The season comes to a close on Saturday afternoon, as Villanova heads down to Delaware for a “Battle of the Blue” rivalry game to end the year.
For Villanova, its postseason hopes are done, it is playing for pride and for bragging rights. With a 4-6 record (1-6 in CAA play), this will be the final game of the year. The Wildcats have kept the Battle of the Blue trophy for the last six years, dominating the Blue Hens in recent years. They haven’t lost to Delaware since 26-16 result in 2011.
As for the Blue Hens (7-3, 5-2 CAA), they are looking to end a losing streak to their rivals. They are determined, after being shutdown in a 17-3 loss to Stony Brook.
Here are three things to watch for in Saturday’s game, which is scheduled to kickoff at 12 p.m. noon. If you’re not in the area, it will also be broadcast on NBC Sports Philadelphia and SNY.
There’s a case of deja vu in this edition of the rivalry matchup. When these two teams met to finish the 2017 regular season, they had identical records to what they have now. Delaware was 7-3 coming in, while ‘Nova endured some turbulence at 4-6. At that point, the Blue Hens were in the playoff hunt and a win over the ailing and injured Wildcats would have most likely got them into the 24-team FCS playoff field. With many teams on the bubble, Delaware couldn’t afford a loss. Villanova ended up dominating its rival in all three phases of the game, winning 24-7 in last year’s game. Delaware had its bubble popped and was one of the first few teams left off the playoff bracket.
This year, Delaware wants to avoid that fate. The Blue Hens are once again, looking for a playoff spot. The Blue Hens are tangled up in a four-way tie for second place, even with James Madison, Stony Brook, and Towson. Maine, the CAA’s current leader, is just one game ahead of that bunch. Then there’s Elon, who’s a half-game behind that four-way deadlock, and it could have easily been in that scrum had it not been for a game being postponed due to an incoming hurricane (and it was never rescheduled). Working out the scenarios, there are a couple of things that could happen that might help Delaware climb to the top and take the automatic bid into the FCS Playoffs. As good as the top five teams have been, six if you want to include Elon, it’s highly unlikely that all of them will be included in the playoff field. If it can’t get the automatic bid, Delaware will at least hope to be in good standing for the tournament committee and to do so, it’ll need a win over ‘Nova.
However, a loss would be detrimental and would hurt its playoff outlook. With painful memories of last year, Delaware isn’t going to try and leave anything up to chance. Win and the Blue Hens are in, lose and well--it’ll be another popped bubble. Villanova has done it before, can it do it again?
Last season, Delaware ranked dead last in the CAA for passing offense. It was primarily a run-heavy offense, one of the top teams in the conference in rushing attack.
This season, after shifting longtime dual-threat quarterback Joe Walker to wide receiver and promoting backup Pat Kehoe to the team’s main signal caller, the Delaware offense has gotten a nice boost and is less predictable. While Delaware’s offense is middle of the pack overall, it is a lot more balanced now. Kehoe has proven to be quite the quarterback in his first real taste of college football action. He’s thrown for just under 2,000 yards this season and has 17 touchdowns and six interceptions. If you take away his three picks against reigning National Champion, North Dakota State, he has an impressive touchdown-to-interception ratio of 17:3. One of his top targets is the former starting quarterback, Walker, who has made an impact with 27 receptions for a team-high 563 yards and three touchdowns. He also likes to throw to Vinny Papale (31 receptions for 556 yards and six touchdowns) and redzone target tight end Charles Scarff (seven touchdown receptions).
On the ground, Delaware still has a formidable ground game with Kani Kane and DeJoun Lee rushing for a combined 1,000 yards. Kane is the goal line/touchdown back. He has 10 of the team’s 13 rushing scores.
The more balanced offense has been one of Delaware’s biggest improvements from last year. It is still very good defensively and will look to give ‘Nova a hard time. The Blue Hens have the third-best scoring defense in the CAA, holding opponents to under 20 points per game. With Villanova’s offense being inconsistent at times that could be beneficial for the Blue Hens but...
...watch out for last year’s Wildcat heroes
In a rivalry game, anything can happen. Villanova was likely written off heading into last season’s matchup. Instead, it dominated the Blue Hens on all levels of the game. One of the keys to victory, aside from the firm ‘Nova defense holding Delaware to just seven points, was Villanova finding success running the ball.
Senior running back Aaron Forbes rushed for 140 yards in last year’s Battle of the Blue. He ran for a career-high 160 yards two weeks ago and could be due for another big day. There are question marks at quarterback between Zach Bednarczyk’s health and struggles when not being 100 percent, then there’s also the young towering freshman Qadry Ismail. Regardless, getting the ground game going will be important.
Aside from Forbes, linebacker Jeff Steeb was also important in that win last season. Steeb racked up a team-high 13 tackles and had a pick six. He’s still a featured part of ‘Nova’s defense, but it might be more of a team-wide effort this time, as the Blue Hens are a lot more balanced this season.