When Andy Talley's Wildcats take to the gridiron on Saturday afternoon, they will be without star offensive weapon Matt Szczur for the seventh consecutive game. Even without the 2009 FCS Championship MOP available, the Wildcats will be looking to win their 16th consecutive game at Villanova Stadium and secure a 7th win that may lock up a playoff spot.
The Other Wildcats are facing a must-win scenario in their last two weeks. With most observers believing that seven wins is the magic number to punch a ticket to the playoffs, 5-3 New Hampshire will need to win their last two games to have hopes of getting there.
The New Hampshire offense moves the ball better through the air than on the ground, though R.J. Toman (who leads the team in rushing) along with the combination of Dontra Peters and Sean Jellison have put together a couple of 100+ yard performances. So make no mistake, if you don't respect them, these 'Cats can run.
The 46-7 beat-down that Villanova laid down on UNH in the playoffs last year seems far in the distance this week, but not completely erased from the Other Wildcats' minds. UNH senior defensive end Brian McNally told the Concord Monitor, "[t]rust me, we don't forget that game... but for the most part we just try to focus on this year's team and what we've got to be do beat this year's team."
New Hampshire has some injury issues of their own -- their top two tight ends are out, forcing punter Kyle Auffray to fill in at the position while Coach Sean McDonnell tries to keep a redshirt on true freshman Harold Spears. McDonnell believes that his injuries at tight end have negatively hurt his running game, which only recorded 39 yards in a loss last week.
While their run game may struggle, Quarterback R.J. Toman leads the CAA in total offense with 2,159 yards and New Hampshire is fourth in the league in that category. Villanova's defense will have to tighten up it's passing defense to keep the Other Wildcats out of the endzone.
Chris Whitney and the Villanova offense will be no slouch either -- being the best unit in the CAA so far. Whitney has thrown for 16 touchdowns and ran in 7 more for Our Wildcats (he now has the most rushing yards ever by a Villanova QB). UNH has the third-ranked Pass Defense in the CAA, but allow almost a point more per game than Villanova.
Last week when the Villanova running game went south, so did the Villanova offense. This week, Andy Talley should use the passing game to set up the run. Whitney can be trusted to make safe passes, and keep the UNH defensive backs honest. Once they have backed off the secondary, it will be easier to pick up yards on the ground. This means, among other things, throwing on first downs more often.
Turnovers will also need to be limited on Saturday. The loss in Rhode Island was almost entirely the result of sloppy play by the offense. When Our Wildcats protect the ball, they win games. That has to be a point of emphasis going into this game.
In summary: To win this game, Villanova needs to throw the ball early to keep the defense honest, protect against the New Hampshire passing game and limit turnovers as much as possible. If those things are in place, Our 'Cats are likely to record their 16th consecutive home win.
Update Nov. 12: New Hampshire linebacker Matt Evans was added to the Buck Buchanan Award watch-list this week after posting double-figures in tackles in eight of UNH's nine games so far. Our Wildcats better watch out for Evans on Saturday.
Saturday will be Military Appreciation Day at Villanova Stadium in addition to being Senior Day. Prior to the game, the Villanova Football senior class players will be honored in a ceremony. This senior class has recorded a 37-11 record along with last year's National Championship, two playoff appearances and a CAA title.
Kick-off will be November 13, 2010 at Noon from Villanova Stadium -- Television Coverage will be via the Comcast Network and Comcast Sports New England or via radio on 950AM WPEN in Philadelphia.