Football roller coaster heads for James Madison

Kyle Scudilla

Coming off an upset win that looked like it could be the key in turning around the Villanova Wildcats’ fortunes, the Towson Tigers reversed their momentum once again, taking advantage of sloppy play early to cruise to a 40-19 win. Now, ‘Nova heads to Virginia to take on the James Madison Dukes and fight to get back to the .500 mark.

Where the Teams Stand

Villanova comes into this week’s match-up looking for any semblance of consistency for their season. The Wildcats haven’t been able to put two wins (or losses for that matter) together in their last five games, respectively, showing flashes of brilliance only to have them quickly fade the next week. Now 2-4 in the Atlantic 10, the team must win its last games at James Madison and home against rival Delaware in order to finish with a non-losing conference record. For the season, Villanova is 4-5 overall, including a dismal 1-4 mark on the road, which does not bode well for this Saturday. James Madison’s nail-biter of a win against the William & Mary Tribe rescued their season from absolute freefall. After starting out of the gates at a red-hot 4-1, disposing of its opponents with ease, the Dukes folded in three closely contested conference games against the likes of Massachusetts, Delaware, and Richmond. Last week, a 30-29 victory at home against the Tribe set them back on the right track, and boosted their conference record to 3-3 (5-4 overall) to sit them just above Villanova in the Atlantic 10’s South Division standings.

When Villanova Has the Ball

The Villanova offense took a major step backwards last week, and Towson took full advantage of many early mistakes by the Wildcats to march to victory. The Towson defense victimized the Wildcats for five sacks, two recovered fumbles, two interceptions, and two blocked kicks. With such sloppy play, Villanova basically gift-wrapped the game for Towson. As a result of all the mistakes, the overall offensive production took a big hit and needs to bounce back strongly against James Madison.

Playing from behind all game meant the play-calling shifted into heavy pass mode, and severely limited the amount of carries for RB Moe Gibson, who after a slow start, has been instrumental to the downfield movement of the offense. Still, on only 11 carries, he managed to pick up 60 yards and a touchdown. One bright spot in the frequently used passing game was junior WR Chris Polite, whose three catches on the day garnered a total of 93 receiving yards. This week, the offense must play more shrewdly, especially early, to limit turnovers and control the clock. A balanced offense is always a key to success in football, but the offense cannot be run if the team goes down early once again. Villanova will certainly need its offense to click on all cylinders this week against what has been a stingy Dukes defense. James Madison, despite its recent slide, has still allowed an a mere 15.7 points a game. It will be important for the Wildcats to establish the run and find some rhythm in the passing attack pretty quickly during the course of the game, or it could be another long day for the offense.

When James Madison Has the Ball

James Madison’s offense can best be described as equitable, with the ball being spread around to different players at an extraordinary rate. The one constant in the offense has been the signal-caller, junior quarterback Justin Rascati. Rascati has been a steady and dependable influence in the offense all season, with a completion percentage of 68.8 percent and 15 touchdowns compared to only 5 interceptions. While he has not had a 300-yard game this season, he has also never thrown more than two interceptions in a game and has had a fairly strong completion rate in all of his performances. He has also exhibited a great sense of ball distribution this year, utilizing all the weapons given to him in the passing game.

The Dukes have six receivers with at least 11 catches and over 100 yards, in addition to having seven players with at least one touchdown reception this year. The squad is led by junior WR Ardon Bransford, who has scored four touchdowns on the season, but with only 23 catches and a team-high 385 yards, it’s hard to call him a premier receiver. This lack of a potential go-to receiver late in ballgames is something the Dukes have to be concerned about, and could be a reason they’ve struggled in close games this year.

The Dukes don’t have any questions in the running game though, featuring a plethora of talent in the backfield. The unit is led by junior RB Alvin Banks, Jr., who has compiled 772 yards and 8 touchdowns for the season. As a second option, junior RB Maurice Fenner has also opened eyes, running for 486 yards and 6 touchdowns. Other dangerous ball carriers include Raymond Hines (6.9 yards/carry), Rodney Landers (9.6 yards/carry) and Rascati, who himself has run for 4 touchdowns this season.

With so many options to go to on offense, it’s hard for Villanova to declare what the keys to stopping the Dukes will be. The best guess is to focus on hassling Rascati to slow the passing game, and then clamp down on Banks and make the less experienced (but talented) runners beat you.


James Madison’s defense is not what a beleaguered offense would like to see, especially when traveling to Bridgeforth Stadium to play them. The ‘Cats offense will cut down on turnovers and see some better individual performances, but James Madison should prevail at home. James Madison 34, Villanova 24