Villanova and the University at Albany have never before met on the gridiron, despite their proximity within the northeast region. UAlbany joined the CAA football conference last season, but did not face the Wildcats a year ago.
They will arrive on the Main Line sporting a 6-4 record overall, though they have gone just 2-4 in CAA contests thus far in coach Greg Gattuso's first season at the helm. The Wildcats enter the game at 8-2 overall and 5-1 in the conference with a perfect record on their home field -- a streak they will look to continue. With a win on Saturday night, Villanova will finish it's home slate at 6-0.
Villanova will look for another all-around performance this week after playing well on both sides of the ball last weekend against Towson.
The Wildcats are in for a challenge on defense against Albany's passing game, however. Quarterback Will Fiacchi is averaging 217 yards in the air and has 21 touchdowns so far this season, targeting WR Cole King, TE Brian Parker and WR Josh Gontarek primarily in the process. Parker is a huge target at 6-4, 260 who will be tough to tackle if he can get into the secondary. King is a redshirt senior who has played with Fiacchi throughout his career, along with super-frosh Gontarek, they have accounted for 17 of Fiacchi's touchdowns, with the freshman owning eight.
That said, Albany still works hard to try and establish their running game. Tailback Omar Osbourne is averaging 98.1 yards per game. The team's top two runners, however, are each averaging less than 5 yards per carry and Osbourne has scored just 4 times this year -- which seems to indicate that they are struggling to break off many big plays on the ground.
While Towson's Darius Victor was able to find holes in the Wildcats' run defense last week, it won't be as easy for Osbourne. So, expect the Great Danes to look to the sky for yardage against the Wildcats, where they will likely be able to do the most damage.
The Great Danes defense is driven by linebackers Michael Nicastro and Christian Dorsey, who are both among the CAA's top five tacklers. They look to generate turnovers and the Danes' unit is one of the best in the league at doing so -- just as their offense commits the some of the fewest.
The Wildcats will have to be wary of Albany's ability to force those mistakes. John Robertson has done a great job of avoiding giveaways so far this season, and it's likely that the Wildcats' quarterback will continue his trend of hyper-efficient passing on Saturday night. The 'Cats will look to take control at the line of scrimmage, however, and establish their strong running game with Kevin Monangai and Austin Medley providing strength and speed, respectively -- not to mention Robertson's pinball antics.
Defensively, it will be important to prepare for the passing attack -- especially the play-action fakes that Albany will look for after a few hand-offs to Osbourne. Keeping Fiacchi's arm out of the game as a factor will be vital for the 'Cats. That means looking for the secondary to stick to their man in coverage and not bite on old tricks.
The Wildcats also lead the CAA in interceptions, and if the secondary is able to pick off Fiacchi, it can help get momentum in the 'Cats' corner. Turnovers, like Joe Sarnese's long pick-6 last weekend, are ultimately key for the Wildcats against teams with strong passing attacks.
If the defense holds up well, the 'Cats offensive firepower should be enough to put away the Great Danes. Nobody in the league scores as often as Villanova, and Robertson is one of the most dynamic players in the country. He ranks in the top-five nationally in six different statistical categories -- he's the best in the nation at passing efficiency and points responsible for, he's fifth all-time in passing yards at Villanova and second for touchdowns and rushing touchdowns -- three of the top-four played in the NFL.
A perfect record at home is clearly the main honor that can be obtained this weekend, but the Wildcats are also looking to set up a comfortable ride in the postseason. Winning the last two games this season could set the team up for a bye in the first round and perhaps one or more home games along the way -- no small thing when you consider the epic travel that this program was asked to undertake in their 2010 playoff campaign.