When Villanova hosts Saint Francis (Pa.) on Saturday, it will be the first time that the Red Flash have ever played in the FCS Playoffs. They went 7-4 overall and their 5-1 record in the Northeast Conference earned them the AQ bid this year.
On the other hand, Andy Talley’s Wildcats have been down this road plenty of times and will want to make yet another deep run in their head coach’s final season.
Here are three things to watch for on Saturday afternoon at Villanova Stadium.
Which defensive star can make the biggest impact?
Villanova’s elite defense is led by DE Tanoh Kpassagnon, whos 19 TFL and 8 sacks earned him the CAA’s Defensive Player of the Year honors. His ability to handle double-teams - and still blow up plays - allows the ‘Cats Mayhem scheme to dominate.
On the other side, LB Solomon Leaeno has been a force for the Red Flash. He logged 92 total tackles, 15.5 TFL and 9.5 sacks this season. Keeping him at bay and out of the backfield will be crucial for Villanova’s offensive output.
Who carries the load for Villanova’s offense?
Ball-control and a strong rushing attack (212 ypg) has been a the ‘Cats calling card for years. Saint Francis only yields 110 rushing ypg. Something’s gotta give!
If Villanova can’t get the rushing attack going, Zach Bednarczyk will have to get it done through the air. That’s been a hit-or-miss proposition this season but he’s got plenty of targets to hit. Ryan Bell and Taurus Phillips are having great seasons, and a finally healthy Changa Hodge provides a legitimate deep threat that can stretch the field.
‘Nova defense leads the way again?
While the Northeast conference isn’t nearly on the level of the CAA (the Red Flash lost to both Towson and Albany - two teams the ‘Cats stomped), they’ve posted very good numbers on offense this year.
Quarterback Zack Drayer averaged 217 ypg passing the ball and top target Kamron Lewis posted 1,349 yards and 10 TDs on the season. As a team they rushed for 135 ypg, led by Marcus Bagley. That’s great balance, and Villanova won’t be able to key in on just one area.
Shutting the Red Flash down early and not letting them hit big plays should allow Villanova’s superior talent to control the game, and move on to the next round.