Football Preview: ‘Cats go for fifth straight win in series vs. Philly rivals Penn

Kyle Scudilla

Pennsylvania Quakers atVillanova WildcatsSaturday, 6 p.m.Villanova Stadium

The Wildcats made themselves at home just in time to welcome Big Five rival UPenn to Villanova Stadium. After Villanova’s overtime victory against Maine in front of the Parents Weekend crowd, the ‘Cats should be ready to roll in what has quickly developed into an annual battle of grand proportions between local adversaries.

‘Nova’s win in its home opener lifted the Wildcats to 2-1 for the season and got the team off on the right foot in its first Colonial Athletic Association game of the season. Meanwhile, the University of Pennsylvania was busy just a few miles away at the historic Franklin Field hosting Lafayette in the Quakers’ ’07 opener. A field goal with eight seconds left gave the Leopards an 8-7 win over UPenn in a low-scoring affair.

When Villanova has the ball

Facing off against the “black hole” defense of Maine, the ‘Cats launched a vicious ground attack. Matt Dicken feasted on the Black Bears’ rush defense, totaling 112 yards and making it the second time in his career that he has topped the 100-yard plateau. Dicken is currently 10th in the CAA in all-purpose yards, averaging 109 yards through the season’s first three games.

The senior running back showed off his versatility, making his big contribution to Saturday’s contest as a receiver. Dicken took a 67-yard reception to the end zone with just over six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, tying the game and keeping Villanova from dropping its home opener. He finished the contest with 184 all-purpose yards against Maine’s “black hole” defense.

While the focus was on the running game for the ‘Cats last week, red-shirt sophomore quarterback Antwon Young continues to lead a solid passing game for Villanova, making the offense a balanced unit. Though he didn’t have the spectacular numbers of a week ago, Young still played an efficient game in which he completed 16 of his 22 pass attempts and threw two touchdowns. Just three games into his career as a starter, Young ranks third in the CAA in passing touchdowns (six) and fourth in passing efficiency (159.9).

Young’s job has been made easier thus far by the depth in the receiving corps. Four Wildcats caught three passes against Maine, including Dicken and senior wide receiver Anton Ridley, who caught Young’s two touchdown passes.

Lafayette running back Maurice White tore up the Quaker defense, rushing for 161 yards and averaging 5.8 yards per carry. The UPenn secondary was much less forgiving, however, intercepting Leopards quarterback Mike DiPaola three times. UPenn forced four turnovers in all against a team that averaged 38.5 points per game in its first two contests.

When UPenn has the ball

Although UPenn’s defense was stout when it counted last week, the offense gave little support, ultimately costing the Quakers a chance to win their ’07 debut. After getting pinned inside the 10-yard line, the offense lost nine yards, leading to a fourth down and 19-yard punt attempt, which ended as a safety. With the two points and the good field position after the resulting free kick, the Leopards were well on their way to setting up their game-winning drive.

Junior quarterback Robert Irvin struggled mightily in his first game of the season, completing less than 50 percent of his passes, compiling just 97 yards and throwing two picks. The one bright spot in the passing game was senior wide receiver Braden Lepisto, who racked up seven catches for 84 yards.

While the passing attack was off its game, running back Joe Sandberg had a solid introduction to the ’07 season. The senior tailback, who rushed for 1,042 yards just a season ago, totaled 85 yards on just 17 rushing attempts.

With the passing game a serious question mark at this point for the Quakers, look for them to establish the run early against the Wildcats to create a more comfortable situation for Irvin behind center.

Chances are that UPenn will favor that strategy even more after witnessing Jhamal Fluellen’s terrific performance on the ground against the Wildcats last Saturday. Fluellen made up for terrible Maine quarterback play by averaging 7.1 yards per carry, tallying 178 all-purpose yards and scoring two touchdowns. Villanova is currently ranked eighth in the conference in defending the run, so they’ll need to make some improvements if they want to slow down the UPenn running game.

Sandberg, however, is questionable for Saturday’s game after sustaining a muscle strain is his left leg. Losing Sandberg for this week’s matchup would be a tremendous loss for a struggling offensive unit. The Quakers would be anxious to test Villanova’s pass defense, which yielded just 66 yards through the air to Maine and is allowing under 200 passing yards per game this season.


Villanova has swung this series in its favor in a hurry with four consecutive wins over its Philadelphia rivals and now holds a 6-5 advantage in the all-time series. This matchup will mark the first time since 2002 that the Quakers have played at Villanova Stadium. The Wildcats have traveled to Philadelphia’s historic Franklin Field every season since 2004 and have come away with three wins, including 2005’s dramatic come-from-behind 28-24 victory and last season’s 27-20 triumph.