A victory over Delaware in the last week of the regular season allowed the Wildcats to earn a national seeding (number-six) and with it, a bye in the first round and home field advantage in the second round. Their opponent Liberty, earned their berth by knocking off highly-ranked Coastal Carolina to win the Big South title in their final season game. They rode that momentum into a first round game at James Madison, where they stifled the Dukes and scored 16 unanswered points in the second half to take the win -- their first ever in the postseason.
Liberty enters their road trip to Villanova with an excess of confidence after those victories. They've played good football all season, and have been doing their best at the end of the season.
Offensively, they run a scheme designed to maintain possession of the ball and wear down defenses. Their own defense, coming in well-rested, plays with intensity and has shut out their opponent in the second half of their last two games. Cornerback Kenny Scott has been one of the keys to that defensive prowess. In a scheme that often puts him in man-coverage he smothered his assigned receiver for most of the game last Saturday.
They run an option offense that looks a lot like what Tom Osborne used to run at Nebraska, according to Andy Talley. They're big, fast and physical, with a 1000-yard receiver in junior Darrin Peterson and a 1000-yard rusher in junior D.J. Abnar. Quarterback Josh Woodrum reminded Talley of former 'Nova championship-QB Chris Whitney on first impression, and the big signal-caller can perhaps play that roll for Liberty -- he has completed 65% of his passes for 2700 yards, 19 touchdowns and 9 interceptions on the season.
The Flames will trust Woodrum and Abnar to get things done for their offense, making some key plays and going on long drives.
The Wildcats have been one of the better defensive teams at stopping the run this season, and taking that angle away from the Flames would seem to be the best chance for 'Nova. In their 4 losses this season, Abnar was not able to make himself a factor. Even if they can stop the run, Woodrum's arm is still a concern for a Villanova defense that has coughed up big plays through the air this season.
Even without a running game, the Wildcats likely won't stop Woodrum's arm, but the one thing that Villanova's pass defense was impressively good at this season, was grabbing the ball. Cornerback Jason Ceneus led the CAA this season with 5 interceptions and the unit was tied for the conference lead in that category prior to the playoffs. If the Flames feel like they have to go to the air, it may force Woodrum to make a regrettable pass into coverage.
Villanova will return some key player this weekend who spent time sidelined with injurie, with Tanoh Kpassagnon returning to the rotation at defensive end, Earnest Pettway returning as starting tight end, and Ross Hall back at center. All of those players will be key for Villanova's attempts to take control of the game on Saturday.
While JMU scored 21 unanswered points in the second quarter against this Liberty team, it wasn't enough to take control of the game. Villanova's offense needs to be more effective than that -- against a team that absolutely dominated time of possession last weekend, Villanova's offense needs to get on the field and stay on the field.
John Robertson makes that game plan reasonable, effectively taking control of almost every game he has played in thus far. The Liberty defense will challenge him as much as anyone this season, but other than the ill-fated trip to Richmond, the Wildcats' offense hasn't been held back much with the Walter Payton candidate under center.
This will be the biggest football game contested on the Main Line since 2009, and the Wildcats are hoping for a good crowd of people as they host a double-header with the basketball team.