Villanova vs. Rhode Island preview: Tough Rhody to hoe, Wildcats head to Kingston with winning-season on the line

CAA Football

Villanova's defensive unit has struggled in recent weeks. Can they get back on track in their game against Rhode Island?

Rhode Island hasn't had an easy ride the last few seasons, eliminating scholarships in a plan to move to the Northeast Conference, then about-facing to increase their headcount to remain in the CAA. The changes in Kingston have caused some turmoil for Rhody and are going to take much of the blame for the current 3-7 season record.

The Rams' record includes two wins over CAA opponents, including an overtime victory over new CAA member, Albany, and win over Richmond, who are now 1-4 in the conference.

Averaging 326 yards of offense and just under 16 points per game, URI has had a lukewarm offensive output so far this season. They have attempted about 100 more running plays than passing this season, but have accumulated slightly better yardage on the arm of quarterback Bob Bentsen - averaging 169.1 yards in the air and 157.2 on the ground.

Opponents, meanwhile, have lit up the scoreboard in Kingston. Rhody has allowed opponents to score almost twice as many points per game (31.6) and 425.7 yards of offense -- roughly equal between passing and rushing plays.

Bentsen has completed 56.5% of his pass attempts this season while accumulating 1619yards in the air and adding another 386 with his legs. He has thrown for 9 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and added two scores on the ground as well. His main target is Robbie Jackson, who has caught 58 passes for 530 yards and five touchdowns this season, while Jawaun Wynn is another threat, averaging 10.1 yards per play.

On the ground, Robbie Delgado has been the workhorse for URI. The tailback has run 138 times for 458 yards and three scores. Bentsen is number-two on the team in rushing.

URI is not a terribly deep team, but their best talents are CAA-quality. Villanova's injuries could make things a little more even between these two squad than they might have been earlier in the season, but the 'Cats are still likely better built for this battle than the Rams.

Villanova has dominated the all-time series against Rhody, holding a 15-3 record all-time, including double-digit wins in eight of the last nine meetings. The 'Cats last trip to URI's Meade Stadium, however, resulted in one of their three losses in the series, in November 2010.

Quarterback John Robertson is the key for Villanova, heading to the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (easily the longest name-length-to-square-miles ratio for a U.S. State). The newly-appointed Walter Payton Watchlist member has been driving the Wildcats' offense, seemingly by himself for much of this season. He is the only Villanova quarterback to ever rush for 1,000 yards and one of only two players in school history to reach that milestone in more than one season.

Last week, however, James Madison was well prepared for Robertson's Superman Heroics, mostly keeping the sophomore signal caller boxed in. In order to avoid that, the Wildcats need to look to the air and to other runners to keep defenses honest. Using Robertson on the move as a decoy, the 'Cats could draw Rhody's defenders out of position and create mismatch opportunities elsewhere on the field.

Look for Kevin Monangai to get more work again this week, and for Robertson to put the ball in the air for Poppy Livers, Kevin Gulyas and Earnest Pettway.

As tough as it is to defend against a dynamic running quarterback like Robertson, if the Wildcats get too one-dimensional, it is likely that they will stall.

More important, however, is the defensive effort, where the 'Cats are likely to again lean on Don Cherry, who leads the team with 82 tackles on the season. Cameron McCurry is the CAA's interceptions leader as well, and as the chief playmaker in the secondary, he will be relied upon to test Bentsen's accuracy this week.

Since taking down Towson, Nova has struggled to stop anyone opposing offense. This week will have to be different, and even though the Rams are not a high-powered unit, they are not incapable of doing damage. This game is a vital tune-up before moving on to prepare for Delaware.

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