The Villanova Wildcats (2-0) are preparing for their first-ever CAA game of the season. It will also be the Wildcats’ home opener, as they host Towson (1-1) this weekend.
The Wildcats built on of their big FCS-over-FBS upset with a one-sided 31-9 victory over the Lehigh Mountain Hawks last week.
Meanwhile, Towson heads to Villanova hoping to bounce back from being on the wrong side of a lopsided blowout against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Wake Forest handled the Tigers, winning 51-20 last week. Now, the Tigers will refocus on FCS competition this weekend.
Here are three things to watch for in Saturday’s game, which is scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff:
The CAA has been blessed with another Flacco, as Tom Flacco leads the huddle for the Towson Tigers this season. He’s 10 years younger than his brother, Joe, who played at Delaware for two seasons before going onto the NFL. The two brothers have taken almost similar journeys in college. Joe barely saw the field at Pittsburgh for two seasons, before transferring to Delaware in search for more playing time. Tom started his collegiate career at Western Michigan and then transferred to Rutgers. He never saw any game action with the Scarlet Knights and moved onto Towson. Since he made the switch from a FBS program to a FCS one, he did not have to sit out. He hopes that his journey will have the same destination as his older brother, as Joe went on to be a first-round pick and a Super Bowl champion.
Villanova got the best of Joe Flacco’s Blue Hens in their two meetings together. Tom will look to avoid that fate. He won a closely contested quarterback battle over last year’s starter, Ryan Stover. Although their play styles are slightly different, Flacco appears to be much more polished under center. Through two games this season, he’s completed 67.1 percent of his passes so far and has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 5:2. He has also carried Towson to the top of the CAA leaderboard in passing yards, so expect a test for Villanova’s defense. Even in the 51-20 blowout loss to FBS school Wake Forest, Flacco impressed with a 345-yard passing performance that included three touchdowns. While he might be a traditional quarterback, he certainly has the mobility and ability to scramble if needed.
Both teams entered this season a bit upset with the CAA’s preseason rankings. After suffering an injury-filled 2017 season, the Wildcats were disappointed to see that they were slated to finish sixth, despite bringing back many players that were injured last year as well as a pair of pre-season All-Americans. Towson felt even more slighted by the preseason poll, as it was projected to be in 10th place.
So far, Villanova seems to be succeeding well beyond expectations. First, with an upset over FBS school Temple and then a one-sided win over Lehigh. Zach Bednarczyk has been solid, completing 65.2 percent of his passes for 469 yards and six touchdowns. On the ground, Villanova has gotten a productive balance between Aaron Forbes, Jalen Jackson, Justin Covington, and Matt Gudzak. Ryan Bell has been a top option, as expected, but Jarrett McClenton is also coming off of a career game.
As for Towson, it blew out Morgan State, but then got a beatdown from Wake Forest. The Tigers are an air-it-out team, with Shane Leatherbury serving as Flacco’s favorite target. So far, he’s leading the Tigers with 13 reception for 181 yards and a touchdown. However, he’s far from being the only capable receiver, as Brent Richardson and Sam Gallahan have also looked good, but Flacco has primarily spread the wealth. A win against Villanova would be big for the Tigers’ morale.
Which one is it?
Last season, Villanova took care of Towson on the road with very few problems. Obviously, Bednarczyk suffering a season-ending injury then was problematic and less-than-ideal, but the Wildcats took swift care of the Tigers through their defense and rushing attack. With everyone healthy entering this year’s game, it could very well be a repeat or an even bigger win for ‘Nova.
However, this year’s Towson squad is different. Seeing the two extreme results from the Tigers’ two previous games--a lopsided win over Morgan State but then an acceptable blowout loss to the heavily favored FBS team Wake Forest--how good is this Towson team?
Flacco has remained consistently impressive throughout both appearances and might be in a better position to do damage than Stover. In last season’s meeting, Stover completed 24-of-44 pass attempts for 202 yards and an interception. He did rush for Towson’s only touchdown. The Tigers aren’t a run-heavy team to begin with, but the Wildcats’ impeccable run defense should place a vast majority of the stress on Flacco and his receivers. So far, they’ve stepped up to the task, but this game will serve as a big measuring stick for the Tigers and Saturday should serve as a better gauge for their talent.