The question was would Villanova be caught sleepwalking against a winless non-conference opponent on a Friday night at Villanova Stadium.
On the first play of the game against Long Island University, freshman running back DeeWil Barlee hit a massive hole and fumbled the ball without being touched. Villanova recovered, but went three-and-out. It was the ideal start for a trap game.
But if the Wildcats were sleepwalking, senior defensive lineman Tyler Will woke them up on the ensuing kickoff after Villanova took a 7-0 lead with 5 minutes, 48 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
As the kickoff rolled to the 15-yard line, LIU returner Ricky Conway took about four steps before being launched backward by Will, who raced to the sideline and was mobbed by his teammates.
The question was answered emphatically, and Villanova (8-3) cruised to a 35-7 victory over LIU (0-9).
And Will wasn’t done yet. After a second scoring drive, Will delivered another massive hit that excited the crowd. Again, he was mobbed on the sideline by teammates.
“Big hits always get the guys fired up, and I had a couple of fortunate opportunities to do that,” Will said.
“The coaches talk to us and they say plays make energy,” wide receiver Changa Hodge said. “When we see hits like that, it gets us going and we want to get out on the field and make plays.”
Will’s performance was part of a stellar day for the special teams. Elijah Solomon also had two blocked punts that led to short scoring drives.
“Other than the one drive they had, I think we did a good job and got a lot of guys an opportunity to get some game-time reps today,” Villanova coach Mark Ferrante said.
Senior quarterback Daniel Smith had a career day. He finished 15 of 22 with 201 yards and a career-high four touchdown passes. He also added another score on the ground.
The biggest beneficiary of Smith’s passes was Hodge, who finished with seven catches, 103 yards and two touchdowns. He has been the No. 1 target all season, so that’s not surprising.
However, an unexpected threat emerged against LIU. Tight end Simon Bingeli entered the game with 93 yards receiving this season. He scored his first touchdown on a six-yard touchdown pass, and also had a 20-yard catch across the middle where he showed off a flashy spin move.
“It was good to see Simon get some touches," Ferrante said. “We’ve been doing a great job of distributing it to a lot of different people.”
The Wildcats’ defense limited LIU to 182 yards and one score. The defense forced two turnovers, which included an interception from Nowoola Awopetu. Linebacker Forrest Rhyne led the Wildcats with 10 tackles.
“It definitely feels good to hold a college offense to under 200 yards,” Rhyne said. “The position that coach puts us in, we just do our job. It just feels really good to see the plan come through.”