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2019 Villanova Football game preview: William & Mary Tribe

Can the ‘Cats continue adding to their hot start?

NCAA Football: William & Mary at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Fueled by the pre-season naysayers, the Villanova Wildcats have slowly turned the conversation from “rebuilding year” to “CAA title contending year.” The Wildcats have been fueled by “0 and 9,” a phrase regarding their projected ninth-place finish in the conference standings and zero All-CAA preseason selections.

Villanova has shattered that notion, and it will continue to keep its winning ways with a game against the William & Mary Tribe.

The Wildcats are a perfect 5-0 so far, coming off of a 33-17 home victory against Maine. They head back out on the road, to take on the 2-3 Tribe.

William & Mary has had the upper hand in the all-time series, as of late. While ‘Nova leads with a 6-4 record against the Tribe, William & Mary has won each of the last two meetings.

The Tribe may be 2-3, but two of those losses were against FBS competition—Virginia and East Carolina. It looked much-improved against the Pirates, but William & Mary is looking to shake off a two-game losing streak and rally behind a Parents’ Weekend crowd at Zable Stadium.

Here are three things to watch for in Saturday’s game, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET:

Another 100 for Covington?

Villanova senior running back Justin Covington has been relishing in the opportunity of being the lead back. The 5-foot-11 Bronx native brings a combination of speed and strength to the gridiron, and so far, he hasn’t been easy to stop.

He’s surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark in every single game so far. He’s primed to replicate that on Saturday, as William & Mary has given up an average of 173.2 yards per game on the ground.

Covington’s success on the ground has been vital in keeping opposing defenses honest and the Wildcat offense balanced. So far, he’s carried the ball 80 times for 674 yards and two touchdowns. His production this season surpasses the cumulative number from the past couple of years. Much of the credit in getting the ground game going and allowing the ‘Cats to have the highest scoring offense in the CAA (40.4 points per game) should also go to the offensive linemen up front, who despite replacing three long-time starters going into this season, they haven’t skipped a beat.

The Tribe’s Dual-Quarterback System

Last season, William and Mary struggled to find consistency under center. This year, they seemed to have remedied that with two different quarterbacks with contrasting styles. At times, it was out of necessity because of injury, but for the most part, it’s a situational type of decision. Freshman quarterback Hollis Mathis has already been a two-time Conference Rookie of the Week selection. He can make plays with his legs and his arm. The other quarterback is graduate transfer and pocket passer Kilton Anderson, who comes from Coastal Carolina.

Although their combined 2:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio isn’t exactly impressive, they’ve helped jumpstart a Tribe offense that was towards the bottom in a number of different categories. Most notably, the Tribe was dead last in scoring offense, with 13.6 points per game, but now they average 24.6 per game. They also scored a combined 17 touchdowns last season, but they should easily bypass that mark this year, with 15 touchdowns to their name through five games.

Mathis has thrown for 367 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. He’s also one of the team’s top rushers, adding 269 yards on the ground and tied for a team-high three rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, Anderson has thrown for 421 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Their favorite targets seem to be Kane Everson and Zach Burdick, who account for over half of the team’s receptions and receiving yards.

Hotter Than Hot

There’s no secret that the Wildcats are a juggernaut right now, and they have yet to show any signs of slowing down. They’ll try to continue the momentum on Saturday, but should they beat the Tribe and improve to 6-0, this will be the team’s best start in over 20 years.

In 1997, the ‘Cats were perfect throughout the regular season, before falling in the FCS quarterfinals and finishing the year with a 12-1 record. In that season, Villanova had Walter Payton Award winner Brian Finneran, record-breaking quarterback and current offensive coordinator Chris Boden, and a freshman named Brian Westbrook. Both Finneran and Boden were named All-Americans that year.

Right now, the Wildcats are amid their best start since 2009, sitting at 5-0. The 2009 ‘Cats weren’t perfect in the regular season, as they lost their sixth game of the year, but it was just a small price to pay in a National Championship-winning season. Whether or not these current ‘Cats will reach that height remains to be seen, but there’s no denying how big of a start this is for Villanova after winning just five games in each of the last two seasons.