FB Preview: Wildcats to host No. 1 Spiders

David Cassilo

The Villanova Wildcats last week were given all they could handle from the Pennsylvania Quakers. However, despite a sloppy game in which it threw four interceptions, Villanova was able to overcome its mistakes and prevail in overtime. This week, Villanova cannot afford to make the same mistakes against Richmond that it did against Penn, or else the Wildcats will find themselves in a big hole. The Spiders are the No. 1-ranked team in all of FCS and are the team to beat in the CAA. Hosting such a talented team gives Villanova an excellent opportunity to get a marquee win that would put the program back on the national landscape.


Coming off an offensive explosion against Lehigh, the Wildcats expected to work at the same level of effectiveness against Penn. Despite their expectations, the game against the Quakers almost turned out to be a complete disaster for Villanova. Even with a win, the Wildcats’ last game raises several questions as they prepare for Richmond. The most obvious of these questions is: What will the team do at the quarterback position? Junior Antwon Young is coming off the worst game of his career, throwing four interceptions. It was the second time in three games this season he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, which is something he had never done before this season. Sophomore Chris Whitney relieved Young late in the game and led the Wildcats to the win in overtime with his 9-yard touchdown run. Young and Whitney play a similar style and can be interchanged with ease, so it will be interesting to see how Head Coach Andy Talley decides to use them.

As for the rest of the offense, the running game was also not successful against the Quakers. Sophomore Aaron Ball managed only 37 yards on 10 attempts, while his backfield counterpart, sophomore Angelo Babbaro, had five carries for 28 yards. Look for Villanova to try to run the ball more against the Spiders.


The Wildcat defense carried the team last weekend. So far this season, it has done a great job in creating turnovers. The final play of last weekend’s game was a forced fumble by senior defensive end David Dalessandro that was recovered by senior defensive back Salim Koroma. It was the third turnover Villanova had forced on the day. Through three games this season, the defense has forced an impressive six turnovers. Villanova also did a nice job defending the run last week, holding Penn to just 110 yards on 33 carries. So far this season, Villanova is second in the CAA in run defense. In order to upset Richmond, the defense must continue to force takeaways while also establishing consistent pressure in the Richmond backfield.


One of the big questions for Richmond entering the season was how the team would play on offense now that star running back Tim Hightower had left for the NFL. After back-to-back 44-point efforts against Towson and Maine, the answer is quite well. So far this season, the Spiders are averaging 29.2 points per game. They have been able to move the ball effectively and lead the conference in first downs this season. The offense is run by junior quarterback Eric Ward, who in his third season behind center has started off well, completing 62.5 percent of his passes, while throwing seven touchdowns and only two interceptions. Taking over for Hightower in the backfield is senior Josh Vaughan. The running back has averaged 4.8 yards per carry and has topped 100 yards twice this year in his four starts. The other standout performer on offense is sophomore wide receiver Kevin Grayson. The wideout has already amassed 322 receiving yards, including a 111-yard performance against Richmond’s only FBS opponent, Virginia.


As talented as the Spiders are on offense, it is their defense that has been the main reason behind their No. 1 ranking. The Spiders are ranked No. 1 within the Colonial Athletic Association in several defensive categories, such as points against (14.2), rushing yards against (53 yards per game), total defense and turnover margin (+11). Their star performer on defense thus far has been sophomore defensive back Justin Rogers. In four games, he already has three interceptions and four breakups, both of which lead the conference. Joining him in the secondary are juniors Derek Hatcher and David Horton, who both have two interceptions of their own. The front seven is led by sophomore linebacker Eric McBride, who leads the team with 26 tackles, and junior defensive lineman Pierre Turner whose two sacks lead the Spiders.


Richmond may prove to be the best team that Villanova will face all season in the Football Championship Subdivision. Its offense and defense are both among the best in both the conference and the nation. In order for the Wildcats to pull off the upset, they must not make careless decisions with the football. The Spiders have already forced 11 turnovers, and you cannot give a team this good any extra possessions. Also, Villanova must score touchdowns in the red zone, which is something it has struggled with early in the season. For Richmond, the team must sustain the run, air out the passing attack like its used to, and continue to go on long drives that will wear down the Wildcat defense.

Richmond 31, Villanova 23