Daniel Smith dropped back. Wide receiver Changa Hodge had broken free of coverage and created about two feet of space from the cornerback. If the ball was underthrown, it was going to be incomplete or intercepted. There was no safety help.
Smith threw the ball about 40 yards and dropped it into Hodge’s hands right in stride for an 82-yard, second-quarter touchdown. The explosive play was one of many for the duo as Villanova defeated Delaware, 55-33, on Saturday.
“It feels good when you have a guy that can throw the ball right into your pocket and you don’t have to make the tough catch all the time,” Hodge said.
The touchdown pass and reception was the longest of Smith’s and Hodge’s careers, respectively.
Smith and Hodge struck again in the third quarter. Hodge was single-covered and Smith dropped it in his arms again for a 43-yard touchdown. Hodge finished with eight catches, 236 yards and four touchdowns. He is the first Villanova receiver to top 200 yards since Brian Finneran in 1996, and the first with three touchdowns in a game since 2010. He also became the first Villanova receiver to top 1,000 yards in a season since Murle Sango in 1999.
“It feels good when you put all the work in, finally come out on top and have a game like this,” Hodge said. “I’m just going to continue to keep working and hopefully top this.”
Hodge enjoyed a big day thanks to Smith’s precise passes. The junior quarterback completed his first 11 passes and finished 17-of-24 with 378 yards and five passing touchdowns. He was nine yards short of his season-high of 387, which came on 47 passing attempts against James Madison.
Smith also had six carries for 44 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown run was his team-leading 11th of the season. Smith finishes the regular season with 42 total touchdowns.
“I think we’ve a stride on offense not only throwing the ball, but running the ball, which helps in the air,” Smith said. “When you got someone like Changa catching and making plays, it makes my life a lot easier.”
It was the Wildcats’ best offensive performance of the season. They moved the ball at will and scored touchdowns on five-of-six drives in the first half. Villanova started the third quarter with a punt, but they scored on the following two drives before taking out the starters.
“Today, we knew if we got them in certain situations and got Changa singled up with their corner, we could take advantage of his ability to win one-on-one matchups," Smith said.
Defensively, the Wildcats were missing linebacker Drew Wiley and safety Nowoola Awopetu. Wiley was the conference’s defensive player of the week and Awopetu was the special teams player of the week, both against Richmond.
Villanova forced two turnovers and limited the Blue Hens’ offense, despite giving up 525 yards. Freshman defensive back Isas Waxter led the Wildcats with seven tackles, and Jaquan Amos recorded his team-leading fourth interception on a deflected pass.
“We’re starting to get guys back," coach Mark Ferrante said. “Drew will be back. He’s ready to get back into practice when we get back in on Tuesday.”
The win gives Villanova eight consecutive over their archrival, but the game had bigger implications, too. The Wildcats have all but assured themselves a position in the FCS playoffs. A 22-point win is convincing and could increase their chances of a first-round bye.
“In reality everybody talks about it, but that’s not our mentality. Our mentality is to come in, play our hardest, and get the job done,” Hodge said. “That’ll speak for itself when the committee chooses who will get in.”