‘Cats look to finish first half of season strong with win over Rams before bye week

Corey Marine

After a victory over James Madison last week, the Wildcats will face the CAA rival Rhode Island Rams for Villanova’s homecoming game this Saturday.

The Wildcats currently have the fourth longest active record for the most consecutive weeks ranked in the top 10 in the country.

“It is a really critical game because we just moved to No. 4 in the country, and we want to maintain that status with a win,” said Villanova Head Coach Andy Talley.

Many of ‘Nova’s players and coaching staff will recognize a familiar face on the opposing sideline. Former Villanova Defensive Coordinator Joe Trainer is now the Rhode Island head coach after four years with the ‘Cats.

Trainer’s team is struggling this season with a 1-5 record coming into this weekend. However, Talley still recognizes the importance of Saturday’s game.

“I’m sure he knows us well so he is going to come in very committed to having his players up. They can throw caution into the wind because they are 1-5 and playing the No. 4 team in the country. Trick plays, onside kicks and taking chances are all things that a 1-5 team can do when they play a team like us,” he said about facing his old defensive coordinator.

Villanova will try to build off of last week’s shut down defensive performance that left James Madison scoreless with two turnovers. ‘Nova’s defense has been solid all season, giving up less than two touchdowns a game, and should continue to play well Saturday.

The Rhode Island Rams come into Saturday’s game averaging 121.3 rushing yards and 187.7 passing yards per game. They struggled on the ground last week against Hofstra and could only muster 72 rushing yards. The passing attack managed 207 yards but failed to get into the end zone.

The Wildcats will have to pay special attention to junior quarterback Chris Paul-Etienne, who is a threat on the ground as well as in the air. He had 28 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown to go along with his 207 yards in the air, meaning he accounted for 235 of the Rams’ 279 yards of total offense.

Rhode Island’s defense has been porous this year and will have its work cut out for it against a high-powered Villanova offense. The Rams give up an average of 33.7 points per game, and the Wildcats average 30.6 points per game on offense.

Villanova’s offense is built around running the ball and controlling the clock. The ‘Cats come into the game averaging over 200 yards on the ground every game, compared to 147.7 yards passing. The three-headed rushing attack of junior quarterback Chris Whitney, Aaron Ball and Matt Szczur will look to impose its will on the Rhode Island defense.

Whitney does a great job of managing the game and can break long runs as well throw the ball deep. He completes 65.5 percent of his passes and rushes for 62.4 yards a game. If he plays well, the Villanova offense should prove to be too much for the Rams to handle, limiting the number of Rhode Island offensive possessions.

The Wildcats are looking into the future as well. The team goes into a bye week after Saturday’s game against Rhode Island before going on the road to face the No. 1 ranked Richmond Spiders.

“Afterwards we will have a chance for our players to heal a bit before we play No. 1 Richmond at their place,” Talley said. “It could be a very critical to determining what will happen the rest of the year, but nothing can happen now until we beat Rhode Island.”

The bye week is especially important. Linebacker Marquis Kirkland may be out for Saturday’s game with a high ankle sprain, and center Brian Brannigan may also avoid playing due to a sprained foot. The week off will be beneficial in giving the two starters time to get healthy before the pivotal matchup against Richmond.

Should Villanova earn a victory, the win would prove to be yet another milestone for the Wildcats’ already record-setting head coach. Talley currently stands at 199 career victories and entering the 200-win club would certainly make the bye-week even better.