Villanova is favored again this week -- and they will be as long as they are ranked in the top-4 in the country. The Wildcats lead the all-tome series 21-10, but only have a 3-2 edge in the last five meetings; a stretch during which both schools took home the FCS National Championship trophy. Their last meeting was a 17-28 loss at home during the 2012 season.
This season, it is a meeting of two of the CAA's top teams, with Richmond ranked 13th and entering the game at 6-2 overall and 3-1 in the conference. The Wildcats are 7-1 overall and are tied with New Hampshire atop the conference. As Andy Talley described, the game is "pivotal" for the Wildcats and Spiders.
For Villanova, everything is on the line this weekend, the CAA Title, favorable playoff-seeding, and a perfect record against FCS opponents. For Richmond, this game is their chance to plant a flag in the conference race and greatly-improve their playoff resume.
The Spiders are a big and physical team that matches up well in the trenches against anyone at this level. They protect their quarterback well against the pass-rush and have a similarly strong defensive line. They are the third-best rushing offense in the CAA (behind the Wildcats of Villanova and New Hampshire) and the fourth-best rushing defense.
Richmond averages 36.2 points per game and allows opponents to score 22.2 points. Though, much of that has been accrued under former starting-quarterback Michael Strauss, but both he and receiver Stephen Barnette were lost to injuries a few weeks ago. In the two games since then, Richmond has decimated Rhode Island 37-0 and steamrolled Elon 30-10 (both teams winless in the CAA conference).
Their backup quarterback, Michael Rocco, passed for 162 and 296 yards in those two games, but threw for just one touchdown and two interceptions; showing some growing pains as he gets comfortable with the first-team offense. Prior to arriving at Richmond, Rocco had made 21 starts for the University of Virginia, so nonetheless, he is a veteran signal-caller who should be respected.
Losing Barnette is less of a concern for the Spiders, his veteran leadership on the turf will be missed, but wide receivers are plentiful for Richmond, who lead the conference in passing offense, averaging over 321 yards per game in the air. That could be an issue for a Villanova team that has been picked-apart at times in the air, including by a James Madison team that flexed it's passing-muscle to put up over 400-yards on the Wildcats.
Their 9 interceptions are the fourth-highest mark in the CAA, however, which could be the key to Villanova's strategy against them -- Villanova corner Jason Ceneus is tied at the top of the league in pick-offs, and the team's nine-total picks are second in the league.
On the road in Richmond, this could be an even tougher match-up than the Wildcats' road game in Williamsburg. The Tribe took Villanova to the wire in an exciting 35-31 game two weeks ago, but Richmond rates much better on offense and defense this season, and the 'Cats should be wary of a letdown.
Against the Spiders, Villanova will need to look to take control of the proceedings early on. They have been consistently good against both the run and pass this season, but the Wildcats' dual-threat quarterback, John Robertson, should be able to make the defense uncomfortable. If he succeeds, 'Nova can perhaps build a quick lead and use their running game and short-passes to extend offensive possessions and keep the defense rested -- which will be important, to help maintain consistent pressure on the big Richmond O-line.
The Wildcats are favored, but this is the type of game where good teams often falter. It takes a great team to win a game like this on the road.