‘Cats weather the storm, defeat Rams before bye

Nathan McGann

If members of the Villanova football team had their way, they might elect to forgo the bye week and continue playing. A week after shutting out James Madison on the road, the Wildcats returned to the Main Line for Homecoming and trounced an inexperienced Rhode Island squad coached by former Villanova defensive coordinator Joe Trainor 36-7.

The team that took the field on Saturday is nothing like the one that lost to New Hampshire two weeks ago. Since the defeat at the hands of the “other” Wildcats, Villanova has raised its level of play on both offense and defense. The defense, which has faced some adversity due to injuries in the secondary, has allowed only one touchdown, a late score by the Rams, and a measly seven total points since the loss. The offense, meanwhile, has registered 63 total points and has made it look easy.

“The New Hampshire game was a wake-up call for us,” said junior linebacker Terence Thomas, who finished with six tackles and a sack. “We came into that game with big heads. We thought we would win easily, but we didn’t. After that game, we were determined not to let that happen again.”

The Rams defense was no match for Villanova’s prolific offense. The virtual monsoon didn’t do much either. Holding the ball for more than 36 minutes, the Wildcats notched exactly 500 yards of total offense, including a staggering 376 yards on the ground, the third time they’ve eclipsed the 300-yard rushing mark this season.

Junior quarterback Chris Whitney carried the ball 17 times for 124 yards, while junior running back Aaron Ball added another 99 yards on 14 carries. Ball rushed effectively in the first-half, scoring on a 4-yard rush midway through the second quarter, before limping off the field just before the end of the half. He would return in the second half of play but was clearly hampered. Asked about the feel of what seemed like an easy victory, Whitney wasn’t shy.

“I’m definitely sore,” Whitney said. “I took some shots.”

Junior wide receiver Matt Szczur was the story early for the Wildcats. Taking the snap in Villanova’s version of the Wildcat offense, Szczur leapt over the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown to put the Wildcats on the board. Then, with 3:41 remaining in the second quarter, Szczur showed exactly why opposing defenses fear the quirky formation. After taking the direct snap, Szczur faked a run and then dropped back, throwing a perfect 4-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Mikey Reynolds. That score put Villanova up 21-0 and proved to be the striking blow to the Rams.

Whitney’s show through the air was yet another efficient performance. He finished with 121 passing yards on 11-of-15 completions and a touchdown. Whitney did throw an interception, but the turnover proved inconsequential against a Rams offense that looked lost at times. Rams quarterback Chris-Paul Etienne had no answer for Villanova’s swarming defense.

Villanova held the Rams offense to only 151 total yards, including a meager 30 rushing yards. Their only score of the contest came in their first drive of the second half. Etienne threw a very nice pass to the corner of the endzone that was caught by receiver Ty Bynum. It was the only bright spot on a very long day for the Rams.

“They don’t beat themselves,” Trainor said. “They’re definitely the cream of the crop. They’re building off of what they did last year, and I’m sure they’re going to make a run at the national championship.”

After Villanova scored once again in the fourth quarter, junior kicker John Nelson was called on to kick the extra point, keeping redshirt freshman kicker Nick Yako on the sidelines in the torrential rain. Nelson’s kick was blocked, but junior tight end Chris Farmer picked up the loose ball and ran it in for a two-point conversion.

The good fortune on that play nicely summed up the very one-sided match. Senior wideout Brandyn Harvey tallied seven receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown in a relatively quiet day for receivers. The win was number 200 for Head Coach Andy Talley. He becomes one of only 56 coaches in the history of collegiate football to reach thismilestone.

Villanova will rest during its bye week before its showdown with top-ranked Richmond on Nov. 7 at 3:30 p.m., who the Wildcats upset last season at Villanova Stadium.