Football Preview: Wildcats go for fourth straight against No. 9 James Madison

Kyle Scudilla

After forcing eight turnovers, including seven interceptions, against the UPenn Quakers last weekend, the Villanova Wildcats extended their win streak to three games and suddenly look like contenders in arguably the toughest FCS conference in the nation. Unlike last year, when the Wildcats lost three of their first four contests, this year’s squad has gotten off to the opposite start and is in good shape to improve upon last year’s 6-5 record. ‘Nova Nation will get a better perspective of how legitimate the team is as a major player in the CAA when the ‘Cats hit the road to play the No. 9-ranked James Madison Dukes this Saturday afternoon.

Where the teams stand

Villanova upped its record to 3-1 overall with its 34-14 dismantling of UPenn. Saturday’s matchup will be just the second conference game for the ‘Cats, who won their conference opener two weeks ago against Maine. James Madison is the second-highest ranked CAA team out of the conference’s six schools listed on The Sports Network’s FCS Top 25 Poll.

So far the Dukes have had a similar season to Villanova, dropping its opening game against an FBS team then winning three games in a row against FCS competition, which included one CAA victory. JMU made a huge statement two weeks ago when it knocked off New Hampshire, one of the elite teams in the nation. ‘Nova and James Madison are currently tied for second place in the CAA’s South Division.

When Villanova has the ball

Villanova’s offensive output in last week’s game against UPenn could best be described as opportunistic, as the Wildcats cashed in time and time again off the Quakers’ many blunders. While the ‘Nova offense didn’t put up its most sparkling numbers of the year thus far, the team took care of business when it counted in tallying 34 points and scoring four touchdowns.

Junior wide receiver Phil Atkinson was the breakout star of Saturday’s contest, racking up five catches, three of which were touchdown passes from sophomore quarterback Antwon Young, for a total of 112 yards. With his big evening against UPenn, Atkinson became the team’s leading receiver and tied kicker Joe Marcoux as the team’s leading scorer.

Senior tight end Matthew Sherry scored the remaining touchdown, his second of the season, and finished with 64 yards from four receptions. Sherry is second on the team in receiving yards in ’07 with 167, trailing only Atkinson’s total of 186.

Atkinson and Sherry’s combined efforts led to Young’s career-high four touchdowns. The sophomore struggled a bit with accuracy, completing 16-of-32 passes, but made the most of his completions by tallying 241 yards and the four scores. Young, who hadn’t started any games in his college career before this season, now has a conference-leading 10 touchdown passes.

Chances are the Wildcats will continue going to the air for its scoring plays against the Dukes, who have the third-best defense against the rush in the CAA. While James Madison’s pass defense is in the middle of the pack when compared to its conference rivals, Young and the Wildcats’ receiving corps should be on the lookout for corner back Darrieus Ramsey. The junior leads the Dukes with two interceptions this season and has also forced a fumble.

When James Madison has the ball

While James Madison appears to be favored in this game, given its national ranking and home-field advantage, the offense will have to overcome the loss of starting tailback Eugene Holloman to injury. The senior running back posted an average of 90 yards per game in two contests this season before incurring a knee injury.

The Wildcats won’t be able to relax on defense, however, as they’ll still have to deal with the multi-faceted talent of quarterback Rodney Landers. While the junior hasn’t been spectacular in the passing game, averaging just 156 passing yards a game and throwing just four touchdowns, the ‘Cats will have to guard against his ability to run and create outside of the pocket. Landers leads JMU in rushing with 369 yards and has rushed for four touchdowns.

After seeing how the Wildcats rendered the UPenn quarterbacks practically useless last Saturday after intercepting a Villanova-record-tying seven interceptions, Landers may choose to pull it down and run more often than he chooses to heave it down the field against the ‘Cats secondary. Freshman defensive back John Dempsey led the excellent defensive performance with his first two interceptions as a member of the Wildcats and earned the CAA’s Rookie of the Week award for his efforts. Fellow defensive backs Eugene Clay, Salim Koroma, Zach Mariacher along with linebackers Anthony Johnson and Darrel Young each picked off a Quaker pass.

The ‘Cats’ pass defense will be in charge of shutting down top JMU target L. C. Baker. The senior tallied a career-high 631 receiving yards last year and has totaled 237 yards and three receiving touchdowns this season. He is coming off his best game of the year last week against Coastal Carolina, in which he racked up 97 receiving yards and caught a touchdown pass.


James Madison won’t soon forget its ’06 matchup with the Villanova Wildcats. The Wildcats upset the No. 4-ranked Dukes last year at Villanova Stadium by a score of 21-20. The ‘Cats’ win was their third straight and helped them along to an above-.500 record in 2006. ‘Nova first played JMU in 1993 with the overall series tied at seven games apiece.