Towson's season started with a bang, a 33-18 win over FBS Connecticut was one of the largest margins of victory for a school in Division I's junior subdivision over the senior circuit. Since then, the Tigers have continued rolling, winning at Holy Cross, NC Central and Stony Brook and notching W's against Delaware State and New Hampshire at home.
The Tigers have come from behind in the last two weeks, scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter to overcome a 21-10 halftime deficit at Stony Brook, and tagging New Hampshire for 24 points in second quarter to come back from a 20-3 first quarter deficit. They did it with the FCS' leading scorer, Terrance West, who has accounted for 90 of Towson's points on 15 touchdowns already this season, and has averaged 147.7 rushing yards per game. West won the inaugural Jerry Rice Award two years ago.
"Terrence West I think, without question, is the best running back in the country at the FCS level," Andy Talley told CBS Radio. "220-pounds, he's a game breaker. He'll run over you, around you, through you. You can't stop him, you have to try and slow him down, that's what we're going to try to do. Just slow him down. He's going to get his yards, but don't give him any big plays."
Villanova's quarterback, John Robertson also owns a Jerry Rice Award trophy -- given to the top Freshman performer in FCS, and has accounted for 265 yards of total offense per game with 10 touchdowns, five passing and five rushing.
Towson isn't a one-trick pony, however, and fifth-year senior quarterback Peter Athens has shown that he can get it down through the air as well. Last weekend, he completed 22 of 33 passes for 343 yards and two touchdowns -- both career bests. Their junior wideout Spencer Wilkins was the primary beneficiary of most from that output, with seven catches for 153 yards and a score.
Credit the Towson offensive line, which has opened up running lanes for West and hasn't yet allowed a sack on the season.
Villanova's defense allowed just 74.3 yards per game during their three-game winning streak at home, though they gave up 116 yards to William & Mary on the ground. The 'Cats have been using a four-man defensive line as their base defense since switching over to that scheme in Week 1 against a Boston College team that wanted to run the ball on Nova. That switch allowed them to hold Stony Brook to just 87 yards on the ground and to completely stymie the running game of Penn, who gained just 20 yards on the ground.
They will try to do the same to Towson's West this weekend, and while the Tigers have shown they can work through the air, their biggest offensive weapon is still their tailback.
The Tigers defense has also been impressive. They have held opponents to 300.5 yards of offense per game and have turned opponents over 15 times. In CAA games, however, they have come back to reality a little bit, giving up 352.5 yards of offense on average, in CAA games against Stony Brook and New Hampshire, and six turnovers. Those opponents have averaged 24.5 points against Towson's defense, though neither had a good answer for the Tiger's offensive firepower.
Against Towson, the best defense, might be a good offense.
Specifically an offense that can eat up time on the clock and make progress on the ground. The Wildcats have the CAA's fourth-best rushing offense and 6th-best scoring offense. In CAA games only, the 'Cats move up to third-best in rushing offense and remain at 6th in scoring. The Wildcats will be the best running team that Towson has faced in the conference this season, but they are dead-last in passing offense in league games.
They rank second and third in scoring defense and rushing defense, respectively, and are the second best in total-defense and scoring in the league (after the now-vanquished William & Mary). Their passing defense is a solid middle-of-the-pack against the CAA, and if Towson's Athens manages to get his arm going again this week, the Wildcats will need to step things up in the secondary to make plays.
Villanova needs to figure out the Towson defense and will need to hope that their offensive line, which has struggled with injuries lately, can be effective enough to keep Robertson and running back Kevin Monangai on the move. While the 'Cats will again hang their hat on the ground game, Robertson will still need to hit his receivers in key spots as well.