The way last year ended in Hammond, Louisiana was heartbreaking. Going into halftime, the Wildcats held a dominant lead at 31-14. After halftime, it wasn’t going so well for Villanova, as Southeastern Louisiana scored 17 unanswered points, tying it at 31 with 1:29 left in the third quarter. Shortly thereafter, Daniel Smith threw a touchdown pass to tight end Todd Summers to retake the lead at 38-31 with 13:06 to go in the fourth quarter. Southeastern Louisiana answered with a 4:06 drive of its own to tie it back at 38 with 6:36 left in the fourth quarter.
Smith led Villanova down the field, hitting wide receiver Changa Hodge for a 50-yard touchdown. The PAT was missed by Drew Kresge, leaving the score at 44-38 with 4:36 to go in the game. Chason Virgil led SELA from its own 25-yard line in seven plays to cap a touchdown drive, reclaiming the lead at 45-44 with 2:56 to go in the game. In one last drive for the Wildcats, Smith completed his first three passes, moving Nova from its own 29-yard line to its 47. The next play was the turning point of the game. Smith threw a 40-yard pass to Jaaron Hayek for what looked to be a highlight-reel-worthy, one-handed catch for a touchdown; the only problem was offensive pass interference was called, waving off the potential game-winning touchdown.
Afterwards, the next few plays included two completions for 16 yards, getting the ’Cats to the Lions 39. With 0:59 left, Villanova called a timeout. The next play was the final one for the 2019 Wildcats offense, as Smith’s pass was incomplete, turning the ball over on downs. Southeastern Louisiana ran out the rest of the clock, winning the game with the narrow final score of 45-44.
Looking toward this upcoming season.
Daniel Smith is back for his senior year. Last year, he threw for 3,274 yards with 35 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions while completing 60% of his passes. He earned All-CAA Third Team behind a pair of seniors in Ben DiNucci of James Madison and Tom Flacco of Towson. Going into the 2020-21 season, Daniel is a Walter Payton Award dark horse and is considered by some to be the best quarterback in the CAA.
He will have to outdo Trey Lance, the reigning Walter Payton winner from 2019, Eric Barriere of Eastern Washington, who was fifth, and Jah-Maine Martin from North Carolina A&T, who finished in seventh among players returning in 2020. Daniel finished in ninth place. (Note: Kevin Thomson of Sacramento State, who came in fourth, recently entered the transfer portal; word is that he is opening himself up to an FBS opportunity.)
One of the mysteries of last season was, “What if Justin Covington, the star running back, didn’t tear his ACL vs. William & Mary?”
This year back healthy, Justin looks to pick up where he left off in 2019. Justin had 727 yards with 3 touchdowns on only 90 carries. Look for him to possibly break out into the 1,300-1,500 rushing yards mark. (This projection is based on his 2019 yards per game multiplied by the 13 games Villanova played in 2019.)
The offensive firepower is incredible. Villanova returns its two main receivers in senior Changa Hodge, who had 65 receptions, 1,118 receiving yards, and 13 touchdowns, and sophomore Jaaron Hayek, who had 47 receptions, 670 receiving yards, and eight touchdowns. But no one is more of a factor than senior tight end Todd Summers, who is
arguably the best tight end in the FCS. I think Todd is the X-factor of this team. He can work over the middle as a vertical threat and is also a good run blocker. Last season, he had 34 receptions, 364 yards, and six touchdowns.
Looking at the defensive side of the ball, the leader of the Wildcat ‘D’ is none other than senior linebacker Forrest Rhyne, who last year was all over the field making plays, racking
up 116 total tackles, 57 of which were unassisted, 14.5 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble. Alongside him in the second level is redshirt sophomore Qwahsin Townsel, who had last
season 45 total tackles, three tackles for loss, and a forced fumble. On the defensive line, superstar Malik Fisher, who led the team in sacks with seven, had 30 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, five QB hits, two pass breakups, and three forced fumbles, is going to have a great year this upcoming season. The most impressive aspect of this defense is the elite secondary it boasts, featuring highly regarded NFL prospect and senior cornerback Jaquan Amos, who led the team in interceptions with four and in pass breakups with seven. Alongside him, you have Elijah Trent. The junior cornerback is one of the best in the CAA as well. The last of the dynamic trio of cornerbacks is senior Nowoola Awopetu, who is a solid NFL prospect for the 2021 draft.
My preseason predictions for the outcomes of the 2020 regular season:
(* marks the toughest games of the season, bold = win)
Sep 5 vs. Lehigh – W, 34-14
Sep 12 @ Bucknell – W, 49-7
*Sep 19 @ Wake Forest – L, 49-21
Sep 29 vs. Rhode Island – W, 34-14
*Oct 3 @ Albany – L, 28-21
*Oct 10 vs. Towson – W, 42-35
Oct 17 @ Maine – W, 49-14
*Oct 24 vs. James Madison – W, 34-28
Nov 7 @ Stony Brook – W, 34-10
*Nov 14 @ Delaware – W, 28-27 (OT)
Nov 21 vs. Elon – W, 42-28
Finishing 9-2 overall and 7-1 in the CAA would be good enough for a first-round bye in the playoffs and a guaranteed home playoff game in Villanova, Pennsylvania in the second
In the playoffs, if they run the gauntlet and make it to Frisco for the national championship, could they beat the preseason favorite in North Dakota State? I think it would be a close game if all players are indeed healthy in this hypothetical situation. With how well the linebacking corps performs and the elite secondary the Wildcats have, I believe that they can
stop the heavy run offense that the Bison operate. With the high-powered offense that Villanova has, it could cause problems for the newer defensive unit of the reigning champion Bison, potentially leading to the Wildcats claiming their second national championship in school history alongside the historic 2009 Villanova team.