Preview: ‘Nova hosts New Hampshire in another top 10 matchup


Villanova will host its third-straight Top 10 team this Saturday when the New Hampshire Wildcats bring their high-powered offense to Villanova Stadium. Villanova and New Hampshire, who share the Wildcat mascot, are currently ranked sixth and eighth in the FCS, respectively.

At 6-2, Villanova comes in off a road win against Northeastern and is tied with William & Mary for second place in the CAA’s South Division (behind James Madison). The 7-1 New Hampshire team, meanwhile, is working on a three-game win streak, including last weekend’s 45-25 rout of Hofstra at its home stadium in Durham, N.H. UNH is currently the top team in the North Division of the CAA.

The Villanova squad will be looking to avenge the last time these two Wildcat football teams met, which was in 2005 and resulted in a 45-17 New Hampshire victory in Durham.


Saturday’s contest will provide a unique test for the Villanova offense, as it will face a defense that is different from any other it has seen so far this season. UNH is strong against the run, ranking second in the CAA in rush defense, but weak against the pass, ranking dead last in that category. Therefore, Head Coach Andy Talley will certainly be tempted to turn away from his normally run-heavy game plans, turning instead to his passing attack.

Whitney will be looking for a better performance than he had last weekend, when he fumbled once and was intercepted twice against Northeastern. Phil Atkinson, meanwhile, who leads the team in receptions (35), receiving yards (397) and receiving touchdowns (4), will hope to build off his six-catch performance from last game. If Whitney and his receivers can connect early on in the game, forcing more UNH defenders back into coverage, it should open things up for the running game in the second half.


For Villanova to beat New Hampshire, its defense will have to step up and hold the highest-scoring offense in the CAA in check. UNH has a balanced offensive attack, and the number of rushing and passing plays they have called this season has been just about equal. However, UNH will be more likely to throw the ball this weekend when it faces Villanova’s CAA-best rush defense, which is allowing an average of just 89.2 yards per game.


There is no question that New Hampshire relies on its offense’s high scoring ability to win ball games. Averaging 38.4 points per game, the UNH team scores more points than anyone else in the CAA. Its balanced offensive attack, which favors neither the run nor the pass, is built around four main playmakers: sophomore quarterback R.J. Toman, senior running back Robert Simpson, senior wide receiver Mike Boyle and junior tight end Scott Sicko.

Toman has completed 70.2 percent of his passes this season and has thrown for an impressive 21 touchdowns. Simpson, though averaging fewer than 60 yards per game due to shared time with other backs, has scored five touchdowns and averages over five yards per carry. Boyle (44 catches this season) and Sicko (36 catches) haul in the majority of Toman’s passes, including seven touchdown receptions apiece. While Simpson may struggle against Villanova’s outstanding rush defense, look for Toman to repeatedly throw to Boyle and Sicko, as they have become his favorite targets. To obtain a victory, UNH must hope that Toman can find these two, as well as his other receivers, open downfield while still making smart throws to avoid interceptions, of which he has thrown seven so far this season.


New Hampshire’s defensive unit, on the other hand, is an odd combination of solid rush defense and weak pass defense. Its 116.1 rushing yards allowed per game is second-best only to Villanova, while its 257.8 passing yards allowed per game is the worst in the CAA. UNH’s most valuable asset on the defensive side of the ball, however, is its ability to force turnovers. The team has forced opponents to turn the ball over 23 times this season, a statistic that, compared with only 13 turnovers of its own, gives it the best turnover margin in the CAA. Whether or not the UNH defense can force Villanova to turn the ball over will be a key to their success, and this will depend largely on two defensive playmakers: sophomore defensive back Dino Vasso and junior defensive back Ryan Hinds.


The teams are similar in that their rush defenses are much stronger than their pass defenses, so expect pass-dominated offensive game plans from both coaches. There are two prominent differences between the teams, however, and both appear to give Villanova the edge: time of possession and strength of schedule. While Villanova is third in the CAA in time of possession (32:14), New Hampshire ranks last (26:43). This extra time of possession will allow Villanova to establish Ball and its powerful rushing game later in the contest against a fatigued UNH defensive line, keeping UNH’s explosive offense off the field. Strength of schedule, meanwhile, gives Villanova the experience of defending its home field against ranked opponents. Although UNH has lost only one game this season (against William & Mary), that was the only ranked opponent it has faced. While the game will be a hard-fought battle, look for the New Hampshire offense to come up well short of its 38.4 points per game average and for Whitney to have a great performance against the weak New Hampshire secondary.

‘Nova 24, UNH 21