You might be forgiven for taking a cursory glance at the 2-4 Albany football team, and thinking this one is an easy win for Villanova. After the 'Cats lost their star quarterback and were forced to shuffle the offensive line around during week-three, things haven't been easy. A defense that looked dominant early on, has looked more exhausted in the last two weeks, and an offense built to run on John Robertson's willpower, is now searching for it's groove.
Suffice to say, this one isn't a shoo-in; but it is winnable.
Villanova will bring the same two-deep as last week up to New York's capital city, to face the Great Danes for just the second time in program history.
Almost all of the key players from last season's Albany team that won seven games are gone, and the team has struggled through six games so far. They handily beat Rhode Island and edged out Duquesne, but came up well-short in their other match-ups. They were steamrolled last weekend by Maine, 39-7, and were shutout at Holy Cross the week before that.
They feature a quarterback who transferred from Penn State in DJ Crook, but he has seen little help from the Danes' offensive line, which has forced errors on the offense. He's managed just 164 yards per game in the air, but has developed a big of chemistry with freshman wideout Zee Roberson, who gained 102 yards and a score in last week's rout.
Similarly, the team has had issues getting traction in the ground game, with Elliot Crosskey showing some signs of big-play ability, but not the consistency to make an opponent truly hurt.
Despite Albany's struggles -- they're near the bottom in every stat category in the CAA so far this season -- the Wildcats need to approach this game as if it were a playoff final. If they hope to right the ship before the end of the season, this is a game where they have to build momentum, avoid mistakes and silly penalties, and get out of their own way.
Villanova's defense looked porous last weekend; and especially after the first quarter. There's no doubt they were getting tired, but this is a game where they should be looking to get quick stops against an Albany offense that doesn't have much experience. The Albany running game has averaged right around 100 yards per game, and that would be a great goal for the Villanova defense to aspire to. The Great Danes throw the ball a lot because they are often behind on the scoreboard, not because they are a power-passing team.
Offensively, this is a weekend where the Villanova offensive line needs to establish itself. Against William & Mary, they seemed to struggle under pressure, allowing freshman quarterback Zach Bednarczyk to be pressured, creating missed opportunities. Against the Albany defensive line, they should be able to get more push and win some battles in the trenches.
The Great Danes have a couple of ball-hawks in their secondary in Rayshan Clark and Jamal Merritt, but their rushing defense has not been as effective. This is a good opportunity for the Villanova offense to make use of it's wealth of running backs, led by Gary Underwood and Javon White, to chew up yardage and minimize the impact of those two defensive backs. For Bednarczyk, it will be important to avoid challenging Clark and Merritt downfield with winnable balls.
Both teams are entering this weekend hungry for a win and eager to prove something. Villanova will be the team with far more experience and talent on the turf, but they need to execute. Albany is a winnable match-up, but for this Wildcats team, it is a crucial match-up.