FBALL Preview: Villanova eyes revenge, semifinal berth




After winning its first postseason game since 2002, No. 6 Villanova will face No. 1 James Madison in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs on Saturday.

The Wildcats dominated Colgate 55-28 in their first-round matchup last weekend, improving to 10-2 on the season. They will be looking to avenge their heartbreaking regular-season loss to the CAA-best Dukes (11-1), who edged Wofford by a field goal last weekend to secure their 11th-consecutive victory of the season and advance to the quarterfinals.

Villanova has not lost a game since falling to James Madison on a last-second touchdown pass when the two teams met on Oct. 25 at Villanova Stadium. A win for the Wildcats on Saturday would put them in the semifinals for the first time since 2002 when they lost to McNeese State.

The Dukes, meanwhile, have now made it to the postseason in three consecutive years, though last Saturday’s victory over Wofford was their first playoff win since 2004, when they won the NCAA Division I-AA national title.


Villanova’s offensive success against Colgate was due mainly to the dominance of its rushing game. Sophomore running back Aaron Ball led the Wildcats with 92 rushing yards and two touchdowns. However, nine other players also got chances to run the ball, racking up 386 yards on the ground as a team. The Wildcats’ 44 rush attempts heavily outweighed sophomore quarterback Chris Whitney’s seven pass attempts. Though few, Whitney was efficient with them, completing five for 86 yards and a touchdown.

Whitney may be asked to throw the ball more this weekend against the Dukes, however, as the James Madison defense will no doubt have noticed the success the Wildcats had running the ball and will focus on shutting down that aspect of their game. Expect a more even ratio between run and pass plays this weekend from Head Coach Andy Talley, as Villanova faces a JMU defense that can defend both capably.

If Whitney can complete some passes early in the game and force more of the Dukes’ defenders back into coverage, the Wildcat rushing attack should pick up steam as the game progresses.


On the defensive side of the ball, the Wildcats’ main focus will be to stop the punishing James Madison ground game. The Dukes have run the ball 583 times this season and thrown it only 181, so the Villanova defenders will know what to expect when it comes to JMU’s play calling. The problem, however, will lie in stopping it. The Dukes’ top three rushers (senior quarterback Rodney Landers and tailbacks sophomore Griff Yancey and senior Eugene Holloman) each average over five yards per carry and have pretty much had their way with opposing defenses all year.

Though the CAA-best Wildcat defense gave up over 200 rushing yards to Colgate last weekend (more than double its average yards per game allowed this season), that performance was influenced by the fact that the team was up 41-7 by halftime, so clearly the second half of that game was not its best display of football.

Still, Villanova will have to be ready to play hard on every down when it faces JMU, as the Wildcats must put a stop to the long, relentless rushing drives that the Dukes have been able to put together all season.


The James Madison offense thrives off an almost exclusively rushing attack that centers on Holloman, Landers and Yancey. These three players have combined for 2,889 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns this season, giving the Dukes the top rushing and scoring offense in the CAA.

Though their run-favored play calling has them last in the CAA in passing offense, Landers has still managed to throw for 1,362 yards and 18 touchdowns. This senior leader is the key for the Dukes’ offensive success, as his ability to create scoring opportunities both with his running and passing causes huge problems for opposing defenses. He will be the main focus of Villanova’s defensive game plan, and his ability to guide his offense past the CAA’s top-ranked rush defense will be a major factor in determining the outcome of the game.


Ranking fourth in the CAA against both the rush and the pass, the James Madison defense is an all-around solid unit. It allowed the second-fewest total yards in the league this season, allowing just over 300 per game. The unquestionable leader of the Dukes’ defense is senior free safety Marcus Haywood, who leads the team with 95 tackles and four interceptions.

JMU will be looking to hold the Wildcat offense in check after surviving a scare in the first round of the playoffs against Wofford when they allowed 35 points – about two touchdowns over its season average.

Look for the James Madison defenders, especially players such as junior defensive tackle Sam Daniels and junior defensive end Arthur Moats, who lead the team in tackles for loss with 12 and 10.5, respectively, to focus on stopping Ball, who ran for over 100 yards when the two teams met during the regular season.

If the James Madison defense can pressure Whitney into making some bad throws and prevent Ball from moving the chains, it can keep its offense on the field to eat up the clock and keep the game out of Villanova’s control.


Following their high-scoring first-round victories, both Villanova and James Madison will be looking to improve on their defensive performances, so expect a lower scoring game than each team had last week.

The matchup will also be a physical one, as each team has excelled at running the ball this season as well as at defending against the rush.

Furthermore, the contest will have a bit of a personal twist to it, as the teams have already met once this year. The Wildcats lost on a devastating last-second pass to the No. 1 Dukes at Villanova Stadium on Homecoming Weekend during the regular season, and they would like nothing better than to return the favor and end James Madison’s one-loss season with an upset at Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg, Va.

To do so, however, the Wildcats will have to dig in against the Dukes’ relentless rush, and keep Landers and his offense off the field. If they can do this, the motivation of avenging the loss and the natural intensity that comes with any playoff game might just give Villanova the extra drive to pull off the upset.

Villanova 24, James Madison 17