Coming into this unprecedented spring football season, Colonial Athletic Association coaches knew there would be added importance on every game.
Only six games are scheduled and just 16 teams will qualify for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs instead of 24.
Saturday’s noon CAA game between 2-1 UMaine and 1-1 16th-ranked Villanova on Morse Field in Orono’s Alfond Stadium has taken on even more meaning.
Albany has canceled the rest of its season and six conference games have now been postponed over the last four weeks. That includes last weekend’s Villanova contest against New Hampshire that was called off because of a COVID-19 outbreak at UNH.
Villanova also was slated to play Albany on April 10.
UMaine head coach Nick Charlton emphasized that his team can’t put additional stress on itself by worrying about big-picture things it can’t control.
“You can’t do something you wouldn’t normally do. You have to take it one game at a time,” he said. “You have to execute, eliminate human error, communicate and focus on the fundamentals that we talk about every week.”
UMaine and sophomore quarterback Joe Fagnano, who has thrown four touchdown passes in each of his last two games, goes against a Villanova team that hasn’t given up a passing TD.
Fagnano is from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, located 177 miles from the Villanova campus. Wildcats coaches talked to him in recruiting, but didn’t offer him a scholarship.
Villanova coach Mark Ferrante is fully aware of Fagnano’s resume. He has completed 46 of 81 passes for 560 yards and eight TDs this spring.
“He had a heck of a finish to the 2019 season and has been pretty impressive this spring as well,” Ferrante said. “He was able to spend more time in the film room last fall and on the mental aspect of his game and he has taken advantage of it in understanding what they want to do offensively.”
Villanova has won five of the last six meetings with UMaine. Charlton said a recurring theme was Villanova’s ability to win the turnover battle, do a better job in the red zone and make more big plays.
“They’re one of the best teams on our schedule. If we can protect the ball and play well in situations and in the red zone, we’ll put ourselves in a good spot,” Charlton said.
UMaine’s inexperienced secondary, led by junior Rich Carr, has been a pleasant surprise. It helped limit Albany and Stony Brook to a 40.9 percent completion rate and 255 total passing yards.
The Black Bears will be tested by Daniel Smith and the conference’s top passing attack (210.5 yards per game).
Smith threw for 3,274 yards and 35 TDs in 2019. Justin Covington is averaging 8.9 yards per carry and the Wildcats defense will be bolstered by the return from injury of linebacker Forrest Rhyne.
Villanova is holding opponents to a 17.6 percent success rate on third down, which ranks second in the FCS ranks.