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Villanova vs. Richmond football preview: Season on the line for Wildcats

The Wildcats will play a crucial game against the CAA leaders on homecoming.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Wildcats face another must-win game this weekend, as the Richmond Spiders come to Villanova Stadium on Homecoming. The Spiders lead the CAA football standings, but are coming off of a loss last weekend at New Hampshire, and a loss this weekend would leave them tied up with Villanova at 5-2 (and perhaps another team) heading into their final games.

That leaves open at least one scenario where a feisty Villanova squad can battle back from a low point to win the CAA Title and earn a bid to the playoffs. In other words, there is a lot on the line this weekend, as thousands of alumni return to campus for the annual homecoming weekend.

With Vad Lee out of commission at JMU, Richmond's offense may be the most potent in the league, averaging 36.4 points per game -- they enter the game second to JMU in scoring offense. They have an effective rushing attack that ranks fourth in the league for yardage behind Jacobi Green, but it is their successful passing game that makes them a dangerous foe. The Spiders average 275.9 yards per game in the air, using wide receivers Brian Brown (123 ypg) and Reggie Diggs (73.2 ypg) as a key part of that field-stretching attack. Brown and Diggs rank first and third in the CAA, respectively, for receiving yards per game.

Villanova's defense is tops in the league against the pass, however, thanks in part to a group of ball-hawking defensive backs (and linebackers) who challenge FCS passers. Against the run, Villanova's defense ranks fourth (tied with Delaware) as well. This week, against a powerful Richmond attack, the 'Cats will be looking to cement their status as the best defensive unit in the league.

In the last few weeks, as Villanova has started to pick up wins, the formula has become more and more clear; run the ball down their throats, and let the defense smother them otherwise.

The defensive effort in the last two weeks was stifling, holding Maine and Rhode Island to just a field goal each. Six points is the fewest the Villanova defense has given up in back-to-back weeks since 1991.

Against the Rams, the Wildcats defense grabbed four interceptions to break any momentum the Rams would get in the final three quarters. Villanova will need to see similar defensive success this weekend, putting pressure on Kyle Lauletta and smothering his passing routes as they have with lesser opponents.

On the offensive side, the Wildcats are still looking to establish the running game as freshman quarterback Zach Bednarczk gets comfortable in his role. The got a huge game out of sophomore running back Matt Gudzak last week, and it seems likely that he will feature again this weekend, perhaps surpassing Gary Underwood in that role.

The Wildcats are limiting Bednarcyk's throws. He won't be a gunslinger this weekend, but if a successful ground game alters the defensive looks favorably, he'll get the green light to look downfield. After starting six games, he has passed for 1,062 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions on the season. He will also have the green light to take off and run, going for over 123-yards on the ground against Maine and another 74 last week.

While Richmond's defense is not nearly as devastating as it's offense this season, it will still be an uphill battle for the young Villanova offense to keep up the scoring pace with the Spiders. In what is certainly a vital game for the resurgent Wildcats to maintain hopes of a potential CAA title or playoff berth, it will be the defense that must feature, getting key stops, giving the offense good field position to start from, and holding down the Spider's gaudy scoring numbers for at least one week.