Villanova puts CAA leadership on the line in New Hampshire

CAA Football

The Wildcats will face off on Saturday at noon, it has been a decade since Villanova (4-2, 3-0) has won at UNH's Cowell Stadium, but they will have to find a way to win this weekend if they hope to remain in the CAA driver's seat.

New Hampshire is the place where Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly cut his teeth and developed the basics of the offense that set the college football world on fire in the past six years while he was running the show at Oregon. UNH has survived and thrived as one of the CAA's best programs with or without Kelly, however, and the 2-3 Wildcats [editors note: yes, this is going to get confusing] have been well-enough established to hold on to a spot in the FCS top-25 (their 133rd consecutive week in the rankings).

Their losses come to FBS opponent, Central Michigan, and FCS foes Lehigh and Towson. They came within a field goal of an upset of CMU, however, and scored 27 and 28 points, respectively, in the two I-AA losses. While the 12th-ranked Villanovans are heading into New England as favorites, UNH has given visiting teams fits for most of the CAA's existence.

Villanova's last win in New Hampshire came in 2003. Not even in their 2009 National Championship season, were the Wildcats able to escape their same-name-foe's home field with a win. The UNH 'Cats were the sole blemish on an otherwise sparkling season for Villanova that year. Head coach Andy Talley will be hoping that week's shorter road-trip to Towson hopefully didn't empty the tank for his team.

Villanova is just starting to fire on all cylinders it seems, and while their defense has given up some bigger yardage in the passing game, they have been one of the best out there against the run -- and against the score. Towson's 35 points were the most that 'Nova had given up to an opponent on the season, and that was largely after building up a healthy cushion on the scoreboard.

While Villanova is surging, UNH is looking to get back on track. They started the season just 1-3, but handed Rhode Island a 59-19 whupping last weekend, including 333 rushing yards and five touchdowns in the second half -- seemingly taking out their frustrations on the helpless Rams.

Both Wildcats seem ready to rumble on offense.

Last weekend, Villanova quarterback John Robertson passed for 182 yards, ran for 150 yards and accounted for five touchdowns. He completed all but one pass attempt on the 'Cats way to a 45-point output and an upset victory. Nova hasn't scored less than 20 points against an FCS opponent.

New Hampshire, meanwhile, hasn't scored less than 21 points against anyone and have scored over 50 points twice this season already. Quarterback Andy Vailas is listed as questionable this week, but has accounted for 177 yards per game and four touchdowns in the air. If he doesn't play, Sean Goldrich will take the snaps for UNH, handing off the ball to stud tailback Nico Steriti.

Steriti has averaged 6.5 yards per carry and 91.4 yards per game, scoring six touchdowns in their first five games. He has passed the 100 yard rushing mark in two of UNH's last three games, and has eight career century-mark performances among his 1,748 career rushing yards.

Villanova is ranked No. 9 nationally in rushing defense (102.5 yards/game) and 18th in rushing offense (228.2 yards/
game), while Robertson is second in completion percentage (.712), 13th in passing efficiency (152.5) and 14th in rushing TDs (eight).

Villanova has outscored the opposition in both the first (59-27) and second (59-21) quarters, but the opponent has recorded the advantage in both the third (34-24) and fourth (32-31). The 'Cats like to play with a lead, which may explain the slack they have given their opponents in the second half.

Both teams will lean on their running game this weekend, though UNH likes to go to the air a much more often than the CAA's southernmost Wildcats and have an offensive scheme that is more balanced. They have gained their yardage equally through the air and on the ground. That means that Villanova will have to use their powerful defensive line to the task of pressuring UNH, taking away the run game and forcing their quarterback to throw under duress.

The all-time series between Villanova and UNH is currently tied at 11-wins each.

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