Game Time: Saturday, October 12, 2019, 1:30 p.m. ET
Location: Bridgeforth Stadium, Harrisonburg, Virginia
How To Watch: Flo Football
Betting Odds: James Madison -9.5, O/U 55.5
It turns out that all you need is a quarterback to solve most of your problems. Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante was on the hot seat after two 5-6 seasons to start his tenure with the Wildcats, but now he is in high cotton with quarterback Daniel Smith running the show.
Smith has been much better than Jack Schetelich after transferring in from Campbell University over the offseason, and he has led the Wildcats to a 6-0 start with three wins against ranked opponents. That has led to Nova being ranked No. 5, but the Wildcats will face their toughest test yet when they head south to take on the No. 2 James Madison Dukes.
Reasons to Like Villanova
Smith has been a revelation since taking over as the Wildcats’ starting quarterback. He hasn’t posted gaudy numbers, but he has forced defenses to respect the passing game, and that’s something Villanova didn’t have when the oft-injured Zach Bednarczyk was out of the lineup.
Smith has completed 57.4 percent of his passes on the season, throwing for 1,228 yards with 17 touchdowns against just three interceptions. He has also shown that he can scoot, averaging 6.1 YPC with six rushing touchdowns.
That has led to defenses being honest in the passing game, allowing the running backs to run for huge chunks. Villanova is averaging 6.1 YPC as a team with Justin Covington leading the way with 727 rushing yards and 8.1 YPC despite playing excellent defenses like Maine and Colgate. Unfortunately, Covington may not be available tomorrow as he was injured against William and Mary last week.
This run defense has been solid too. Villanova is allowing just 3.0 YPC, and that has led to this unit being ranked in the top 20 nationally.
Reasons Not to Like Villanova
In 2018, the strength of Villanova was its secondary, but graduation has left this unit as the weak link this year. The Wildcats are allowing 270.2 yards per game through the air, and these defensive backs are still growing into their roles.
Additionally, Smith’s occasional accuracy issues could get him in trouble against James Madison. The Dukes have a ball hawking defense that will take chances, so some turnovers could be on the menu.
Reasons to Like James Madison
The Dukes are averaging over 200 YPG more than their opponents this season. Their ground game has done a great job of keeping the chains moving by continually grinding out tough yards, and James Madison is averaging 50.5 carries per game this season. They have worn down opponents, allowing Ben DiNucci to beat them on play action.
Defense has been the hallmark of this team for a few years now. James Madison has an excellent defense once again, surrendering only 2.4 YPC this season. The Dukes did a great job of shutting down West Virginia in their season opener, leading to James Madison nearly pulling off the upset.
Reasons Not to Like James Madison
If you can stop the running game and force DiNucci to make plays through the air, the Dukes are in trouble. He has yet to throw more than 25 passes in a game this season, and he has looked shaky at times. Although he is completing 72.4 percent of his passes, he is largely given easy throws as the coaching staff know they can’t task him with too much.
Half of DiNucci’s touchdown passes this season came against lowly Morgan State, and he has not been sharp against CAA opponents. That’s cause for concern if Nova can stop the run.
The under is the best bet in this game. Both of these teams want to run the ball a lot, but both defenses can stop the run very well. I believe both quarterbacks will struggle, but home field will play a factor in the Dukes scratching out a win.
Final Score: James Madison 24, Villanova 21