Villanova looks to thrive as underdogs against No. 1 Wildcats

Kyle Scudilla

In a stunning comeback last week against a highly touted Pennsylvania Quakers squad, the Villanova Wildcats proved their mettle, grit and resilience. Now on a two-game winning streak, they are looking to make even more commotion by upsetting the No. 1 ranked Division I-AA New Hampshire Wildcats.

Where the Teams Stand: Villanova’s win against Penn of the Ivy League was their second win of the season. Their overall record is 2-1, and they are 1-0 in conference play, with an earlier win against Northeastern. New Hampshire, meanwhile, is enjoying its first week in school history as the nation’s number one ranked team. They started the season with a hard-earned 17-13 win on the road against the University of California-Davis. The following week, they crushed A-10 rival Towson by an astounding margin of 62-21. Then, as the No. 2 ranked team in the nation, they soundly defeated Dartmouth in their home opener, 49-20. They are 1-0 in the Atlantic 10 and 3-0 on the season.

When Villanova Has the Ball: Villanova’s offense looked relatively sluggish in the early going last week at Franklin Field. But, when the second half rolled around, Villanova’s offense came up with a string of clutch plays that allowed them to snatch victory away from the Quakers in the final minutes of last Saturday night’s match-up. Playing from behind for nearly the whole game, the offense was heavily pass-oriented, but with the way QB Frank Jankowski was throwing the ball, that ended up working very well.

Jankowski, in his best game of the season, dazzled the fans in Philadelphia, going 23-36 with 345 yards and four touchdown passes. Jankowski’s effort would have been for nought, however, if he had not orchestrated the game-winning drive in the way he did. The sophomore quarterback, in only his second collegiate start, went eight for nine on the final Villanova drive that took the team 89 yards downfield and ended with a clutch touchdown reception by WR John Dieser. Dieser had another phenomenal game, with five catches and 103 yards in addition to the game-deciding touchdown. WR J.J. Outlaw continued his brilliant season, with a team-high eight receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown. Junior wide-out Chris Polite also chipped in with a solid performance, making five catches for 69 yards.

With the passing game dominating the game-plan for last week’s come-from-behind winner, the running game stayed grounded, rushing for 45 yards on a limited number of carries. Villanova’s best bet against New Hampshire, however, may be to use the run game a bit more in the early going to keep the defense off-balance. Villanova needs a big performance out of its backs if this strategy is going to work, otherwise they may have to rely on the air attack to go into shootout mode once again.

The offense will face a big challenge against the New Hampshire defense though, which has been stingy this year, not allowing over 21 points in a game for the entire season. Their philosophy under head coach Sean McDonnell of being a “bend-not-break,” turnover creating defense has paid dividends so far. The defense has racked up six interceptions and recovered four fumbles on the season. The big standout performer for the defense so far has been defensive back Corey Graham. In New Hampshire’s game against Towson, he returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown and deflected three passes. He also picked off a pass in the end zone against Dartmouth in last week’s contest.

When New Hampshire Has the Ball: Saying that New Hampshire’s sophomore quarterback Ricky Santos is having a good year would be an understatement. Santos has been lighting up New Hampshire opponents all season, throwing for totals of 336, 422 and 267 yards for the Wildcats this year. He’s rebounded after throwing three picks against UC Davis by throwing for six touchdowns and only one interception since. In addition to his work through the air, Santos is also one of the best rushing quarterbacks in Division I-AA. He’s already found the end zone three times on the ground to complement his seven touchdown passes. Santos’ main target in the air is junior WR David Ball. Ball is having an exemplary season thus far, with 20 catches for 353 yards and four touchdowns. Other serviceable weapons for Ricky Santos have been wide-out Aaron Brown, who has 10 catches and 169 yards for the year and tight end Jonathan Williams, who has 11 catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns. Much like their opponents on Saturday, New Hampshire has relied heavily on their passing offense to move the team downfield and score, with minimal action in the running game to speak of through the first three games.

Villanova’s defense came up huge against Penn in the later stages of the game. The Cats allowed only seven points in the second half, which included a fourth quarter shutout. The play of the day came on LB Bryan Adams victory-sealing sack of Penn QB Pat McDermott in the red zone as time expired. Without the

defense stepping up, the comeback would not have been possible. The performance should give this unit a huge confidence boost that will be necessary in a match-up against an offensive juggernaut like New Hampshire.

Special Teams: In a game where Villanova will be facing an uphill struggle, special teams mistakes cannot occur. The unit as a whole has seen improvement through each of the season’s first three games. For New Hampshire, DB Corey Graham, in addition to his big plays on defense, has been a big weapon as a returner this year. In New Hampshire’s match-up against Towson, Graham had a kick return of 52 yards that immediately led to a Wildcat touchdown. Villanova’s kick coverage team has to make sure to limit the red-hot play of Graham, or they could get burned early.

Prediction: Any time a team has to play on the road against the number one team in the nation, winning will certainly not be easy. However, Villanova is rolling right now, and head coach Andy Talley has his team in a good mindset. Expect New Hampshire to win, but an upstart Villanova squad could make them sweat it what could be a very entertaining aerial attack on both sides. Jankowski has stepped up and shown that he is not merely looking to be a stopgap in place of the injured Marvin Burroughs, but rather a very important piece of the team’s success.

In the end, ‘Nova may fall to 2-2, but a good showing will get them some respect nation-wide. New Hampshire 34, Villanova 21.