FCS game of the week: Villanova at James Madison
By CRAIG HALEY
Week 7 Matchup: No. 5 Villanova (6-0, 3-0 CAA) at No. 2 James (5-1, 2-0)
Kickoff: 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Bridgeforth Stadium (24,877) in Harrisonburg, Virginia
Series: James Madison leads 16-11 (last meeting: JMU won 37-0 at Villanova on Oct. 13, 2018)
The Skinny: These two national championship-winning programs are accustomed to high-level games. Villanova is 17-12 all-time against Top 5 opponents and James Madison 15-24. This season, they're both among the 10 best nationally in jumping on opponents in the first quarter with 'Nova holding a plus-44 point differential and JMU at plus-35.
Villanova has surpassed expectations after going 5-6 in each of coach Mark Ferrante's first two seasons. The Wildcats are playing their fifth road game, which includes a 52-45 overtime win at then-No. 5 Towson. Campbell transfer QB Daniel Smith has accounted for at least three rushing/passing TDs in each game and has 23 overall (second-most in the FCS). WRs Jaaron Hayek (21 receptions, 305 yards, 5 TDs) and Changa Hodge (18-261-3) form a potent duo. The offensive line has gotten the job done, allowing only three sacks and paving the way for 235.7 rushing yards per game. No. 1 RB Justin Covington ranks first in the CAA and fourth in the FCS with 121.2 rushing yards per game. The defense utilizes a 3-3-5 base alignment. LB Forrest Rhyne (career-high 15 tackles, 2½ sacks) is coming off a monster performance against William & Mary. CB Elijah Trent and SS Jaquan Amos have three takeaways each.
James Madison has a series-high four-game winning streak over Villanova and it's 9-3 overall in meetings in Harrisonburg. Under first-year coach Curt Cignetti, the Dukes are winning games at the line of scrimmage and on third downs, ranking in the top four in the FCS in converting them (56.1 percent) and preventing them (25.6). Their 268.2 rushing yards per game are the most in the CAA, and the options are widespread with RBs Percy Agyei-Obese (374), Solomon Vanhorse (335) and Jawon Hamilton (321) and QB Ben DiNucci (277) all above 275 yards. On defense, LB Dimitri Holloway has gobbled up 50 tackles and the four starters on the defensive line, led by DEs Ron'Dell Carter and John Daka, have combined for 26 tackles for loss and 9½ sacks. The special teams are, well, special. D'Angelo Amos returned two punt returns (89 and 81 yards) for TDs in last year's win over 'Nova. PK Ethan Ratke is 10 of 13 on field goal attempts and 31 of 31 on PATs.
Prediction: Both teams must limit the miscues as they try to play a game of field position. Villanova's Smith-Covington offensive combo has been sensational, but the Dukes hold on late with their defense. James Madison, 24-21.
Updated October 10, 2019