No. 6 Villanova Football Prepares for LIU


Quinn Burns/Villanovan Photography

Connor Watkins (above) made his first college start against Lehigh.

Tyler Moore, Staff Writer

The Villanova football team cruised through its opening opponent Lehigh last weekend, winning, 45-17, to start the season 1-0. The sixth ranked team in the country now moves on to face LIU, a team that was crushed last week by Toledo, 37-0.

In the Wildcats’ dominating win, first-time starter Connor Watkins, a junior, threw for 298 yards and was responsible for four of the six touchdowns, including a 66-yard touchdown pass to fifth year receiver Dez Boykin and another 68-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Jaaron Hayek. However, the explosive offense cannot take all the credit. The defense received career performances from sophomore safety Ethan Potter and sophomore linebacker Brendan Bell, who each put up career-high tackle numbers. 

For LIU, the season opener was not at all similar. While some of the FCS-FBS matchups of the weekend were close and showed how well the FCS can compete, the Sharks’ shutout loss did not follow suit. Their FBS opponent, Toledo, only allowed 113 total yards by the LIU offense.

In 2021, LIU went 2-8 overall, continuing a streak of not having a winning season since joining the FCS in 2019. This season, the Sharks introduced new head coach Ron Cooper, who has had a significant amount of experience coaching alongside Nick Saban, the head coach of Alabama. 

Despite the lack of success in the LIU program, Villanova has struggled in the past against lesser opponents, and Cooper’s players have a bitter taste in their mouths after a discouraging start. While the score does not show it, the Sharks’ defense put on a great performance against Toledo last week, including only allowing two field goals until the later part of the first half. As Toledo went up 20-0, the LIU defense held the Rockets offense scoreless in the third quarter. Also, safety Victor Nelson Jr. for the Sharks swatted a touchdown pass and recorded an interception. 

On the offensive side, LIU utilized all three quarterbacks on Saturday, which include a graduate transfer and two freshmen. Graduate transfer Derek Green took care of the first half while freshmen Luca Stanzani and Maurice Smith got touches in the second. Only 68 total passing yards were recorded by the quarterbacks. The use of all three quarterbacks will be helpful for the Sharks as they try to develop skill sets in their offense and get it to its peak performance.

While this game has no conference implications for the ‘Cats, it will be important to capitalize on the opportunity of a lighter game for several reasons, the first being that Villanova is still in the national spotlight and a major contender for the national championship. Ranked sixth in the most recent poll, ‘Nova needs to win the games it is expected to. The second reason for seizing the opportunity comes as the Wildcats go on the road for the first time this season as they begin a two game stretch. The game as a visitor comes Sept. 17 at FBS opponent Army. Keeping morale high going into a difficult matchup will be key for Villanova, and it is very common to see teams too focused on the week ahead.

The matchup against the Sharks will kick off at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Brookville, New York.