Nova out of a third-and-long situation, hurdling over one defender and stiff arm-ing another. It was a key play on a drive that eventually ended in a touchdown. Aside from him, Jalen Jackson and T.D. Ayo-Durojaiye should also mix things up well. Jackson had a few nice runs, as well as the first touchdown of the season. Ayo-Durojaiye had only a pair of carries, but showed good habits—the ability to hit the gap or quickly adjust when it’s not there. The Wildcats had 239 rushing yards for the whole game, and that credit has to go to the men up front and the three new starting offensive linemen—Colin Gamroth, Nick Torres, and Kofi Appiah. Along with returners Paul Grattan and M.J. Dumas, they helped pave the way for the ‘Nova offense.
- Defense hasn’t skipped a beat: The Wildcat defense stood tall in the first half, not allowing a single third down conversion and forced a few turnovers that helped provide the early lead. The pass rush was there all game, applying pressure on Breneman and the Colgate O-Line. Malik Fisher and Aaron Seigle were active on the ends. At linebacker, you saw some great things from Rhyne, Keeling Hunter, and Drew Wiley. The coverage was excellent. Amos had the pick-six, but Nowoola Awopetu and Darryl McDaniel shadowed their assignments well and kept them quiet.