On Saturday the Villanova football team will open their road-warrior FCS playoff bid in Nacogdoches, Texas against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. The Lumberjacks ended the regular season with a 9-2 record and a number-3 ranking. It will be the first ever meeting of the two schools.
The Jacks's two losses came against Texas Tech in their season-opener and against Texas State in Southland Conference play. Despite only having two losses, they are ranked 12 spots below Villanova by the Sagarin computer ratings currently -- largely due to playing a weaker Southland Conference schedule.
The 10th-ranked Villanova Wildcats are perhaps a better team than their record indicates and this should be a hardfought match-up down in Texas.
The Lumberjacks can play to the Wildcats' defensive weakness -- a strong passing game. While 'Nova rarely gives up a "big play" on defense, it has been much easier to move the ball through the air against the Wildcats than on the ground this season. As Andy Talley told reporters, "We are a run-stop defense not a pass-stop defense."
On Saturday, the 'Cats will have to stop the pass, and Jacks QB Jeremy Moses is a great passer.
Moses has been named the Southland Conference football Player of the Year for the second straight season this year, and for good reason, he leads the FCS in completions (303), attempts (499), yards (3,658) and touchdown passes (34). The Lumberjacks are the top passing offense in FCS football.
However, as Moses told reporters: "My name may be next to those numbers, but they belong to the whole team. I’ve been able to do what I’ve done because the line gives me the time to throw and our receivers make plays."
If Villanova is going to stop that offense, it means covering the Jacks' receivers and getting past the offensive line to put Moses on the ground. Moses has only thrown four picks this season, so a strong pass-rush will be important to force him to get rid of the ball.
It isn't clear if Villanova will have Matt Szczur for this game, but it does appear that the senior star did practice with the team this week, and after limited participation in the Delaware game two weeks ago, it seems likely that he will be at least partially available.
Since Szczur was injured, however, Chris Whitney has taken over as the dominant player in the Villanova offense. With two player-of-the-week level performances this season and one of the NCAA's top pass efficiency ratings, Whitney is capable of helping the Wildcats keep up the scoring pace down in Texas -- with or without Szczur. Norman White, Dorian Wells and Mikey Reynolds have all proven themselves to be capable receivers in the Villanova offense, and runningbacks Angelo Babbaro and Aaron Ball have been very effective running behind the Villanova line this season.
The 'Cats have never won a road game in the football playoffs, but will have to win at least three road games to book a second-consecutive trip to the Division I National Championship game in Frisco, TX.
The game will kick-off on Saturday, December 4th at 3:30pm Eastern time from Homer-Bryce Stadium. Television coverage will be provided live on CW-17 (Philadelphia), MASN, ESPN3.con and as part of the ESPN Game Plan package. Radio coverage will be on 950AM - ESPN Radio.