Major conference battle ahead for football

Frank Scicchitano

This Saturday, the football team will visit Richmond in a crucial road test that may go a long way in deciding the Wildcats’ fate in the Colonial Athletic Conference. Villanova (7-1, 4-0) will put its conference-best seven-game winning streak on the line against a Richmond squad (6-2, 3-1) that is riding an impressive four-game winning streak of its own.

By winning the rest of its games this season, Villanova can guarantee itself at least a share of the conference championship. 

Third place Richmond, hopes it can push to the top of the conference standings, but a loss to New Hampshire earlier this season will make its path more difficult. 

Nevertheless, a victory this weekend would certainly help the Spiders’ cause.

The last meeting between the two schools was Oct. 6, 2012, a 28-17 Richmond win at Villanova that came despite the Wildcats’ quarterback John Robertson’s rushing for over 100 yards.

It is safe to say that Robertson, now a junior, has come a long way since that game. 

While the Wildcats still heavily on him to generate offensive production with both his arms and his legs, they have seen the emergence of multiple playmakers around their star quarterback that have seemingly made his job a lot easier.

Senior running back Kevin Monangai is quietly putting together another impressive season as the main complement to Robertson in Villanova’s potent rushing attack. 

He has amassed 611 yards, and eight touchdowns on the ground, which are team bests in both categories. 

A product of Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey, Monangai is closing in on 3,000 career rushing yards, a mark that he is expected to eclipse by the end of the season.

Junior running back Gary Underwood has had a breakout season complementing Monangai in the backfield. 

He has proven himself to be a big play threat both on the ground and in the short passing game. 

Through eight games, Underwood is averaging over seven yards per carry and has scored a total of seven touchdowns.

The Wildcats, averaging nearly 250 rushing yards per game, will look to take advantage of a matchup against a Richmond run defense that is allowing opponents to rush for an average of 131 yards per game.

Villanova has scored more than 40 points in six of its seven games against FCS opponents this season. 

Averaging 41.8 points per game, the Wildcats boast the top scoring offense in the CAA and are ranked eighth in the country in that category. 

Defensively, Villanova has allowed its opponents to put points on the board, but they consistently come through at important moments to give the ball back to their elite offensive unit. 

Junior linebacker Don Cherry is one of a handful of Wildcat defenders who is relied on to make plays all over the field.

As a whole, the defense has received praise from Head Coach Andy Talley throughout the season for their improvement and their ability to play together and come up with plays in big situations. 

They will face a major test on Saturday, as Richmond is third in the conference in both scoring and total yards per game.

Earlier this season, Villanova struggled to stop James Madison in a game that saw the Dukes exploit the Wildcats young corners in the passing game. 

Against Richmond, the Villanova secondary will face two talented wide receivers who will be sure to give the defensive backs all they can handle.  

Junior Reggie Diggs and sophomore Brian Brown have both compiled exactly 568 receiving yards this season. At 6-foot-4-inches, Diggs will be one of the tallest receivers the Wildcats have seen this season and can be compared to some of the big targets they defended against in the opener at Syracuse. The key to stopping these two will be to remain physical and force the Richmond quarterback to look toward his third and fourth options.

This game is likely to be a high-scoring affair between two very talented and experienced offenses. Even though they are playing at Richmond, the Wildcats are not at a disadvantage. They have shown the ability to out-perform opponents on the road, evidenced by their late comeback victory at William and Mary.

The game is set to kickoff at 12 p.m. and will be televised on Comcast SportsNet.