Wildcats open A-10 play against UMass

Kyle Scudilla

By Kyle ScudillaAssistant Sports Editor

Massachusetts Minutemenat Villanova WildcatsSaturday, 1:00 p.m.Villanova Stadium

Villanova is 0-2 so far, and yet, they still have as good of a chance as anyone in the Atlantic 10 to win the conference. That’s because it won’t be until Saturday that the Wildcats actually start their conference schedule. Villanova is hoping that this is a chance to wipe the slate clean, learn from their mistakes over the first two weeks, and translate 60 minutes of solid football into a win at home against the Massachusetts Minutemen on Parents’ Weekend.

Where the Teams StandAfter losing its opener to the University of Central Florida, the Wildcats returned to Division I-AA play last week against Lehigh. Despite leading for most of the game, Lehigh was able to come from behind in the closing minutes, and drop the ‘Cats to 0-2 on the season. On the other hand, Massachusetts rolled with a 28-7 win in their opener against Colgate, but lost a close one, 21-20, to Navy last week. Two potential touchdowns that were negated by penalties cost the Minutemen their chance at improving to 2-0.

When Villanova has the ballTwo weeks ago, Villanova’s passing attack soared. Last week, the ‘Cats ran the ball very well. Now, if the offense can put both pieces together, Villanova’s offense looks to be in good shape, but that’s a big “if.” Largely absent against UCF, Villanova’s ground game really clicked against Lehigh. Each of the Wildcats’ three main rushing options, DeQuese May, Matt Dicken and Aaron Jones, had big plays for the offense in a solid 28-point output. May led the team with 85 yards and kept the chains moving on some important drives. Dicken made the most of his opportunities, scoring twice on just seven carries, while Jones pulled off a SportsCenter-worthy run for his touchdown, bouncing off tacklers to the right before cutting back to the middle and busting right through a seam in the Lehigh defense to score from 26 yards out. Even Marvin Burroughs used some fancy footwork to make a few plays happen and found the end zone in the fourth quarter to put Villanova up 28-24. Still, failure by both the offense and the special teams to convert from inside the red zone with less than five minutes cost the Wildcats the game. After the offense stalled inside the 10-yard line, kicker Joe Marcoux missed wide left on a 24-yard attempt and is now 0-3 on field goal attempts this season. For the day, the passing game mustered just 95 yards against the Mountain Hawks. Though the coaching staff has done a good job of calling a balanced set of offensive plays through the first two games, it comes down to execution on the field if the Wildcats are going to get over the hump and beat the Minutemen on Saturday.Massachusetts will bring a thus-far solid defense with them to Villanova Stadium this weekend. The Minutemen have allowed an average of just 13.5 points per game in their two games with Colgate and Navy. They did, however, get burned for 268 rushing yards against the Midshipmen, which means that if Villanova can stay hot on the ground, there could be some opportunities for their backfield. Standouts on defense for UMass this season include senior DB James Ihedigbo, who has two sacks and two forced fumbles in 2006, and DL Dave Burris, who has recovered two fumbles.

When Massachusetts has the ballThe key for the Wildcats defense against the Minutemen is all about stopping the run, something they struggled to do against Lehigh, especially toward the end of the game. Senior Steve Baylark is the feature back in the UMass offense and has run for over 1,000 yards in each of his first three NCAA seasons. If he reaches 1,000 this year, he will be just the second player in A-10 history and third player in Division I-AA history to achieve four 1,000-yard rushing seasons. So far this year, on his path to achieving UMass history, Baylark has run for 168 yards and scored two touchdowns. Containing Baylark would be a big step for the ‘Cats after allowing Lehigh to come back from being down by double digits last week.The passing game, on the other hand, has not been anywhere near as steady as the ground game for UMass. Quarterback Liam Coen has thrown for 304 yards this year with three touchdowns and three interceptions. His main target is wide receiver J.J. Moore, who has eight catches for 93 yards and a touchdown on the season. Thus far, no one else has really stood out in the receiving corps as a go-to receiver. With the inconsistencies seen in the passing game this year by Coen and the UMass passing game, Villanova needs to focus extra energy on clamping down on Baylark and the Massachusetts backfield if they’re going to limit the scoring opportunities they allow on Saturday.Despite the shaky play against the Mountain Hawks’ offense last week, the Wildcats did have a few players step up and put forth good individual performances. Senior defensive backs Allyn Bacchus and Rodney Badger notched 12 tackles apiece after chasing down Lehigh rushers. Fellow secondary mate Terrance Reaves also made a huge play on special teams to set up the early Villanova lead. After Villanova’s first TD, Reaves forced a fumble and made the recovery on the ensuing kickoff, setting up excellent field position for Aaron Jones’ touchdown run to give Villanova a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.

HistoryWhile each team will be looking for a win in their first conference game this year, UMass will also be out to even the all-time series with Villanova. The Wildcats lead the Minutemen 11-10, but UMass captured the last game by a score of 19-14 back in 2003. In the 21 match-ups between these teams since 1961, the home team has won 17 times. Before the Minutemen won in 2003, 1978 had been the last time a road team had been victorious in the all-time series.