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No. 6 Penn State vs. Villanova: Game Preview

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Penn State’s “warm-up” game is finally here.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Auburn at Penn State Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Penn State welcomes an undefeated FCS opponent into Beaver Stadium after a grueling three weeks to start the season.

Penn State (3-0) vs. Villanova (3-0)

Kickoff: Noon, Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Betting Line: None (due to Villanova’s FCS status)

TV: BTN - Mark Followill (play-by-play), Matt Millen (analyst), Elise Menaker (sideline)

Weather: A very nice day in Happy Valley, with a high of 69 and mostly sunny skies.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 63-28, 8th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 87-43, 11th Year

VS. VILLANOVA: First Meeting

Mark Ferrante:

VILLANOVA RECORD: 24-18, 5th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 24-18, 5th Year

VS. PENN STATE: First Meeting

FUN FACTS

This is the first meeting between Penn State and Villanova since 1951...Villanova enters the game on a three-game winning streak against the Nittany Lions...Penn State leads the all-time series at 5-3-1...the series dates back to 1902...Jahan Dotson will be seeking to score a touchdown in his sixth consecutive game.

VILLANOVA OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

The Villanova offense is off to a hot start, averaging 45.3 points per game after three weeks. The offense is led by quarterback Daniel Smith, who rewrote the record book at Campbell University before transferring to Villanova and immediately finding success. He finished ninth in Walter Payton Award voting, which goes to the top offensive player at the FCS level. He accounted for 48 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, while completing 60 percent of passes.

Smith is a dangerous runner as well, although he may be more focused on staying in the pocket more this season with just 31 yards this season.

Jaaron Hayek is the favorite target of Smith, and leads the team in receptions and receiving yards by a solid margin thus far. He’s also tied for the lead in scores after finding the end zone three times in three games. Rayjoun Pringle also has three receiving touchdowns already, on just six total catches. Dez Boykin is also a frequent target, with 10 catches and two scores. All three of the top receivers are under 6’.

Justin Covington is the primary back for the Wildcats, and is off to a great start by averaging just over 100 rushing yards per game. He was leading all of FCS in both rushing yards and yard per carry before an injury ended his season in week six in 2019. He can wear down a defense at 5-11, 225 lbs. with his physical running style. Although he is not used regularly out of the backfield, he’s coming off a game with three catches for 10 yards.

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. VILLANOVA DEFENSE

It should be safe to say that Penn State will have a pretty vanilla gameplan on Saturday. Expect to see a heavy dose of the running back rotation, with Cain having a light day and more carries for Keyvone Lee, Devyn Ford, and Baylor transfer Jon Lovett, who made his Penn State debut on Saturday after missing the first two weeks. Lovett may end up with the majority of snaps as it appears he’ll become a regular part of the offense moving forward.

It will probably be a light day for Sean Clifford’s arm a well, and hopefully some quality reps for back-up Ta’Quan Roberson, who has very limited game experience. You may see a few gadget plays and funky lineups just to get it on film and force teams to prepare, but the good stuff will likely wait until an upcoming game (let’s say perhaps Iowa or Ohio State).

On the other side, linebacker Amin Black and defensive end Malik Fisher have been disruptive, combining for 7 TFLs and two sacks. Senior cornerback Christian Benford seems to be on his way to the NFL, and has collected a host of individual honors since joining Villanova in 2018. That collection will grow more, as he already has four interceptions and three pass breakups in the first three weeks of the season. The Wildcats defense is structured similar to Penn State - they are an opportunistic unit who make plays that come from a variety of contributors. They have combined for 23 TFLs, eight sacks, eight interceptions and two fumble recoveries after just three games.

SPECIAL TEAMS

There have already been three Villanova kickers to attempt field goals, combining to go 8-of-9 with a long of 49 yards. One of those kickers, Cole Brunce, handles kickoff duties and has nine touchbacks in 17 attempts. Nathan Fondacaro is averaging 35.3 yards per punt thus far, with a long of 49. Don’t let those stats fool you though - Fondacaro is a fourth-year starter for a reason. He is a first-team all-conference performer who has regularly put up 60-yard punts, as well as a career-high of 75 yards.

Villanova has not had anything notable in the return game, although they have allowed a score on a kick return.

PREDICTION

Penn State-49, Villanova-7

I don’t mean any disrespect when I say things like Penn State will have a vanilla gameplan and get experience for the back-ups on Saturday. The members of Villanova are playing at a level that only a miniscule percent of high school players can achieve. They have the talent and work ethic to balance the incredible demands of being a student-athlete. They’re also coming in at 3-0 after an incredible start to the season.

However, the talent gap is too severe to think there’s much of a chance for anything but a Penn State blowout.

Jon Lovett is the offensive MVP as he gets caught up to speed, with over a 100 yards on the ground including a 70 yard touchdown scamper. Jahan Dotson continues his touchdown streak on a deep pass early in the game. On defense, Daequan Hardy and Joey Porter Jr. each get picks, while Derrick Tangelo contributes a sack and three TFLs.

Let’s do this.