Football Preview: Wildcats, Blue Hens renew annual rivalry in Villanova

Kyle Scudilla

Delaware Blue Hens atVillanova Wildcats

Saturday, 3:30 p.m.Villanova Stadium

The football season is down to its final week, and the Wildcats know what that means: a matchup with their archrivals, the Delaware Blue Hens. The ‘Cats are out of the playoff picture but have had a successful season, clinching their 10th winning season in the last 12 years. Motivation, however, will not be a problem with Villanova’s seniors, playing their final “Battle of the Blue.”

Where the Teams Stand

Villanova has been up and down its last six weeks, following a lose-one-week, win-the-next-week pattern since its early season three-game winning streak. The Wildcats won a low-scoring game at Towson by a score of 14-12 despite being shut out in the first half and playing without eight players due to suspensions. Villanova is 4-3 in the CAA this season and 6-4 overall heading into its final game of the ’07 season. No. 9 Delaware, meanwhile, was cooled off last week in the biggest game of its season with a 62-56 loss to Richmond at home. The Blue Hens had won their last three games, including a win over Navy three weeks ago. With the loss to the Spiders, however, Delaware fell behind Richmond for the CAA South Division lead. The team is currently 5-2 in the conference and 8-2 overall.

When Villanova has the ball

With the loss of Antwon Young midway through the season due to injury, the offense needed someone to step up in a big way and Matt Dicken has stepped up to answer the bell. The senior has turned in a fine season as one of the team’s most important contributors. Dicken gained 133 yards on the ground in last week’s win over Towson, including 103 yards in the second half when the ‘Cats made their big run. Dicken has tallied 788 yards on the ground and four touchdowns in 2007 and, with at least 76 yards against the Blue Hens, could double his total from last season.

Aaron Ball, who will be looking to replace the departing Dicken as the starting running back in 2008, made the most of his opportunities on Saturday afternoon. The sophomore picked up 46 yards on the ground on just eight carries and scored the touchdown that put Villanova up for good against the Tigers.

Both running backs will have a chance to strike gold against a Blue Hens defense that has been, to put it lightly, less than spectacular in its ’07 campaign. After enjoying a stretch where it allowed just over seven points per game in wins over Rhode Island, Towson and Monmouth, the defense has not been able to give the team’s high-powered offense any time to breathe easy. Delaware’s defense has allowed its opponents an average of 40.6 points per contest (despite managing to go 3-2 during that time) and have given up 23 rushing touchdowns this season.

When Delaware has the ball

With Whitney still struggling to find a groove as the Wildcats signal caller in just his freshman year, the Wildcats will do their best to establish the run early; however, the key to the game is the Wildcats defense keeping the Blue Hens prolific offense at bay.

Quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Omar Cuff are both among the best at their positions in all of FCS football. Flacco is the leading passer in the CAA this year by a big margin and is the only quarterback in the conference to have over 3,000 passing yards this season (3,040 yards). The senior has also thrown 16 passes versus just four picks all season, ranking him first in the conference in pass efficiency in the CAA.

Flacco has relied on a solid receiving tandem to do damage for the Blue Hens passing game. Junior Aaron Love has made 48 catches for 662 yards and three touchdowns, while sophomore Mark Duncan has totaled 46 receptions for 670 yards and four touchdowns. These two will be the prime targets for the Wildcat secondary.

Cuff, meanwhile, has tallied the second-highest total of rushing yards in the conference at 1,294 yards, trailing just behind Tim Hightower of Richmond. Cuff started his season with a bang, tying the FCS record with seven touchdowns (six rushing, one receiving) in a win over William & Mary. He has continued his standout season by rushing for over 100 yards five more times (including another 200-yard performance against Northeastern) and 33 total touchdowns.

Villanova’s run defense is coming into the game with momentum, however, and will be geared up to try to keep Cuff from breaking any huge runs on Saturday. The ‘Cats allowed Towson just 27 yards rushing in last week’s win. Osayi Osunde has had a big season in just his sophomore season, leading the Wildcats defense and recording 75 tackles and 1.5 sacks, and will be a key player in stopping Cuff and the Blue Hens ground game. Flacco, meanwhile, should see pressure from the Wildcats’ top two pass rushers, Tim Kukucka and Greg Miller. Kukucka was one of two CAA Defensive Player of the Week this week for his efforts against Towson, which included five tackles (three for a loss), two sacks and two forced fumbles. The sophomore is now tied for second in the conference with seven sacks. Miller, a junior, is just behind him at 6.5 sacks, and helps form arguably the CAA’s best pass rush duo.


The Villanova-Delaware rivalry has been almost evenly matched over the years, but the ‘Cats will need a win Saturday to completely even the score. The Blue Hens lead the all-time series 20-19-1, with the earliest matchup between the two schools all the way back in 1895. The Wildcats won last year’s game 28-27 in Newark, marking the first time in four years that Villanova got the best of its biggest rivals on the gridiron.