Football Preview: ‘Nova makes CAA debut against ‘black hole’ defense

Kyle Scudilla

Maine Black Bears atVillanova Wildcats

Saturday, 6 p.m.Villanova Stadium

Antwon Young didn’t take long to make his first big statement as the new leader of the Wildcats’ offense, leading Villanova to a high-flying 30-20 win over Lehigh last Saturday, but he’s got a tough test ahead of him in his conference debut.

Actually, it’s not just his initiation into the conference, rather, Saturday’s matchup between Villanova and the Maine Black Bears will also be the introduction of everyone on the field to the newly formed Colonial Athletic Association. While the inaugural CAA season will not feel much different to Villanova, given that all of its conference opponents come from its old home, the now-defunct Atlantic-10, this week’s game will certainly go down as a historic event.

Where the teams stand

Villanova’s win over Lehigh evened its record at 1-1 after an opening week loss to Maryland. Maine is also 1-1 after defeating Monmouth 21-14 in the season’s first week and then getting shut out by the Connecticut Huskies in a 38-0 romp. Saturday will be the first conference game for each squad.

When Villanova has the ball

Young and the ‘Nova offense looked like they were in mid-season form in last week’s Football Bowl Subdivision opener in Lehigh. The red-shirt sophomore quarterback completed 15-of-22 passes for 257 yards and threw three touchdowns with no interceptions. Two passes alone, long touchdowns to starting receivers junior Phil Atkinson and sophomore Brandyn Harvey, accounted for 107 of those yards and proved to be the key plays in the game.

Harvey had a breakout performance for the ‘Cats, finishing with four catches for 106 yards. Atkinson finished with three catches for 67 receiving yards. Junior tight end Michael Bradway, though finishing with just one catch, made it count by scoring Villanova’s second touchdown.

The key for the offense throughout the day was the awakening of the run game against Lehigh. After being nearly absent against Maryland in the first week of the season, the ‘Cats ground attack added balance and scoring to the effective ‘Nova offense. Starting tailback senior Matt Dicken carried the ball 26 times for 95 yards and scored the game’s first touchdown. Young also used his legs to keep the Mountain Hawk defense off-balance, with 55 yards on the ground. The ‘Cats had 163 rushing yards, after just 13 yards against Maryland, contributing to the offensive explosion of 420 total yards.

The ‘Cats will face a much fiercer foe on Saturday, when the offense squares off against the so-called “Black Hole” defense. Until last week’s blowout at UConn, the Black Bears had held their opponents under 20 points in eight consecutive games.

Maine’s defense is hoping to rebound against Villanova, and they’ll have history on their side. Coach Jack Cosgrove’s defense has held the Wildcats to an average of just 10.3 points per game in three Maine wins. In last year’s Maine-Villanova game, the Black Bears held the ‘Cats to minus-39 yards on the ground.

One player the Wildcats’ offensive line will have their eyes on is junior linebacker Andrew Downey, Maine’s leader in tackles last year. The junior linebacker had a career high, at the time, 11 tackles in last year’s Villanova game. He then broke that personal best by recording 13 tackles last week against UConn, so he will certainly be a player the ‘Cats’ blockers will hope to take out of the mix.

When Maine has the ball

While Maine’s defense is a force to be reckoned with, the same can only be said about their offense on an inconsistent basis. The Black Bears, despite playing stellar defense, finished just 6-5 last season, and their hot-and-cold offense was, in large part, to blame. In Maine’s six wins, the offense put up 181 points (an average of 30.2 points per game); conversely, the Bears mustered just 36 points in their five losses (a mere 7.2 points per game).

Sophomore quarterback Michael Brusko will be the man behind center who will hope to rally the troops after last week’s shutout loss to UConn. Brusko’s first two games as the Bears’ starter have been downright grisly. The signal caller has tallied just 88 total passing yards in his first two games. It was his ability to run against Monmouth, when he totaled 109 yards and scored a rushing touchdown, that was a deciding factor in Maine’s first win.

The struggling Brusko may be just what the doctor ordered for Villanova’s pass defense, which yielded 302 yards through the air against Lehigh last week. The ‘Cats’ run defense stepped up against the Mountain Hawks, allowing 91 yards to Lehigh after being torched for 211 yards against Maryland. Now it will be the pass rush that will have to answer the bell after not sacking Lehigh quarterback Sedale Threatt once last week. If the front six can put pressure on Brusko and not allow him to beat them with his legs, Villanova has the ability to create turnovers. The ‘Cats have already intercepted four passes in just two games this season, with the latest coming from freshman linebacker Terence Thomas last Saturday.


Villanova is looking to stop a four-game losing streak against Maine in the teams’ inaugural CAA matchup. The Black Bears defended their home turf last year in a convincing 20-7 victory. Villanova’s last win in the series was a 47-21 rout in 2000 at the Villanova Stadium.