‘Cats look to ride winning streak into home finale

Kyle Scudilla

James Madison Dukes


Villanova Wildcats

Saturday, 1 p.m.

Villanova Stadium

As the weather continues to cool, the Villanova Wildcats and their running game are doing nothing but heating up. They’ll have to stay red-hot against No. 4 James Madison when the Dukes visit Villanova Stadium.

Where the teams stand

Villanova has come away with wins against William & Mary and Richmond to pull its record to 4-5 overall and 3-5 in the Atlantic 10. The matchup against James Madison marks Villanova’s home finale before the team goes on the road to battle Delaware in the final game of the season. James Madison has had an excellent season, earning a No. 4 national rank in the Division I-AA poll. JMU has won seven games in a row dating back to their only loss of the season, which came at the hands of the country’s current No. 1 team, Appalachian State. The Dukes won their home finale against Delaware and have just Villanova and Towson remaining on their 2006 schedule.

When Villanova has the ball

Villanova’s running game has taken huge strides in the last few weeks, leading to great success on offense. Both quarterback Marvin Burroughs and running back Matt Dicken ran for career-high marks in rushing yards last week against Richmond to lead ‘Nova to a 31-21 victory at home. Burroughs ran for 124 yards and the first of two Villanova touchdowns on the day. Dicken, meanwhile, continues to be a breakout success and may be the biggest surprise of the second half of the season. He has greatly improved since getting the job as the offense’s main ball carrier. The junior running back racked up 120 yards on the ground for the Wildcats, who finished with 289 rushing yards against the Spiders last week. Dicken also added his team-high seventh rushing touchdown of the season.

The passing game didn’t go completely unnoticed either, as tight end Matthew Sherry had another solid performance, scoring a touchdown to put the ‘Cats up 28-0. Sherry has come through the last two weeks with his two biggest performances of the year, as Villanova continues to fight through the injuries of Chris Polite and Anton Ridley.

Villanova’s new-found strength in the backfield will face quite a challenge this week when they run into the second-best run defense in the A-10. The Dukes are one of just two teams in the entire conference to allow fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground to their opponents this season. The unit also ranks third in scoring defense, allowing just 15.8 points per game. However, the Dukes allowed their season-high in points to Delaware last week in a 44-24 blow-out win.

One defender who is almost certain to make his presence felt during the afternoon is linebacker Akeem Jordan, who has compiled a conference-leading 108 tackles this year (while no other player has yet to total 90) and 5.5 sacks. The senior is having a fantastic year for the Dukes, which is evidenced by the fact that he was just added to the Buck Buchanan Award “Watch List.”

Joining Jordan on the A-10’s top-ten sacks list are four other Dukes. Defensive end Kevin Winston is second in the conference with 7.0 sacks. Defensive tackle Chuck Suppon is tied for third with 6.0 sacks. Fellow defensive tackle John Baranowsky (5.5 sacks) and linebacker Isaiah Dottin-Carter (5.0 sacks) also rank among the conference’s best pass rushers.

When JMU has the ball

While Villanova’s running defense successfully stifled Richmond running back Tim Hightower in last week’s game, this week they’ll face the toughest challenge the A-10 could throw at them. James Madison enters the game as the No. 1 rushing team in the conference, averaging 220.9 rushing yards per contest. Running back Eugene Holloman is having a standout season, rushing for 806 yards and seven touchdowns despite missing two games. Holloman is coming off his best effort of the season, where he ran for 171 yards on just 15 carries, including an 80-yard touchdown run. He scored twice on the day and averaged an eye-popping 11.4 yards per carry against Delaware. In four of his seven games this year, the junior has had a run of at least 50 yards.

Quarterback Justin Rascati, while not being the most statistically prolific signal-caller in the A-10, has done an efficient job leading the Dukes and is having a solid season. Rascati has completed 67.5 percent of his passes this year and has thrown 14 touchdowns versus just six interceptions. Rascati also has proved he can be dangerous running the ball, tallying 345 yards on the ground as well.

The senior quarterback’s favorite target this year has been L.C. Baker, who leads the team with six touchdown receptions and 482 receiving yards. Baker is 10th in the Atlantic 10 in receiving yards this season. Fellow wide receiver Ardon Bransford is second on the team with 333 yards and three touchdowns on the year.

It will be strength versus strength on Saturday, when JMU’s top-ranked rushing attack goes against Villanova’s fourth-rated run defense. While they continue to be shaky defending the pass, the ‘Cats have done a solid job of limiting opposing ball carriers.

The standout defender on the squad remains in the secondary, however, as free safety Allyn Bacchus continues to do wonderful things for the Wildcats in his final season at Villanova. Bacchus notched another 11 tackles in last week’s game, tying him for fifth in the conference in tackles this season. The senior also made an interception and recovered a fumble for the Wildcats, who finished last week with four takeaways against Richmond.


James Madison used last year’s meeting to break the tie in the all-time series with a 28-13 against Villanova last November. The Dukes now lead the Wildcats 7-6, and Villanova will have to pull even once again if they want to have a chance to finish the 2006 season above .500.