Football Preview: Whitney leads ‘Cats into pivotal game at home

Kyle Scudilla

Hofstra PrideatVillanova WildcatsSaturday, 3:30 p.m.Villanova Stadium

Coming off their bye week, the Wildcats are eager to get back on the field at Villanova Stadium after their improbable effort against Massachusetts. Just days after finding out that promising starting quarterback red-shirt sophomore Antwon Young would be lost for the season with a torn ACL, the ‘Cats traveled to Amherst to play the No. 4 Minutemen with true freshman quarterback Chris Whitney making his debut. After leading 6-0 at the half, the Wildcats took a 14-7 lead with just over nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. UMass tied the game and, after staying even through three overtime possessions, finally got the red zone stand it needed to quell ‘Nova’s upset bid. Now, two weeks after the heartbreaker in Massachusetts, the Wildcats are back home, ready for vengeance against another tough opponent, the Hofstra Pride.

Where the teams stand

Villanova’s loss against UMass dropped them to 2-2 in the CAA and 4-3 overall. Hofstra, meanwhile, is coming off of a troubling loss of its own. After starting the season 6-0, the No. 12 Pride hosted the No. 11 New Hampshire Wildcats. UNH rocked Hofstra, handing the team its first loss of the season. Hofstra now sits in second place in the CAA North Division at 3-1.

When Villanova has the ball

If Matt Dicken can run the ball like he did against UMass, then Villanova will have a good chance of playing the role of giant killer against Hofstra. Dicken carried the ball 35 times for 172 yards, achieving career highs in both categories and providing an enormous boost to the offense in Whitney’s debut as quarterback. In his senior campaign, Dicken has compiled 704 total yards and scored four touchdowns.

Dicken could have a tough time emulating his recent success against Hofstra, however, as the Pride currently boasts the second-best rushing defense in the CAA in terms of average yards allowed. The Villanova offense as a whole will have to be on the lookout for hard-hitting linebacker Stanley Gutierrez. The senior has tallied two forced fumbles, three interceptions and one-and-a-half sacks. He also captured the CAA’s Defensive Player of the Week award in the third week of the season.

Gutierrez won’t be the only worry for Whitney and the Villanova passing game. While the freshman was just 9-of-17 in his collegiate debut, he tossed a crucial touchdown and 2-point conversion to give Villanova the lead against UMass until the final minutes of the ballgame. Whitney was also effective on the ground, running for 48 yards and scoring on a rushing touchdown in overtime. He will have to be at the top of his game to lead ‘Nova to the upset on Saturday. Hofstra’s pass defense is second in the CAA with nine interceptions this year. In addition to Gutierrez’s three, senior free safety David Darby also has three picks this season, placing them in a tie for most interceptions in the conference.

If Whitney needs a “security blanket” in the pass offense, he should continue to turn to tight end Matt Sherry. The senior was on the receiving end of Whitney’s touchdown pass against UMass, which tied him for the team lead with wide receiver Phil Atkinson for touchdowns with five. Sherry also has tallied a team-leading 377 receiving yards this season.

When Hofstra has the ball

Villanova’s defense has many reasons to be proud coming off of its effort against UMass two weeks ago. The ‘Cats held the prolific Minutemen offense, which has scored an average of 31.3 points per game this season, to just 14 points in regulation. Although the ‘Nova defense is ranked just ninth overall in the CAA, it has had some breakout performances by key members of the defense. Sophomore defensive end Tim Kukucka is fourth in the CAA with five sacks and tied for fourth in the conference with eight tackles for a loss this season.

With Kareem Huggins in the Hofstra backfield, the Pride have one of the most potent offensive players and scorers in the league. Huggins’ 837 rushing yards this season is good for third best in the league, trailing only star running backs Tim Hightower of Richmond and Omar Cuff of Delaware. Huggins is also a big-time threat on special teams, having already returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Huggins has twice as many touchdowns as anyone else on Hofstra, so slowing him down will be key for the defense.

Not to be outdone, however, is quarterback Bryan Savage, who leads the CAA in total offensive yards and ranks third in passing yards per game. The junior has struggled of late and will be looking to bounce back in a big way against Villanova. In his last two games, Savage has thrown five interceptions and no touchdowns. Freshman John Dempsey, junior Salim Koroma and senior Zach Mariacher, Villanova’s leaders in interceptions this season, will be looking to force turnovers by the Hofstra passing game. After allowing 355 passing yards to UMass’ Liam Coen, Villanova ranks 10th in pass defense. They’ll need to turn things around to give the offense a chance to hang in the game.


While Villanova and Hofstra have a short history, the ‘Cats have been dominant in the series, winning three of the first four games. ‘Nova won the first ever game between the two teams by a score of 54-34 in 2001 and also won the latest contest by a 20-16 margin in 2006. Hofstra’s only win in the series came in 2003.