#22 Villanova Wildcats (0-1) vs. Lehigh Mountain Hawks (0-1)
When: Saturday, September 10 , 2016, at 6:00 p.m.
Where: Villanova Stadium
Lehigh’s Previous Season Record: 6-5
Key Players for Lehigh: #9 Nick Shafinsky (6-1, 210), Sr. QB; #32 Dominick Bragalone (5-11, 205) So., RB; #3 Troy Pelletier (6-3, 195) Jr., WR; #31 Colton Caslow (6-1, 215) Sr., LB; #49 Evan Kauffman (6-1, 220) Sr., LB
Scouting Report: The Mountain Hawks disappointing season opener, a crushing last-second 23-21 loss to Monmouth, should not lull Villanova fans into a sense of security. The Hawks are more than ready to bounce back, and have more than enough weapons to make it happen. This is an offense that ranked 13th in the nation last year in total offense, averaging 32 points per game. The Hawks are an offensive juggernaut first and foremost, and will look to score points in bunches before Villanova can hope to catch up.
The offensive theatrics start on the ground with ECAC FCS Division I Offensive Rookie of the Year Dominick Bragalone, who became the first freshman to ever eclipse 1,000 rushing yards in Lehigh history. His 1,008 yards rushing–off of 179 carries–were a team best, and his eight rushing touchdowns were second. Bragalone is an explosive player who thrives as both an exciting outside runner and as a great receiver out of the backfield. The ‘Cats defense will have to replicate their stalwart defensive efforts from week one to contain him. He only gained 37 yards on the ground last week, so expect him to come out inspired to emerge with a better result.
The Hawks have plenty of receiving options, but none stand out more than previous Jerry Rice Award finalist Troy Pelletier. The junior wideout had a terrific sophomore year, gaining a team high 831 yards receiving from 78 catches, along with a team-high eight receiving touchdowns. He is also the holder of the Lehigh single game receptions record, an accolade he earned in a 15-catch performance against Princeton last year. Pelletier is a physical receiver. Expect him to compete for a lot of jump balls, and watch out for him to be that go-to possession catch guy when a first down is needed. Like Bragalone, Pelletier also had a slow start to the season, only recording two catches last week, so he will be looking to put himself back on track.
The undisputed head of this offense is dual-threat veteran quarterback Nick Shafinsky, who will be entering his third season as the man under center. He is primarily a running threat. Last year, he gained 674 yards on the ground, along with a team-high 12 touchdowns. Shafinsky’s passing game is a work in progress. Last season, he passed for 2,279 yards, 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The highlight of his season came in the form of an incredible 289 yard, four touchdown performance against Lafayette. Shafinsky will primarily be a threat to run out of the option, so expect the Wildcats to key in on that and challenge him to rely on his arm. Of course, don’t completely underestimate his arm, especially with big possession receivers like Pelletier around.
The Hawk defense is lead by senior linebacker Colton Caslow. Caslow, a team captain, lead the team in tackles last year with 95, and also had 8 tackles for loss. He is this team’s most seasoned, and best, defender. He began this season injured but is looking forward to his debut against Villanova.
Caslow’s fellow linebacker, Evan Kauffman, racked up a team-high 12 tackles last week. Kauffman was a much-needed source of production in Caslow’s absence. If both Kauffman and Caslow are on the field, it could spell trouble for a Villanova offense that struggled to get the ground game going against Pitt last week, as both linebackers are physical run-stopping defenders.
Outlook: If Villanova wants to win, they need to work out the hiccups in its offense. Zach Bednarczyk looked disoriented against Pitt and had did not perform up to par because of it (119 yards passing, 1 interception). The ground game was even worse. The Wildcats love to run the ball and struggled to do that against Pitt, rushing for 53 yards off of 33 total carries. Those numbers are going to have to go up across the board, in order to keep up with this high-octane Lehigh offense.
Villanova’s defense looked fine, as they were able to contain runningback James Conner to 53 yards on 17 carries last week. However, Nathan Peterman was able to gash ‘Nova with two touchdown passes last week. With so much pressure applied on the Villanova’s defense and the amount of snaps it had to face, it was only a matter of time before Pitt broke through. The offense cannot afford to stall out, especially with one of the better offenses in the FCS coming to town. If Shafinsky and Pelletier get cooking, Villanova will be in trouble.
Nonetheless, I predict a close, good game. The Mountain Hawks are an offensive-minded team. Last year, their defense gave up a horrendous 35 points per game. Based on the first week, it looks like a game featuring mirror images of each other. With Lehigh’s strength lying in its offense, and Villanova’s relying on its defense. While the Wildcats’ defense will be able to pull some stops, the Mountain Hawks will eventually break through. They have a strong offensive effort, one that I don’t think Villanova can keep up with.
Prediction: Lehigh 28, Villanova 21