Villanova may be winless heading into their meeting with Stony Brook this weekend, but their record remains unblemished thus-far in CAA Conference play. The Sea Wolves opened their season three weeks ago with a 24-0 victory over Rhode Island to put them atop the CAA standings with a 1-0 record.
Number-twelve ranked Stony Brook's 1-1 record thus far includes a two-touchdown effort in the fourth quarter to put away a Rhody team in Week 2 that struggled mightily in the first two weeks, as well as a five-overtime loss against MAC foe Buffalo (a fellow member of the SUNY system).
The Sea Wolves hold a 1-0 all-time advantage over 'Nova, after winning 20-10, in the first round of the Division I Football Championship last year. The Wildcats had won five straight opening-round games
Despite graduating star running back Miguel Maysonette, the Sea Wolves have a potent offense that has averaged 23.5 points per game through a relatively balanced attack. Quarterback Lyle Negron has passed for three touchdowns and two interceptions, completing 55.2% of his passes for an average of 243 yards per game. On the ground, Marcus Coker — who was the #2 rusher in the Big Ten before transferring from Iowa after the 2011 season — leads the way with 96.5 yards per game and one touchdown.
The Sea Wolves have also played very good defense, holding Rhode Island scoreless and giving up just 26 points to an FBS opponent last week, despite playing five overtime periods. They managed to get two turnovers, including an interception by Winston Longdon, but allowed Buffalo to hang up 349 yards against them.
It is tough to tell exactly how good the Seawolves are after two games. While Rhody finally scored a win against a struggling Albany squad, the Bulls team they faced last week was an FBS game that they were not expected to win. Taking a MAC opponent down to the wire in overtime, especially with a late push in the fourth quarter to tie things up, was impressive.
Villanova suffered a close 27-24 loss in their last game at Fordham, who came to Philadelphia last weekend to knock off Temple. The Wildcats shot themselves in the foot in the Bronx, losing five fumbles, including on a number of key plays late in the game. They will have to improve upon their -6 turnover margin that they have had over the first two games, including six lost fumbles and three interceptions.
Despite the losses, voters in the FCS polls still have confidence in the Wildcats, keeping them in the rankings at number-20 this week. Another loss, even to number-twelve, would likely drop the 'Cats from most voter's ballots.
The Villanova defense should improve this week with Joe Sarnese expected back in the line-up. The junior safety is the defensive "quarterback" for the team, but missed week-two along with a few other teammates, due to an ankle injury. Strong safety Matt McCann and Pat Haggerty remain out this week, with the latter being done for the season, but coaches are likely to re-evaluate using the other players who were injured in weeks one and two. That includes star defensive end Rakim Cox, who was pulled from the Fordham game with a concussion.
Stony Brook is a team that looks a lot like the playoff squad that ran all over the Wildcats in last year's playoffs, at least on paper. Despite a shut-out win against Rhode Island, however, they haven't necessarily seemed as tough as the team that beat Army by 20 last season and kept things close at Syracuse. Instead, this SBU squad appears to be a strong, balanced offense with a good defense, but whether either unit will be able to dominate in CAA games remains in question.
For the Wildcats there are just as many questions. Can they stem the turnover troubles? Can they stop a strong FCS offense as their defense begins to regain its health?
John Robertson leads the team in rushing early with 122 yards on the ground to Kevin Monangai's 104. The Wildcats need to get much more production from their top running back on the ground, while Robertson needs to be able to execute better in the passing game.
The Wildcats haven't been able to get senior receiver Joe Price involved through the passing game. After being Robertson's top target last fall, he has just 49 yards so far this season. Instead, the sophomore QB has been using slot receivers Poppy Livers (111 yards, 10 receptions) and Jamal Abdur-Rahman (92 yards, 7 receptions) heavily. Price is a tall target on the outside with sure hands who can help the 'Cats a lot if they can find ways to get him open and for Robertson to connect with him downfield.
In their home opener, the Wildcats just need to hope that a week away from the game was enough to cure what ails them. A week off from games can provide time to fix some of the fumble issues and more-importantly, to provide a chance to heal the injuries that were picked up in two highly-competitive games to start the season.
It is hard to call a third-week game a must-win, but for Villanova, who were picked to win the CAA conference this season, flexing your muscle a bit this week would show the world that the 'Cats were not paper tigers entering the season. They need a win to stay in the top-25 polls, but more importantly, to take a strong position in the hunt for the CAA title and charge toward a potential playoff bid.