Southern discomfort



Nate McGann

After its thrilling upset victory over top-ranked Delaware, Villanova earned its chance to defend its national championship. Except this time, the Wildcats are underdogs.

Villanova travels to Texas to take on No. 2-ranked Stephen F. Austin in the second round of the FCS playoffs. The Wildcats earned a bye under the new tournament structure which went from 16 teams to 20. The top 12 teams automatically advance to the second round.

The Lumberjacks dominated the Southland Conference. After losing its opener to FBS opponent Texas A&M, the Lumberjacks went 9-1 — their only loss coming at home against Texas State.

The team’s greatest threat comes on the offensive side of the ball. Senior quarterback Jeremy Moses has broken nearly every school and conference record that he could. He’s Stephen F. Austin’s all-time leading passer as well as the all-time leading passer for the SLC.

Moses’ affinity for passing the ball was apparent early in his career when, as a freshman appearing in only his second collegiate game, he set the school single-game records for pass attempts and completions. He surpassed both marks in his sophomore season, this time eclipsing the NCAA single-game records in both categories.

He’s only 18 completions away from becoming the FCS all-time leader in completions, a record he will clearly be looking to break against the Wildcats. In addition to completions, Moses ranks in the top 10 of basically every passing record at the FCS level. In short, Moses will be a difficult assignment for a Wildcats’ secondary that has struggled at times this season.

Nevertheless, Villanova remains balanced on both sides of the field. While the defense may not be as takeaway-savvy as last year’s unit, it has still limited seven of 11 opponents to fewer than 20 points. The offense faces a few questions of its own.

In last season’s run to Chattanooga, senior wide receiver Matt Szczur burst on to the national spotlight with his blazing speed and knack for big plays. When he made the decision to return for his senior season, the talk of a championship repeat gained steamed. Then Szczur went down early with an ankle injury, and the offense struggled with no replacement.

Senior quarterback Chris Whitney started forcing things in both the passing game and rushing attack which led to turnovers in key situations. As the offense became more one-dimensional, opponents were able to gameplan better which helps to explain the 1-2 record down the stretch.

Szczur did return to the field for the season finale but was used more as a decoy rather than a focal point of the offense. Villanova will need the added dimension he brings if the team hopes to go on the road in a hostile environment and steal a victory.

The biggest factor missing without Szczur on the field is Talley’s wildcat package which he likes to employ on third downs. Villanova has seen a decline in third-down conversions since Szczur went down.The receiver has made a killing picking apart opposing defenses with his ability to both run and pass in those situations.

One last thing in the Wildcats favor is the fact that Talley likes to send out three safeties in the defensive backfield, a set many quarterbacks who haven’t faced this team struggle adjusting to. If Villanova can confuse Moses and somehow get Szczur healthy, they’ll have a chance. But those are big ifs.