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

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Be prepared for the Long Island Express.

NCAA Football: Stony Brook at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova (3-1, 0-1 CAA) will refocus on conference play this weekend, as it heads on the road to play the Stony Brook Seawolves (3-1, 1-0 CAA).

The Wildcats are coming off of a dominant Parents’ Weekend victory, where they demolished the Bucknell Bison, 49-7.

As for the Seawolves, they are coming in hot. Stony Brook has won three-straight games, outscoring opponents 114-37 throughout this stretch. Most recently, they beat Richmond, 36-10, in their conference play opener.

Here are three things to watch for in Saturday’s game, which is slated to kickoff at 6 p.m.:

All You Need is Gains

There has been plenty of buzz for the Wildcats’ defense over the last few years. However, the offense might have stolen the show early in the season. The Wildcats have posted at least 30 points in each of their last three games, a streak that hadn’t been replicated in a couple of seasons. Villanova enjoyed an astonishing offensive performance last week against Bucknell, racking up 609 yards of total offense--doing so with a balanced approach. On the ground, Aaron Forbes, Justin Covington, and Matt Gudzak have been a reliable trio running the ball.

Quarterback Zach Bednarczyk has thrown for 1,139 yards and 11 touchdowns, placing him near the top of the charts in FCS football. He has a number of different players to go to, and while Ryan Bell and Jarrett McClenton have played well so far this season, the emergence of Josh McGrigg should be big for Villanova moving forward. McGrigg had a career game against Bucknell and reeled in a school-record 90-yard touchdown reception, as well.

Villanova’s defense has been solid, no doubt, but the offensive unit is averaging 477.2 yards per game. Can it keep going?

All Aboard the Gowins-Liotine Hype Train

Dubbed the “Long Island Express,” running backs Jordan Gowins and Donald Liotine have been excellent so far this season. They are a big focal point of what the Seawolves love to do, as they feed them the ball and allow them to wreak havoc on the ground. The two Long Island natives have posted impressive numbers in each of their last three games, with the tandem rushing for 100 yards apiece in every game during this stretch. With the help of an offensive line that boasts three starting linemen that weigh in at 320 pounds or higher, they have been able to showoff their talents and produce at a high level on the ground. Thanks to them, Stony Brook is able to average a CAA-best 237.3 rushing yards per game.

Gowins, a former Boston College player that’s in his third season with the Seawolves, is currently enjoying his best season yet. So far this season, he’s rushed for 510 yards and four touchdowns off of 61 carries. As for Liotine, he has ran for 391 yards and a touchdown on 55 carries this year. However, Liotine is also an impact player on special teams, serving as a kick returner. He is currently ranked in the top 10 for a number of different offensive categories in Stony Brook’s career leaderboard.

Villanova’s run defense will be instrumental in this game. The Wildcats have given up 200 rushing yards to an opponent only one time since 2015. Whether or not the Long Island Express is able to continue its streak of both members able to enjoy a 100-yard game will help decide which team will be in control.

Top 25 Showdown

In the past, Villanova and Stony Brook have only met two times. They haven’t met since 2013, and the all-time series is split up one game each. STATS FCS currently ranks Villanova at No. 13, while Stony Brook is No. 18. The Seawolves are coming off of a solid 10-3 season, in which they finished second in the CAA. They have a number of crucial pieces from last season, so expect a hard-fought game.

If Villanova is able to do what no FCS team has done so far this season--shut down the “Long Island Express”--it’ll place the pressure on Stony Brook’s passing game and bode well for the ‘Cats. The Seawolves love to run the ball, and while their quarterback Joe Carbone isn’t a slouch--his numbers suggest that he isn’t a game-changer either. He’s among the top five all-time Stony Brook quarterbacks, when it comes to passing yards. However, he hasn’t been able to complete his passes this year. He connected on just 44.4 percent of his pass attempts for 475 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception.

For Stony Brook, its smashmouth approach and run-heavy play can work in its favor, just as long as the Long Island Express is able to run without any delays. The Seawolves should look to dominate time-of-possession and not allow the ‘Cats to get into a groove on offense.