Villanova junior running back Justin Covington is out for the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee on Oct. 5 against William & Mary. He is scheduled for surgery on Friday.

Covington was the Colonial Athletic Association’s leading rusher, with 722 yards, and averaged 121.2 yards per game this season. A backup last season, he has 1,278 yards rushing in 28 career games.

The Wildcats’ offense scored more than 30 points in each of the six games in which Covington played this season.

With Covington out of action last Saturday, Villanova had a nearly insurmountable task against James Madison. The Wildcats had to go to JMU and beat the No. 2-ranked FCS team without their best offensive playmaker.

As expected, the Wildcats struggled to run the ball. DeeWil Barlee, TD Ayo-Durojaiye, and Rayoun Pringle combined for 20 carries and just 47 yards.

Villanova entered the fourth quarter with a 24-17 lead. However, four late turnovers, including a pick-six, led to the Dukes’ securing a 38-24 win.

“You’re not going to beat anybody if you have four turnovers to zero, most times. Every now and then that will occur but not when you’re playing the No. 2 team in the country,” Villanova coach Mark Ferrante said.

Villanova running back Justin Covington against Maine earlier this season. LOU RABITO / Staff
LOU RABITO / Staff
Villanova running back Justin Covington against Maine earlier this season. LOU RABITO / Staff

Ferrante jokingly said he wished this week’s bye had come a week earlier, but it’s still happening at an opportune time.

The players are getting most of the bye week off from practice and also will be on fall break, allowing them to get a physical and mental rest.

“A lot of guys actually went home for three or four days,” Ferrante said.

The bye week also provided time for the unfortunate update on Covington’s status.

Jalen Jackson could also become a bigger factor in the Wildcats running game. He didn’t have a rush attempt against James Madison, but the sophomore has 217 rushing yards this season.

And quarterback Daniel Smith could throw the ball even more with Covington sidelined. His 47 pass attempts against James Madison were a season high.

The high volume of pass attempts resulted in three interceptions, the same number Smith threw in the first six games combined.

The Wildcats may no longer have the conference’s leading rusher, but they have positioned themselves to finish the season with an opportunity to receive a strong playoff seeding. After starting the season with five of their first seven games on the road, they’ll finish with four of five at home.

“If anyone would have said we’d be 6-1 at the bye, I think all of us would take that,” Ferrante said.

Justin Covington, center, of Villanova avoids Pete Haffner of Lehigh for a long gain against Lehigh during the first half of on Sept. 7, 2019.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Justin Covington, center, of Villanova avoids Pete Haffner of Lehigh for a long gain against Lehigh during the first half of on Sept. 7, 2019.