FB Preview: ‘Cats get big test early vs. Terps

Tim Richer

Big matchup to open the season

The Wildcats begin their ’07 campaign on Saturday by traveling south to Byrd Stadium at the University of Maryland. The Terrapins will be ‘Nova’s lone Football Bowl Series (formerly Division I-A) opponent of the year. Maryland finished 9-4 in 2006, including a 5-3 record in the powerful Atlantic Coast Conference. The Terrapins struggled late in the season with blowout loses to Boston College and Wake Forest.

Villanova is coming off a 6-5 season against a much lighter schedule, ending the season strong by rallying with four straight victories. Last season, both the ‘Cats and the Terps played William & Mary of the Atlantic 10; Maryland defeated the Tribe 27-14 at home, while Villanova defeated its conference foe on the road, 35-31.

When Villanova has the ball

Villanova enters the season with red-shirt sophomore Antwon Young at the quarterback position. Young, standing 6 feet 4 inches tall, is known as a mobile quarterback with the ability to create plays. He spent the entire ’06 season on the sidelines as an understudy to fifth-year senior Marvin Burroughs, a leader with a skill set similar to Young.

The Wildcats will be sure to rely on senior tri-captain Matt Dicken to generate offense in the running game. In 2006, Dicken led ‘Nova with 11 rushing touchdowns and added 432 rushing yards.

Should the offensive line provide Young with time in the pocket, he will be throwing to a talented receiving corps. Leading the group is senior tri-captain Matt Sherry, the starting tight end.

In addition to Sherry, Young will rely on wide receivers Anton Ridley, Phil Atkinson and Brandyn Harvey. All four pass catchers demonstrated big-play ability in 2006 by averaging over 12 yards-per-catch a piece. Each also completed a play of at least 35 yards or more during the season.

The Terrapins will counter the Wildcats’ offensive attack with a defense full of NFL prospects in a 3-4 set. Leading their unit is linebacker Erin Henderson, who led the Terps in 2006 with 114 tackles. Henderson, an All-American candidate, was elected to the All-ACC second team in 2006.

Look for Villanova’s inexperienced offensive line to have trouble with Maryland’s veteran defensive line. Junior defensive end Jeremy Navarre and senior lineman Dre Moore figure to attack ‘ Nova’ s Young all day. Navarre tied for a team lead in sacks in 2006, so Villanova can expect more of the same from the Maryland pass-rusher in this game.

The key to the Wildcats offense on Saturday will be to utilize the passing game. Even though Young and Dicken are strong runners, the Terps 3-4 defense features too much size and speed for the ‘Cats’ inexperienced offensive line and will cause problems all day in the Villanova running game. Young will have to make plays with his arm in order for the Wildcats to rack up points.

When Maryland has the ball

The strength of the Villanova defense will be its defensive ends. Junior tri-captain David Dalessandro is ‘Nova’s biggest threat; he tied for the team lead in sacks in 2006 while adding 46 tackles. The other end will be a combination of junior Damian Kelley and highly touted sophomore Greg Miller.

Maryland will counter Villanova with a strong offensive line. Andrew Crummey, the Terps starting right guard, is a preseason All-American who figures to dominate the game. Joining Crummey on the line will be four players who have experience starting games for the Terrapins. Expect the matchup between the ‘Nova offensive line and Maryland’s defensive line to be a slugfest.

The Terps enter the game with a quandary at the quarterback position. They have spent their offseason attempting to fill the vacancy left by Sam Hollenbach, the Terps senior quarterback in 2006 who threw for 15 touchdowns. It looks like junior Jordan Steffy will start the game, although transfer Josh Portis from the University of Florida figures to take some of the snaps. Neither has much playing experience.

Villanova’s linebackers will have their hands full as they look to contain the strongest unit that Maryland has to offer. Seniors Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore combine to create one of the strongest running duos in all of college football. In 2006, Ball ran for 815 rushing yards, while Lattimore ran for 743 against the grueling schedule that the Terrapins faced.

Perhaps Villanova’s shakiest unit on defense will be its secondary. It does bring back the team’s leading returning tackler, safety Zach Mariacher, who completed 63 tackles in 2006. Joining Mariacher will be Derek Durkin at cornerback, a hard-nosed player who finished last season with 44 tackles. Reliable senior Eugene Clay and first-time starter Justin Murrell rounds out the ‘Nova secondary that will have to find a way to replace the loss of All-Conference safety Allyn Bacchus.

Maryland features a strong group of receivers that returns all of its top guns from 2006. Leading the pack is Darrius Heyward-Bey, a 2006 freshman All-American who gained 694 receiving yards. Joining Heyward-Bey is tight end Joey Haynos, one of the top tight ends in the ACC. Juniors Danny Oquendo and Isaiah Williams are also deep threats for the Terps.

While Villanova appears to have a strong defense, it will have trouble with Ball and Lattimore. The duo dominated the ACC last season and should do the same against a defense that has never faced competition of this level. In order for the Wildcats to be successful, they will have to take advantage of the Terps new quarterback Steffy and force him to make mistakes.

Tough time against

the big guns

Recent history has shown that Villanova has had a difficult time with its FBS opponents. In the last two seasons, the Wildcats have been outscored by their FBS counterparts 73-22. This includes losses at Central Florida in 2006 and Rutgers in 2005.

Maryland, hailing from one of the better conferences in the country, will expect a result similar to its FBS peers. It would take an outstanding, yet unlikely, effort for Villanova to be competitive in this game.