‘Nova set for Knight duel

In the game of football, teams often must lift their play to a higher level than normal on certain occasions. The Villanova Football program has had a storied record in their 20 years in Division I-AA, but this week, as in many years past, the ‘Cats will suit up against a Division I opponent in Rutgers.

In the past few years, however, the difference of scholarships has meant nothing as ‘Nova took down Temple in 2003 and Rutgers the year before, two teams from the Big East, a major BCS conference.

This year’s squad has the talent, experience and heart to pull off the upset again as it faces a drastically improved Rutgers team. After several years in the basement of the Big East, coach Greg Schiano and the Scarlet Knights have their best talent in years. Senior QB Ryan Hart has been productive in his two years as a starter, and against Illinois last week, he proved he can continue to produce in the spotlight as he threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns.

Right behind him is a man considered one of the best fullbacks in the nation in Brian Leonard, who added 130 rushing yards to the Knights attack. Freshman Ray Rice ran for 60 yards on 12 carries in his debut last week, and the coaching staff is expecting big things from the young back. This team is also loaded at receiver with three solid players in Tres Moses, Marcus Daniels and Shawn Tucker, along with an All-Big East tight end in Clark Harris.

The defense is also talented, led by Junior Linebacker Devrun Thompson, who tallied 15 tackles against Illinois. Freshman safety Courtney Greene has been impressive so far, with his 11 tackles, one forcing a fumble. Terrence Bynes and Will Gilkerson round out an impressive group at linebacker. Jason Nugent, Joe Porter, Corey Barnes and Ron Girault give the Knights a lot of depth in the defensive backfield. The leader of the defensive line is Ryan Neil, who was All-Big East last season and expects to have a big year. Val Barnaby recorded two sacks against Illinois, proving he is a player to watch. Ramel Meekins and Cameron Stephanson will try to clog up the middle. Overall the defense is a solid unit and will be a formidable foe.

The Wildcats offense has always been a unit that produces big time numbers, and this year’s version should be no different. Quarterback Marvin Burroughs returns for his junior year after a season in which he threw for 2400 yards and 20 touchdowns. Expect those numbers to get even better because the receiving core this season is as deep and as talented as they have had in years.

Seniors J.J. Outlaw and John Dieser will lead the way, and junior Chris Polite returns as another big time playmaker. Outlaw is considered to be one of the most dangerous players in the Atlantic 10, as he also is a tremendous kick and punt returner. Anton Ridley, Phil Atkinson, John Hughes and Alex Koplin will provide depth to this potent group.

Back at running back is senior Moe Gibson, who shared carries with Terry Butler the past two seasons but now will get most of the time. Matt Dicken, Aaron Jones, Tyree Hughey and Dequese May will be the other backs, with Hughey and May expected to see the most time at fullback.

The offensive line is an experienced unit led by center Christian Gaddis and tackles John Finneran and Mike Costanzo. John Krohe and Mike Keller are the starters at guard, with Pete Caroppolo, Mike Sheridan, Mike Probasco and Alex Suder providing depth. At tight end Matt Sherry and Mike Bradway are two pass catching threats who can both get down the field as well as most receivers.

Most experts still claim defense wins championships, and Coach Andy Talley’s defense is once again expected to be a force. Preseason All American’s Darell Adams and Brian Hulea return as captains. Joining Adams on the defensive line are Brian Hentosz, Russ Mckittrick and Matt Constantino, all consistent pass rushers and run stoppers. Adding depth will be Rhudy Holly, Adam Mclauglin and Dave Dalessandro. At linebacker Hulea is joined by Bryan adams, J.C. Cooper and Blake Shubert, all experienced veterans. The secondary is also loaded with talent, as Kalise Cook, Rodney Badger, Allyn Bacchus and Terrance Reaves return as starters. Joining them will be Bryan Boyson, Zach Mariacher, Marco Radocaj and Adam Clements to form a solid unit capable of stopping any opponent’s passing attack.

The special teams should also be solid, with kicker/punter Adam James returning as a senior and incoming highly-touted freshman Joe Marcoux. The coaching staff added some new members in the offseason, as well, in receivers coach Brian Flinn, defensive line coach Brian Daly, defensive coach Billy Crocker and linebackers coach Shawn Spencer. Justus Gallac and Mike Kraft will also join the staff this season to round out as good of a unit as you can find in the Atlantic 10. Head coach Andy Talley has had a long history of success, and with all of the talent this team has, this season could end up being yet another page in his record books.

Overall, the talent is there to defeat Rutgers, who has shown that they lack the ability to close out close games. If the Wildcats can score enough points with their potent offense, the defense should be able to do their job and contain the Scarlet Knights. This should end up being an exciting close football game in which both teams battle hard to the finish.