Friday at 7:00 p.m.
Rhodes Stadium in Elon, N.C.
UNH is 3-2; Elon is 2-3
The Wildcats ran for 235 yards on the Phoenix defense in last year’s meeting between the two teams. Senior running back Dalton Crossan ran for 140 of those yards on a day where he scored a career-high four rushing touchdowns in the first half. This season Elon has the worst run defense in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), allowing 209.8 yards per game to opponents, giving UNH an exceptional opportunity to dominate on the ground again.
The UNH rushing attack is more than just Crossan. Sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight is a threat to scramble on a broken pass play or run a read option with one of his backs. The Phoenix defense should see a lot of carries from the ‘Cats after head coach Sean McDonnell had his team rush 56 times last week against William & Mary, and 49 times the week before at Rhode Island. Junior Trevon Bryant will provide a spark off the bench for UNH, averaging 43.2 yards per game to assist Crossan’s efforts.
UNH rushing attack
The trio of Crossan, Bryant and Knight has combined for 93.7 percent of the Wildcats’ rushing offense in 2016. With the Elon defense struggling against the run, there’s a big opportunity for the trio to run wild. The Phoenix conceded 283-yards rushing to the Villanova Wildcats last week at home, in a 42-7 loss. The UNH rushing offense is ranked fourth in the CAA this season and Crossan is a big reason why, leading the Wildcats in rushing in every game through five weeks.
UNH passing offense
With the return of Rory Donovan and Jordan Powell, Knight will have various playmakers around him on Friday night. Neil O’Connor and Malik Love have produced with them out, but the need for size is still there. Expect Knight to look to O’Connor and Love in the short passing game, as well as Crossan, and to Powell or Donovan for the bigger plays downfield and in the red zone. Knight has thrown for 722 yards and seven touchdowns thus far this season.
Elon rushing attack
Elon ranks last in the CAA in rushing offense, averaging 115.4 yards per game. After struggling against the run in 2015, the Wildcats defense has been much improved, ranking third in the conference in yards allowed on the ground. Senior linebackers DeVaughn Chollette and captain Ryan Farrell are a big reason for the improvement, with 32 and 23 tackles respectively, as well as first-year starters at defensive tackle Rick Holt and Ryan Sosnak.
Elon passing offense
Sophomore quarterback Connor Christiansen was hurt on opening weekend for Elon and was replaced by classmate Daniel Thompson. Thompson has thrown every pass except for five since then and will start for the Phoenix Friday night. Thompson has struggled in his five games, throwing for a mere 145.6 yards per game and two touchdowns. Elon has two true freshman playmakers at the wide receiver position, Cole Taylor and Jeremiah Bridges, who will look to break out against UNH.
Impact Player: Jordan Powell
The Wildcats return their most dangerous receiving threat from last year, senior tight end Jordan Powell, after serving a five-game suspension. In 2015, Powell compiled 46 receptions, 461 yards and five touchdowns, leading UNH in the latter two.
The starting wide receivers for the Wildcats, O’Connor and Love, are both under six feet tall and a tall receiving threat has been missing from the offense in Powell’s absence. Sophomore 6’-5” wide receiver Rory Donovan filled that role against Holy Cross but has been sidelined with an injury that he’s expected to return from against Elon. Powell, 6-foot 3-inches and 244 pounds, will return to a tight end rotation that has one reception through the first five games.
Last season in Durham, Powell caught five passes for 48 yards and one touchdown against the Phoenix, a game where UNH led 34-0 in the second quarter and won 37-14.