The Villanova Wildcats have some work to do, and it's not going to get any easier going forward. They lost a tightly contested battle to the Connecticut Huskies 20-15 in East Hartford on Thursday night, and now return for a Top-25 FCS clash at Fordham next weekend.
UConn struck first early on with a long and calculated drive. Bryant Shirreffs ended it when he hit Tommy Myers for a 14-yard touchdown, aided by a Wes Smith missed tackle. There was some silver lining, with Tanoh Kpassagnon blocking the PAT to keep the score 6-0.
Villanova should have gotten on the board after a nice drive which featured a couple of nice plays. First, a reverse to Gary Underwood saw the running back complete a pass to Kevin Gulyas for 36 yards, before John Robertson converted a 3rd and 22 with a long, powerful run. But, as was the case last season, the kicking game came back to bit them. Steve Weyler missed a chip shot from the right hash (although it was a bad snap and hold), and the Wildcats offense left with nothing.
The defense made it happen shortly after. After a holding penalty pushed UConn back, Kpassagnon and Matt McCann combined for an electrifying sack to push the Huskies back to their 3-yard line. Two plays later, Corey Majors' pressure forced holding in the end zone, giving the 'Cats 2 points and the ball courtesy of the safety.
With the ball and momentum, Villanova made a late first half drive that spanned 14 plays and 67 yards. Javon White converted a 4th and 2 before John Robertson hit Matt Gudzak for a 13-yard touchdown. The score put Villanova up 9-6.
UConn made a drive, and aided by a couple of big penalties on Jason Ceneus (facemask) and Wes Smith (late hit), threatened to score late in the half. Shirreffs' pass was bobbled by a receiver though, and Jason Ceneus grabbed it to end the threat. Villanova took a 9-6 into the half.
UConn came out firing in the second half, with Shirreffs hitting Myers for a 69-yard gain to set up a short Ron Johnson touchdown run to put the Huskies back up 13-9. A stalled Villanova drive at midfield gave the Huskies the ball back, but John Hinchen pinned UConn at their 1-yard line with a perfect punt.
After a good stop, Villanova got the ball back in good field position but stalled in UConn territory. On a 4th and 5, Robertson threw an INT down the right sideline, which was about the equivalent of what a punt would have been, so no harm done.
The Huskies and Wildcat traded moderate drives from there, but UConn came up with the big play in the 4th quarter when they stopped John Robertson on 4th and 1 from the UConn 35. The stop was aided by a bad exchange between Kyle Wallace and Robertson.
UConn took advantage, driving down the field and converting a 3rd down screen pass with Shirreffs hitting Arkeel Newsome for a 27-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 20-9 with under 5 minutes to go.
A nice kick return by Matt Gudzak set up a long Villanova drive that culminated with a John Robertson 3-yard run with 1:45 to go to cut the lead to 20-15. The Wildcats opted to go for the two-point conversion, but Alex Padovani caught the ball out of bounds.
Maybe strangely, Villanova opted to kick it deep on the ensuing kickoff with only 2 timeouts remaining. UConn was able to pick up the first down after 3 carries, and ran the clock out for the win.
Villanova returns to action next Saturday when they travel to Fordham. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:00pm ET.