Maine is the last undefeated team in CAA league play. Villanova held that honor alongside the Black Bears a week ago, but a tough road trip to Durham, New Hampshire ended that when the 'Cats defense struggled late to allow UNH to score and convert a two-point try to win as time expired. The Wildcats of Villanova, however, will still be in the conference-title driver's seat this season -- if they can beat Maine.
It will be Homecoming for the Wildcats this weekend and Andy Talley is hoping for a strong crowd showing from among the thousands of alumni who will return to campus.
For the Wildcats, Maine senior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski will present a challenge. The Black Bears' QB is a threat to both run and throw, completing 16-of-22 passes for 192 yards last week against William & Mary, while scrambling for another 71 yards on the ground (reduced from 92 yards by three sacks). He is the Bear's second-leading rusher this season averaging 44 yards per game on the ground and he averages 246.6 yards in the air. Through seven games, he has thrown just six interceptions on 211 passing attempts.
He was named the co-Player of the Week by the CAA along with Villanova's John Robertson. The two quarterbacks are one and two for total offense in the CAA this season (Robertson is tops with 290.7 yards per game and Wasilewski trails with 290.6).
Wasilewski will receive some help on the ground from tailback Nigel Jones who has gained 459 yards on 95 attempts (65.5 yards per game) to lead the Bears. Last week, senior tailback Rickey Stevens also returned from an injury, to gain 99 yards on 24 carries, signalling that he too will be a factor in the Maine running game going forward.
The Black Bears had little trouble with the Tribe last week in Orono, wowing their homecoming crowd with an early 24-0 lead. William & Mary eventually got onto the scoreboard, but Maine never took their offensive foot off of the gas pedal, taking a 34-20 victory to lead the CAA.
Maine is 6-1 on the season, with a win over FBS UMass and their only loss coming against the Big Ten's Northwestern, who were ranked 18th at the time. In the last three weeks, Maine has won at Richmond and at home against Delaware and William & Mary.
With an offensive line that allowed the quarterback to be sacked three times last week, there may be an opportunity for a powerful Villanova defensive line to take advantage and break down the pocket. However, the Black Bears have only allowed 9 sacks all season, and only 5 in their 3 league games. Villanova's defense dropped the quarterback five times last weekend, and has 14 sacks on the year.
Maine is the third-best in the CAA when it comes to pass defense, but only fifth in total defense. The Wildcats will have an easier time running the ball -- their preference -- against a middle-of-the-pack rushing defense, than they will if Robertson is asked to air it out against a passing defense that not only ranks high in yardage, but also rates #1 in the league in pass-efficiency defense.
Of course, the 'Cats are the most efficient passing team in the CAA, thanks to John Robertson's high completion rate and a strong rushing game.
Limiting Wasilewski will be key for the Wildcats, putting pressure on the league's second-most-efficient quarterback -- and the third-best offense for passing yardage -- will be important. If the 'Cats can keep things uncomfortable for Wasilewski in the pocket, they may be able to keep the chains from moving as easily this week as they did for UNH last week.
The Wildcats seemed to wear down on defense near the end of the UNH game last week, allowing the other Wildcats to move the ball more easily as the game wore on. Aided by a debated late-hit call, New Hampshire had little trouble charging down field for their game-winning drive.
The Wildcats also seemingly switched back to their "old school" 3-3-5 defense, which allowed 237 yards on the ground to UNH. Prior to last week, the 'Cats had seemingly switched to a four-man defensive line, which had contributed to a series of efforts that had allowed just 81.0 rushing yards per game and 2.7 yards per rush during the team's four-game winning streak. The Wildcats, though anticipating more passing this week
Villanova's offense is running on all-cylinders this season, led by sophomore Robertson. Even losing senior receiver Joe Price for the season shouldn't slow the 'Cats tremendously. Sophomore all-purpose star Jamal Abdur-Rahman may also be out this week and is listed as questionable with a knee injury, but between Robertson, Kevin Monangai and Poppy Livers, the Wildcats have talent at both of the offensive positions that JAR often plays.
Robertson is just 104 rushing yards away from tying the school's record for rushing by a quarterback, and he could gain most of that this week -- last week he gained 256 yards on the ground, which is second only to a 287 yard show put on by Brian Westbrook in 2001.