How to Beat the Bison: Bucknell Preview

Graduate running back Justin Covington rushed for two touchdowns in Villanova's season opening win.

Villanova’s football team will make its home debut at Villanova Stadium Saturday at 6 p.m. against the Bucknell Bison. Villanova entered the season ranked 16th in FCS standings, while the Bison are unranked. Villanova enters the game 1-0, after ripping through Lehigh, 47-3. Bucknell opened the season with a 21-0 loss to Sacred Heart. 

The home opener will feature 16 seniors, some of whom will be stepping foot onto the field for the sixth season. The pandemic gave all collegiate athletes an extra year of eligibility, which allowed many upperclassmen to extend their college careers and opened the doors for sophomores and juniors to do the same. Notable players in this group include offensive lineman Michael Corbi, wide receiver Dez Boykin and star running back Justin Covington. 

Bucknell likes to do things a certain way, especially against run-centric teams like Villanova. There are two main defensive trends seen in Bucknell's formations, particularly with its linebacker group. The team likes to use its LB core to pressure the quarterback and stop the run - it does this in two ways. One, it will run a concept that is often called a “mug” look, where it will put either one or two linebackers into the A-Gap of the line of scrimmage, which can then turn into a straight blitz or a fake-off. Two, it will utilize the pairing of a pass rusher and a linebacker to complete what’s often called a “shot” attack: the mike-linebacker will step away from the line once the ball is snapped, and have either the outside linebacker or Edge rush directly to one side horizontally rather than straight at their opponent. The middle linebacker will cross behind and over to the other side of where the outside linebacker was now that the middle linebacker has drawn space, allowing the player to rush the gap and get after the quarterback. 

Offensively, the Bison utilize a balanced rushing-passing attack plan. Their rushing attack will be led by running back Jared Cooper, who led the team in rushing last season with 121 yards in four games. The passing attack will likely be headlined by quarterback Tarrin Ealre, who appeared in two games last season and threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns, with a 69% completion rate. The 6’3”, 195-pound senior will be going into this season with expectations to expand on the small yet bright flash he showed last year in his limited time on the field.

In order for Villanova to dominate Bucknell like it did Lehigh, it should utilize short and fast hot routes to escape any kind of pressure the Bison linebacker group may bring. Short-end routes like slant-groups, wheels, arrow routes or mesh concepts should be able to provide receivers with open space when the Bison blitz, or spread out the corners when they decide to play close. This may require some sacrifice from Justin Covington on the numbers end, as putting the RB group in some short receiving sets could be a helpful tool in the red zone. The only other alternative for Mark Ferrante is to hope that Justin Covington's raw level of talent would be able to outlast the Bucknell defense.