Elon Preview: Football Heads To North Carolina

Villanova is looking to get back on track as it travels to North Carolina to take on Elon in a crucial CAA game. Mark Ferrante and company are coming off just their second loss of the season, 31-18, to William & Mary. However, the Wildcats are still ranked 10th in the FCS and sit in a three-way tie atop the CAA.

Against William & Mary, graduate quarterback Daniel Smith had easily his worst game of the season and possibly in his tenure at Villanova, with a 47.3 completion percentage (18/38) and just one touchdown, with four interceptions. Graduate running back Justin Covington did not see the field, so the rushing load was largely carried by DeeWil Barlee, who finished the game with just 20 yards on the ground. Junior receiver Jaaron Hayek caught Smith’s only touchdown and finished the game with 115 yards on six receptions, but the ‘Nova receiving core struggled with drops all game. 

The Elon Phoenix are 4-4, fourth in the CAA, and will be entering what could be a make or break game for their season as they seek to qualify for the FCS playoffs. Senior quarterback Davis Cheek has been on a tear throughout the whole year, as he currently leads FCS football in total yards (2,245), with 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions. However, in Elon’s most recent loss, to James Madison (45-21), Cheek had 198 passing yards with two total touchdowns and one interception. The Phoenix’s main receiving threat for the game was junior Bryson Daughtry, who had 112 total yards on seven receptions and a touchdown grab, while Cheek added another score himself on the ground.

Elon’s running game was less than impressive, gaining only 89 yards that were split between Cheek and three different running backs. 

Containing the big plays from Cheek will be essential for Villanova to win this weekend. He has recorded 300+ passing yards in three of his last five games. Experienced upperclassmen on the defensive side of the ball, like graduate defensive lineman Malik Fisher and senior back Christian Benford, will need to make big plays to prevent the Phoenix from upsetting the ‘Cats. 

Although Villanova is one of three teams with just one loss in conference play, the next couple of games will be critical in determining the FCS playoff picture. Several teams, including Elon, are on the bubble and looking to get critical wins to keep playoff bids alive. The Wildcats are currently in a good position, but if the ‘Cats cannot take care of business in Carolina, they could find themselves in the same position as the Phoenix. In a conference as competitive as the CAA, every win matters, and the Wildcats cannot afford another slip. 

The game kicks off at 2 p.m. on Saturday.