Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
The Wildcats lost on homecoming at Villanova Stadium last season, but they have won their last two games away from home this season, both as the homecoming opponent. This week, they will seek to win a third-straight game on homecoming, and avenge last season's loss to Towson.
Last season, Towson blindsided a Villanova team that was already battered and bruised from a prior game against FBS opponent Temple. The Tigers dominated a weak and inexperienced Nova team on their way to a 31-10 victory, leaving freshman quarterback Dustin Thomas and wide receiver Joe Price injured.
Price suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung during that game, and Thomas' injury began the revolving door at quarterback that only ended this season with John Robertson holding the job for good.
This season's 'Cats look much stronger than last, however, and while Towson remains a dangerous team in the CAA, Villanova will feel confident going into this game. Towson has a run-first mentality, and while Villanova wasn't able to stop much of anything last season, the defensive front has performed well in the last seven games against opposing runners.
Towson can also throw the ball, however, and while they've averaged almost 200 yards per game on the ground, they have also put up around 200 yards per game in the air as well. That makes quarterback Grant Enders a key player for the Tigers, and they will try to move the ball in the air more if the Wildcats are able to limit their running game. Enders uses all of his receivers, spreading the ball around, making things difficult to cover if he has time to look downfield for a target.
Towson has a good offensive line that has offered enough protection for Enders that they have given up just nine sacks all season, the second-fewest of any CAA team. Seven of those nine sacks came against their two opponents from the Bowl subdivision. FCS opponents have had a harder time bringing Enders down.
That is because Enders is a mobile quarterback who averages over 59 yards per game on the ground and is the second-leading rusher on the team after Terrence West. On Saturday, Enders may be the best runner on the field for the Tigers, however.
That is because West, notably, did not play at all last week against Old Dominion. Rumors and speculation have abounded since that the mercurial player may not play for the Tigers ever again. His status for this weekend, at least, remains in doubt.
Defensively, the Tigers are better against the passing game than they are against the run. They rank near the top of the conference against the pass, but are in the middle of the pack versus the ground game. Villanova's Kevin Monangai currently leads the CAA in rushing yardage, while quarterback Robertson comes in fourth. With the Tigers defense showing signs of weakness on the ground, expect Villanova to try and establish some rushing success early in the game, with Robertson being asked to throw only when the defense's adjustments create open looks.
Turnovers will also be a factor in this game. Villanova has done a good job of limiting them in six wins so far and will need to exhibit a similar level of protection this weekend as well. Towson has not thrown a lot of interceptions, but a number of fumbles have dropped them near the bottom of the conference in turnover margin, and Villanova defenders should look to strip the ball when possible.
If Terrence West plays on Saturday, it is a whole new story for the Tigers, as Villanova will have to guard against both the talented running back and the mobile quarterback. If West doesn't play, then the game plan is simpler: get to Enders.
Last week, Enders lead the Towson offense in rushing with almost 100 yards (94) and he completed 26 passes for 290 yards as well. Villanova will either need to break down his protection and limit the quarterback, or trust Robertson to win in a shootout.
Villanova will play a tough game against a Towson team that has the talent to play with anyone in the CAA. Despite the recent drama surrounding West and head coach Rob Ambrose's practice-time scandal, expect the Tigers to bring their "A" game this weekend.
Sagarin's rating system would suggest that the Wildcats are a one-touchdown favorite in this game and that number feels about right. Villanova should be able to stop the run and get to the quarterback in the backfield as they have in almost every game this season, and that should be enough to keep things within reach for the 'Cats. Offensively, Towson seems to be giving up yardage on the ground, which will help Villanova's super-strong running game gain control of the scoreboard and the game clock.