"Well, you know, I think [Oregon Head Coach] Chip Kelly said it best; 'you better make sure you treat every game like it's your rival,' because if you don't, shame on you," Andy Talley said about his team's mentality heading into a match-up with 1-6 Georgia State.
"That's really true, and for us, we're really nothing special at this point in time. We feel like we've got to play a great game every week we play just to justify who we are."
Though this Georgia State team appears to be down on it's luck, losing six straight games to open the season before finally winning last weekend at winless Rhode Island, they will hope to catch Villanova off-guard this weekend. The Panthers' win over URI wasn't even close — a 41-7 thumping of the Rams — and running back Donald Russell was named the league's offensive player of the week after a 201-yard rushing, three touchdown performance.
Add to that the fact that GSU is a long trip, that the school is celebrating homecoming this weekend and that head coach Bill Curry has more than a few tricks up his sleeve from stops at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky, and you have the formula for a classic trap game.
"Going to the Georgia Dome is very exciting for us," Talley said. "Coach Curry is a great coach and a fantastic person — actually a guy I admire a great deal.
"So we're going to have the troops ready, we've been to the mountaintop before, so we know. We need to get on a plane and do a great job. They have some fantastic talent down there and for whatever reason they gelled real nicely against a Rhode Island group up there at Rhode Island."
Their six losses were by an average deficit of 27.5 points, inflated only slightly by a 38 point loss to SEC-member Tennessee. They are last in the league in rushing defense, allowing 212.7 yards per game on the ground, and next-to-last in scoring defense at 34.7 points per game. Passing defense is also next-to-last at 246 yards per game allowed. Key injuries along the GSU defensive line may continue to cause issues for the Panthers on defense.
That's a good sign for a Villanova offense that ideally needs to establish the running game early on. John Robertson is a good passer, but works best with the play-action and when the running game keeps things open downfield. With a strong running game, the Wildcats can control the clock and set up their defense for success. Even though Robertson can throw the ball well, he's clearly one of the best runners in the league, causing Georgia State's Curry to call him a "quicker Tim Tebow."
Rhode Island has the statistically-worst rushing, passing and scoring offense in the league, so it is no wonder that they weren't able to get much done against Georgia State last weekend. On top of that, the Rams are suffering from a lack of depth due to scholarship cuts (as they were planning to move to the 40-scholarship NEC) that have them playing with just 47 scholarships and injuries that have diminished their defense recently.
Just as important as it is to establish the run, however, Villanova will have to look to stop the run as well. Donald Russell is a very talented tailback who can put up big numbers if given the chance. Even though the Panthers were held to under-100 rushing yards in 5 games this season, Russell has averaged 106.1 yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry. He has only seen the endzone three times as a rusher, and two of those came last week.
After last week, Russell leads the conference in rushing. Villanova's Kevin Monangai and Robertson are third and fourth respectively.
Georgia State has used more than one quarterback this season, but Ben McLane will be the starter on Saturday barring a surprise. The freshman has averaged 146.3 yards passing and has six touchdowns and 4 interceptions on the season. He isn't a huge threat to run with the ball, however, rushing just once last weekend for 11 yards.
McLane passed for 213 yards and two touchdowns against URI last weekend.
Their game plan involved trying to get their offense off to a fast start and to make Villanova play from behind.
"When we play faster we come out and play faster and jump on the guys," GSU linebacker Joe Peterson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "That's what we are going to try to do against Villanova, jump on them as soon as we can, score as soon as we can, do what we have to do."
They found offensive success last weekend by limiting turnovers and penalties and will hope to replicate that success this week. Villanova will look to force them to have those turnovers on Saturday to keep the Panthers' offense from getting into gear.
No matter how fast Georgia State starts out, the 'Cats need to treat this game like they did Old Dominion, where the 'Cats fell behind 14-0 in the first five minutes and still rallied for a 38-14 victory on the road. The key to both games will be the same: establish the running game to move the sticks and eat up clock, don't give up big field position advantages on special teams, and get stops on defense.
Unlike Old Dominion, the Villanova defense can be expected to go back to its mostly 3-3-5 look in a run-stopping mentality. If Georgia State is having success throwing the ball, however, the 'Cats have shown that they can switch to a 4-3 defensive front and bring more heat in the pass-rush when needed.
Nobody is going to pick Georgia State to win this game and nobody should expect them to. The Wildcats come to the Georgia Dome as a 22-point favorite according to Sagarin, but this one still has the look of a classic trap game. The Panthers are still 1-6 and are an easy team to overlook, but they also have momentum and confidence after last weekend's victory and they will look to throw everything they have at the 'Cats on homecoming weekend.
If Villanova does what Andy Talley suggested and treats every game like a rivalry, maintains their composure and stays mentally sharp, they should come home from Atlanta with a victory.