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2018 Villanova Football Game Preview: Three Things to Watch vs. Richmond

Time to dig deep?

NCAA Football: Richmond at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova can finish above-.500, with a winning record, if it is able to win out for the rest of the regular season. It hasn’t been easy for ‘Nova, as the Wildcats are undergoing a rough stretch of games that includes a four-game losing streak topped off with back-to-back shutout losses.

The Wildcats (3-5, 0-5 CAA) will look to recover from a couple of scoreless performances. Against James Madison and New Hampshire combined, Villanova has given up a total of 71 points between the two squads.

Richmond (3-5, 1-4 CAA) has also had a tough time recently, losing four of its last five games. However, it will be the Spiders’ homecoming game, and they’ll be more than determined to emerge with a victory.

Here are three things to watch for in Saturday’s game, which kicks off at 3 p.m.

Forbes 2000

Villanova senior running back Aaron Forbes only needs 71 more rushing yards to become the newest member of the Wildcats’ 2,000 career rushing yards club. There are only 10 players in program history have have eclipsed the mark, and Forbes has a pretty good chance of becoming No. 11. So far this season, Forbes has a team-high 453 yards and four touchdowns off of 90 carries. While the Wildcats have struggled on offense as of late—a far cry from the yardage they were racking up to start the season—they should be able to get a good push from the ground game. Out of the 12-team conference, Richmond has given up the second-most rushing yards to opponents per game, allowing its foes to run for 159.4 yards per game. Aside from that, the Spiders also have the worst scoring defense in the CAA, giving up 35.0 points per game. This could very much be the game where the Villanova offense finds its footing and is able to rebuild confidence on that side of the ball. If Forbes breaks the 2,000 rushing yards mark that would be a great sign that things are going well for the Wildcat offense. Villanova loves to run the ball, so while all eyes might be on him as the top rusher, expect the ‘Cats to also give Justin Covington and Matt Gudzak some touches.

Covington has big play ability whenever he touches the ball, and this redshirt sophomore has given glimpses of his great potential for the coming years. As for Gudzak, the fifth-year senior might be seeing a drop in action this season, but he remains a part of the rotation and is a receiving threat out of the backfield.

Sack Artists

Richmond hasn’t lost a home game to Villanova since 2009—the same year the ‘Cats won it all on the gridiron. The Spiders blanked the Wildcats in the two most recent meetings at Robins Stadium. If they want to keep that shutout streak going—or at the very least, win—they will have to dial up the pressure on Zach Bednarczyk. This Richmond defensive line has been very good at applying pressure and getting a formidable pass rush in. Junior defensive end Maurice Jackson leads the Spiders with 6.5 sacks on the season, but he’s far from being the only threat. Four other teammates have recorded at least two sacks this year. All in all, this defensive unit has gotten to the quarterback before he can throw 23 times—good for third in the CAA. The Wildcats have had some inconsistent play at signal caller as of late, and it definitely can’t afford Bednarczyk to get hurt again. The Villanova offensive line has to protect Bednarczyk, but the statistics aren’t in the Wildcats favor. The Wildcats have given up 28 sacks this year, just one away from tying New Hampshire for giving up the most in the CAA.

High risk, high reward

Kyle Lauletta has graduated and moved on to the New York Giants. In his absence, Richmond hasn’t been to find a true, consistent starter. Lauletta was talented, experienced, and savvy in the pocket. The Spiders have been able to maintain one of the top passing attacks in the CAA, ranking just behind Towson in total offense and passing offense. They deal most of their damage through the air, averaging 281.2 yards per game. They’ve been able to do this with two different quarterbacks. Kevin Johnson was tabbed the starter to begin the season, but a concussion left Richmond to look at redshirt sophomore Joe Mancuso. It looks like the Spiders will continue to go with Mancuso, but both quarterbacks have suffered from the same problem. While they rack up yardage through the air, they are also turnover prone. Mancuso quickly amassed 1,000 passing yards in three games, but has a subpar touchdown-to-interception ratio of 6:7. As for Johnson, he had a similar stat line, but a 5:5 ratio. They’ll certainly move the ball downfield, but mistakes can be made along the way.