Injuries may hinder No. 2 ‘Nova’s CAA title hopes against conference rival Delaware

David Cassilo

For months, the Villanova football team has been dreaming. Those dreams include a spot in the FCS playoffs, home field throughout the postseason and, most of all, a shiny CAA championship ring. With one win against perennial rival Delaware on Saturday, those longsought-after dreams can come true.

“It is everything you have ever wanted with your program,” said Head Coach Andy Talley.

While the perfect scenario is set up for Talley’s team on Saturday, a nightmare-ish word began to creep up all too often on its sidelines against Towson last week: injuries.

Among those forced to leave the game were junior running back Angelo Babbaro, senior center Brian Brannigan, junior linebacker Marquis Kirkland, sophomore wide receiver Norman White and junior linebacker Anthony Johnson.

However, the most crucial loss for the team may be junior quarterback Chris Whitney. He was removed from the game against Towson because the team had built such a large lead. Whitney began to complain that his shoulder was bothering him. After getting it checked out by doctors, Whitney may have to miss the game against Delaware.

“The doctor thinks it’s a nerve, so we have to see how he comes along this week,” Talley said on Monday. “Right now, he can’t throw.”

In the event that Whitney is unable to play, the Wildcats will turn to senior quarterback Antwon Young, the team’s former starter. In seven games this season, Young has thrown for 222 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, while also rushing for 199 yards and three touchdowns. The work that Young has done this season should prepared him for what he may face against Delaware.

“Young has played very well when we have put him into games,” Talley said. “He can run our offense and throw the ball terrifically. He could start for most teams in our league.”

One team that might disagree with that statement is Delaware, who has a talented quarterback in its own right. Under center for the Blue Hens is junior Pat Devlin, a transfer from Penn State who is making a strong case for the CAA Player of the Year in his first season with the team. In 10 games, Devlin has thrown for 2,257 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Although Devlin has excelled, the Blue Hens’ lack of a running game has hampered the team from exceeding expectations this season. The team has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry this season, leaving the team with an unbalanced offensive attack. Last week, however, Delaware racked up 176 yards on the ground, suggesting they may have finally found the rushing game they were looking for.

“They haven’t had a running game, and, all of a sudden, it appeared against Navy,” Talley said. “That is why they were in the game. There has been so much pressure on him to throw the ball. I’m sure they are going to come in thinking that we can run the ball and throw the ball.”

Delaware will be looking to find that balance to go for its seventh win of the season. Although it probably won’t be enough to make the postseason, Talley is certain that the Delaware coaching staff will make sure their team comes in thinking that possibility is still alive.

“I think their coach is telling [the players] that if they beat us, they have a shot to get into the playoffs at 7-4,” Talley said. “They are going to come in high. It is good that our players know that this team is shooting for a bid.”

The situation is similar to the game two seasons ago when Delaware came to Villanova Stadium as the team with title aspirations, and Villanova, fighting for a playoff bid, knocked off the Blue Hens 16-10.

Now that the roles are reversed, the Wildcats are focused to make sure the same result does not happen to them. A championship ring has been the team’s goal all season long.

“The championship in the best league in the country is really important,” Talley said. “The players have been talking about a ring for a long time.”

For Villanova the conference title would finally give the team some official recognition for what has been a successful last three seasons. After barely missing the playoffs in 2007, the Wildcats fell in the second round to No. 1 James Madison in last year’s postseason. This season the team sits at 9-1 and is ranked second in the country.

“It would be a reward over four years because we have been knocking on the door,” Talley said. “This run has been a very nice run for our program.”