The old college football cliché of “On Any Given Saturday” was on full display this past weekend as the Coastal Athletic Association witnessed a ton of upsets from both inside and outside of conference play. There is no longer a clear-cut favorite emerging in the CAA now and it is quite evident that any team in the league can beat the other each week.
The biggest surprise of the day was Elon knocking off defending champion and #4 ranked William & Mary 14-6 in a game which the W&M defense had pretty much controlled up until the fourth quarter when the Phoenix hit on two big pass plays to knock off the Tribe in an important early season matchup. Grad transfer quarterback Matt Downing completed 14-20 passes for 187 yards and 2 touchdowns for the win despite an Elon defense that gave up over 300 yards rushing.
Towson State, who’s offense had been suspect for most of early part of the season, came out firing on all cylinders against New Hampshire to pull off the other big upset in the CAA in a wild 54-51 overtime shootout. This game went back and forth all day long in a dazzling offensive display with the two teams combining for 1,029 yards in total offense. Towson quarterback Nathan Kent threw five touchdown passes and Devin Matthews ran for 114 yards and scored the winning touchdown.
Campbell suffered a fatal case of déjà vu in their game against North Carolina Central last Saturday night. A year ago, the Camels had an 18-point halftime lead over N.C. A&T before the Aggies put up 35 points in the second half to pull away for a homecoming comeback win.
At NCCU last week, Campbell went up again big in the first half, cruising to a 35-7 lead by the midway point of the second quarter. However, the Eagles put up 35 straight points from that point forward as Camels would not score again until just over a minute remaining and then avoided a missed NCCU field goal attempt as time ran out in regulation. Both teams put up TDs in the overtime, but Campbell had their PAT attempt blocked while the Eagles nailed theirs to seal a remarkable 49-48 come from behind win in Durham.
Hampton has been on a roll this season and the that roll picked up even more momentum as the Pirates went on the road and blasted a rapidly fading Richmond team 31-14. Quarterback Chris Zellous is making a very strong case for all conference recognition as he completed 24-34 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns.
Rhode Island got back on track after a couple of tough road losses as they broke open a close ball game wide open just before halftime and outclassed Bryant 49-26 behind Quarterback Kasim Mitchell’s passing efforts as he went 19-33 for 332 yards and 3 TD’s.
Making his first career start, freshman quarterback Kevin White ran for 115 yards and 2 TD’s and added 98 yards through the air as North Carolina A&T held off Norfolk State, 28-26, for their first victory of the season. Kenji Christian picked up a team-high 118 yards and 2 TD’s on the ground for the Aggies, while linebacker B.J. Turner had a huge game defensively with 19 tackles and 2.5 TFL’s.
There will be several interesting CAA contests this weekend as some teams who weren’t picked very high in the preseason are making a lot of noise as we near the midway point of the season while others who were early conference favorites are looking to rebound from disappointing performances.
CAA Football TV Schedule Week 6 – 10/7/23
Rhode Island at Brown 12:00pm ESPN+
William & Mary at Virginia 12:00pm ACCN s
Campbell at Hampton 2:00pm FloSports
NC Central at Elon 2:00pm FloSports/WMYV-48
Duquesne at Delaware 3:00pm FloSports/NBCS PHI
Maine at Richmond 3:30pm FloSports
UAlbany at Towson 4:00pm FloSports
Villanova at North Carolina A&T 4:00pm FloSports
A huge weight was taken off the shoulders of both a very young North Carolina A&T football team as well as first-year head coach Vincent Brown and his coaching staff as A&T outplayed an above average Norfolk State for three and half quarters before holding on for a 28-26 win on the road.
For the most part the Aggies more than held their own against an improved and surging NSU squad who had knocked off both Hampton and Towson State of the CAA in consecutive weeks on the road. Logically, the Spartans came into the A&T game as a pronounced favorite to make it three in a row against an A&T which had struggled mightily to both move the ball all season long. Up until last Saturday there had been nothing seen on any game film that would have indicated otherwise.
In the first three games Brown had shuffled his two upperclassmen quarterbacks, if that could be said about a redshirt sophomore and a redshirt freshman, receiving very little in the way of production or consistency. With two weeks to prepare because of a bye, there was a decision made to go in an entirely different direction by giving true freshman KJ White an opportunity to see what he could do.
Although White didn’t drop any eye-popping numbers through the airways but he played within himself going a 6-10 for modest 98 yards completing some key third downs that kept drives alive and kept the defense honest enough. Where White did his real damage was really in the run game with foot speed on designed QB runs and a few scrambles that resulted in 110 yards rushing on the day including a pair scintillating touchdowns runs of 65 and 40 yards.
The youngster stayed calm and composed nearly all afternoon while letting the game to come to him before picking his moments, a quality that had not been seen from the QB position up until now. And while White still has a lot to learn about transitioning from being a hot shot high school QB to playing at the D-1 level, neither the speed of the game or being thrust into the spotlight and under a microscope early on proved to be a problem and that fact, in and of itself, are huge steps in the player development for any QB, new or old.
Now keep in mind this was only one football game and while Aggie Nation was excited to get that first win of the season, A&T’s football fortunes are far from being at the level it needs to be it hits into the meat of its conference schedule. The new road that A&T is on now is light years different from what it experienced in the MEAC and The Big South. There are no gimmies anywhere on the remaining schedule. None. Don’t believe it then go ask W&M, New Hampshire, or Richmond.
With an Aggie team composed of 14 juniors, 30 sophomores and 47 freshmen it’s really going to be a week-to-week, game-by-game, play-by-play exercise through the rest of the season and A&T fans need to understand the reality of that situation and adjust their expectations accordingly. Don’t get me wrong, winning games is always at the top of the list, but I wouldn’t go making plans for postseason playoff trips, at least maybe not this year.
Villanova is in town, and this is going to be a real test to see what lessons were learned from last week and to see if the offensive spark against Norfolk will carry over against a senior laden team that is demonstratively better than the Spartans. Just two years ago many of these Wildcat players were part of an FCS quarterfinal team that knocked off a powerful James Madison program at home.
Make no mistake. Villanova is a big play offensive team that makes a living off hitting those plays for large chunks of yardage. As Brown mentioned earlier in his weekly press conference, they like to spread you out, isolate, and take their shots downfield.
Connor Watson (6-3, 225, Gr.) is about as dangerous as they come among dual threat QB, and he has an extremely talented group of wide receivers he can go to at any time. And while their running game doesn’t as much notoriety, they have a couple of running backs that can run through and out of tackles.
Defensively the Wildcats are a lot like A&T, somewhat undersized up front so they counter their lack of size by incorporating a swarming defense out of their uncharacteristic 3-3-5 alignment. They will bring plenty of edge pressure and a variety of run blitz packages to help in all out attempt to stop the A&T running game and to force White into making mistakes. You can bet that they are going to try make the freshman beat them with his arm and not his feet. The key for A&T will be to not give big plays while not allowing itself to be gouged by the running game because of over respecting Villanova’s passing attack.
Offensively, the key oddly enough will be A&T’s pass protection because Nova will sell out on the run as they won’t be looking for a lot out the passing game with a freshman QB under center. There will be matchups and open opportunities to catch the Wildcats cheating up or leaving receivers free in the seams if, and it’s a big if, the passes gotten out quickly and accurately.
It’s a late afternoon game this week at 4 p.m. which is a bit unusual in Greensboro, but it is my understanding that this is Flo Sports featured CAA Game of the Week thus accounting for the odd start time. Odd time or not, dress warmly for your favorite tailgate as temps will stay in the low the mid-60’s but will drop dramatically once the sun disappears into the low 50s and perhaps lower.
So, can A&T pull the upset tomorrow against a very good Villanova squad? It’s possible. Villanova is solid in most respects, but they have had some trouble containing power running teams and getting off the field in third and shorts. The explosive tempo offense can be very potent, but it can also be prone to mistakes and turnovers as it was last week against Albany with three turnovers and six sacks in a 31-14 loss that got them booted out of the FCS Top 25.
Is it likely? Probably not given the youth versus experience differential between the two teams but no one thought A&T would put up 28 offensive unit points last week after scoring just 16 in their first three games. Villanova should be the heavy favorite but winning is hard enough and even more so when you play an opponent that you are unfamiliar with on their home turf.
Should be a good chess match.
Villanova – 28
N.C. A&T – 24