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Fordham at Villanova Football Preview: Wildcats seek revenge against Rams

After falling to 0-2 early last season with a loss to the Fordham Rams, Villanova is looking to avoid the same fate again this weekend.

Mike Lawrie

Last season started off similarly: The Wildcats coming off of a close loss at an FBS opponent and the Rams beat up on a nobody in week one before facing off against each other in the second weekend. Last season, the Rams were victorious in Rose Hill, winning 27-24, in their first victory over the 'Cats since the Roaring 20s.

Tomorrow, the Wildcats will try to prove that taking FBS Syracuse to double-overtime a week ago was no fluke. John Robertson was the first player to rush for 100-yards (115 total) against the Syracuse defense since the 2012 season, and the 'Cats were a chip-shot field goal away from winning in regulation.

This week, the 'Cats will go to freshman Steve Weyler for field goals -- still a cause for concern with a new leg in his first game -- but Chris Gough's misses last week clearly drove the team to give Weyler a shot.

Ranked 11th in the nation, a spot lower than Villanova, the Rams are likely one of the toughest opponents remaining on the Wildcats' schedule. Playing them at home is certainly an advantage, but dealing with an offense that hung up 50-plus points last week won't be easy.

Fordham still has quarterback Michael Nebrich, the UConn transfer, who has been nearly as electric as John Robertson since switching to the Bronx school. He is a true dual-threat that Villanova will have to corral in order to have a good chance. Last season, he led the Rams on the ground with 102 yards, and passed for 190 as well.

Last season Carlton Koonce also added 83 yards on the ground, but he has since graduated. In his place, the freshman Chase Edmonds has come in and proved to be every-bit as electric after producing an astounding 181 yard rushing effort against their week-one opponent. He also returned a kickoff 65 yards for a score in that game.

After seeing Villanova's goal-line stands against Syracuse, however, the Rams may not want to emphasize the run tomorrow. Instead, they could turn to the air, allowing Nebrich to throw to a strong group of receivers that include Sam Ajala (who led FCS in receiving yards per game last year), Tebucky Jones Jr. (another transfer from UConn), Brian Wetzel (multiple 1,000-yd receiving seasons), and Dan Light (an All-American tight end). If the Rams go airborne, the Wildcats' secondary will need to be able to answer in kind.

The 'Cats often use zone coverages to allow them to bring some of their excess defensive backs forward in the pass-rush or run-defense. If Nebrich is hitting his targets, however, they may need to adjust the coverage schemes to close out some of those opportunities.

Villanova's offense, however, can most-likely keep pace -- they did last year, with their own sloppy play (five lost fumbles stand out) costing them the victory. They will try to do to Fordham what they did to Syracuse: maintain possession and keep their defense (and the Rams' offense) off of the field as long as possible.

Look for the 'Cats to run the ball as much as possible. Senior running back Kevin Monangai  looked good last weekend, and Robertson is always a danger to break off a big run. They'll also be working in Austin Medley for a change-of-pace in the backfield and Gary Underwood has also earned a few more touches this season.

Fordham's defense, meanwhile, looked pretty good last weekend against St. Francis, but the Wildcats are a bit more of a challenge for them. They will be without Patriot League Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Stephen Hodge, with the linebacker out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. Their defensive line has two veteran starters, however, and the Rams' secondary did a great job shutting down St. Francis' passing game.

That defensive unit absolutely smothered their opponent early last Saturday. Tomorrow, the 'Cats will look to break their lockdown early.

The Rams are certainly a capable team again this season and will be expected to be among the best in FCS football come the end of the season. Unlike other years when the 'Cats have had a lesser-challenge scheduled the week-after their FBS game, having Fordham on the schedule early means that the Wildcats will have to play all-out for two weeks in a row.

Last season, that was an issue. The 'Cats made mistakes at Fordham that cost them, but they managed to keep the score close regardless. This season, the 'Cats can't afford those same mistakes again.

Playing at home will be helpful. A good crowd for Parents' Weekend will also be a positive. If the Wildcats can come out of this game with a victory, they can rest during next weekend's bye and then take some momentum into their CAA season.