William & Mary Tribe atVillanova WildcatsSaturday, 6 p.m.Villanova Stadium
After continuing last year’s hot streak into the beginning of this year’s campaign with a 3-1 start, things looked promising for the Villanova Wildcats. In arguably the country’s toughest FCS conference, ‘Nova was creeping up the “also receiving votes” list of national polls and could have cracked the Top 25 with a win over No. 9 James Madison in the ‘Cats’ toughest matchup of the year. The Dukes, however, set the tone early and let it be known that Villanova would not be upsetting them for the second straight season. Now, facing a lopsided 35-7 drubbing, the ‘Cats have an opportunity to rebound in a big way, with a winnable game against William & Mary in front of a homecoming weekend crowd of Villanova Stadium.
The Wildcats fell to 1-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association and 3-2 overall with their road loss to James Madison. William & Mary will be traveling to Villanova in its first game outside of Virginia’s state boundaries with a record identical to that of the Wildcats. The Tribe is coming off a 27-22 win over the Towson Tigers at home last week.
When Villanova has the ball
It’s not a stretch to say that Head Coach Andy Talley and the Villanova coaching staff will be focused on fixing the offense headed into this week’s game after the unit’s worst performance of the season. After averaging 29.3 points per game in their previous FCS games this season, the ‘Cats mustered just seven against the CAA’s top-ranked defense.
Quarterback Antwon Young struggled in his biggest test thus far. The sophomore failed to complete a touchdown pass for the first time in his five games. While he was 15-for-23 passing the ball, he tallied just 124 yards and threw an interception as James Madison’s defense limited the Wildcats’ opportunities for big offensive plays. Despite his difficulty in achieving success in the passing game, Young did account for the Wildcats only scoring play, a 5-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Tight end Matthew Sherry was the lone bright spot for the Wildcats’ passing game. He caught five passes for 60 yards and is now the team’s leading receiver this season with 18 catches for 227 yards. No other Wildcat receiver mustered more than 20 receiving yards at Bridgeforth Stadium.
Playing from behind for nearly the entire afternoon, the Wildcats didn’t rely too heavily on the running game. Starting running back Matt Dicken was limited to just seven carries, and the team as a whole finished with a rushing average of just 3.1 yards per carry.
As the Wildcat offense tries to get back on track, Young and his receivers will have to be wary of defensive back Derek Cox. The junior had two interceptions that set up scoring plays, which not only won the game for William & Mary, but also helped capture the CAA’s Defensive Player of the Week award for Cox. He leads the Tribe with three interceptions this season.
The Tribe’s Achilles’ heel this year has been its rushing defense, which is ranked dead last in the CAA. William & Mary averages a yield of 211.8 yards per game to opposing rushers. The offense should look to get Dicken and the running game involved early if the defense can keep the ‘Cats from falling behind by too much early.
When William & Mary
has the ball
The Tribe not only struggle containing the run, they also don’t gain much on the ground as an offense. The team is ranked No. 10 in the conference, but its low ranking is more acceptable when compared to its top overall rating in pass offense.
As a team, William & Mary is averaging nearly 300 passing yards a game this year, ahead of even Ricky Santos and the New Hampshire Wildcats. Quarterback Jake Phillips has thrown for 1,432 yards this season and is tied with Young for second in the conference with 10 touchdown passes trailing only Massachusetts’ Liam Coen. Out of the top 10 passers in terms of yards this season, however, Phillips is next to last in completion percentage (58.5 percent). While the junior isn’t afraid to put the ball up in the air, he has thrown just four interceptions.
Phillips also isn’t afraid to spread the ball around in the Tribe offense. Six receivers have at least 130 yards receiving this season. Drew Atchison and Elliot Mack, the team’s two leading receivers in terms of yards, have also accounted for six of the team’s 10 touchdown receptions this season.
While the Tribe hasn’t been known for its rushing capabilities this season, as previously mentioned, a big reason for that has been the loss of running back DeBrian Holmes to injury the last two weeks. In three games this season, Holmes has netted 191 yards on the ground and scored an impressive five touchdowns.
With Holmes banged up, the ‘Cats will most certainly look to stop Phillips and the pass attack from soaring like James Madison’s did last week. The Wildcats’ pass defense yielded 300 passing yards and two passing scores to Rodney Landers and the JMU passing offense last week. Villanova will look to avoid having its opposing quarterback win another award this week, like Landers did in capturing the CAA’s Offensive Player of the Week award last week.
The Wildcats knocked off William & Mary 35-31 in at Zable Stadium in Williamsburg, Va. last year to start its big four-game winning streak to end the ’06 season. Villanova has been successful at defending its home turf against the Tribe in three of the teams’ last four meetings at Villanova Stadium. The Wildcats’ offense has been the difference, averaging a whopping 37.3 points per game in their last six matchups against William & Mary’s defensive units.