The Villanova Wildcats (4-4, 2-3 CAA) are looking to rebound after sustaining back-to-back losses over the last couple of weeks.
After losing a close game against Elon for homecoming, the 'Cats playoff dreams are looking bleak--unless if they win out for the last three games of the season.
Their opponent this week, Richmond (4-4, 2-3 CAA), is in a similar situation. Usually one of the top dogs in the CAA in recent years, the Spiders are tied with the Wildcats in seventh place.
In a way, this is virtually a playoff game. The winner keeps its postseason hopes alive, while the loser can pretty much guarantee the season will be informally over.
This will be an interesting battle of offense vs. defense. The Spiders boast one of the top offenses in the FCS, while Villanova's defensive-minded ways will look to slow them down.
Here are three things to watch for in Saturday afternoon's game:
Dialing up the Pressure
Villanova has gone from being the top sack artist in the conference, to the very bottom of the ladder. It's to be expected though, when a NFL talent like Tanoh Kpassagnon and then another experienced defensive end in Bryan Osei are no longer around. Despite that, and a couple of other injuries, the Wildcats defense has still been solid. Last week was the first time a team had rushed for a 100 yards on the Wildcats all season, and it took almost every second on the clock to make it happen. However, as Villanova realized last week, it still has some work to do in generating some pressure. Villanova sacked Elon quarterback Davis Cheek twice, but it will need to do that--and then some--against Richmond this week. Cheek, a true freshman, looked comfortable out there, as he completed 24-of-35 pass attempts for 357 yards and a pair of touchdowns. While he had two interceptions, his line did a great job of blocking up front overall. This week, the Wildcats don't have the luxury of facing off against a true freshman under center. Instead, they'll have to deal with battle-tested senior Kyle Lauletta, who is on the Walter Payton Award watch list. The Exton, Pa. native leads a Spider offense that's atop the FCS in terms of passing yardage, averaging an unmatched 370.9 yards per game. He cannot have room and time to throw. Yes, a 3-3 stack defense doesn't get much of a push with a three-man front, but look for some creative blitzes and other packages to create pressure, because that will be key in this game.
Another High-Powered Attack
The Wildcats already survived and passed one early-season test against Lehigh, which averages the third-highest offensive yards per game. It was a shootout, but Villanova came out alive. The Wildcat defense will get another tough test in Richmond, which has the sixth-highest average offensive yards. As mentioned earlier, the Spiders have the top passing attack around. Despite this 4-4 record Richmond has, or the seventh-place standing it is currently in, the offense is anything but mediocre. Lauletta leads the FCS in passing yards (2,953) and touchdowns (26). He's got a trio of talented receivers he can throw to, with juniors Dejon Brissett and Tyler Wilkins--and redshirt sophomore Cortrelle SImpson--in his receiving corps. Together, the three combine for 2,264 yards and have 150 receptions split among them. Brissett is Lauletta's go-to guy, especially when he sees a one-on-one situation. He is a dynamic athlete with great leaping ability, and when there's a 50-50 ball--expect him to win the jump ball most of the time. Keep an eye out for him, but the other two guys are just as dangerous. As for the ground game, while it might not be Richmond's primary means of moving the ball, the Spiders are still solid. They like to take a running back-by-committee approach, featuring three different ball carriers--Deontez Thompson, Gordon Collins, and Jay Palmer. Their individual numbers aren't too impressive, but together, they bring in about 100 yards per game.
Offense or Defense?
While it's easy to say that the defense will have to step its game up when it comes to stopping a possible Walter Payton Award contender and his squad, the Villanova offense will also have to carry its weight. The Wildcats won the shootout with Lehigh because their offense was able to keep up, as well as having both the run and pass game step up. Since Zach Bednarczyk went down, Villanova hasn't been the same offensively. The Wildcats have now seen two different quarterbacks go to work, as Jack Schetelich and Kyle McCloskey were both thrown into the fire. Schetelich and McCloskey are both freshmen, so growing pains were imminent. Putting Bednarczyk's negligible 47 passing yards from the opening drive of the Towson game--when he got hurt--the Villanova offense averaged 256 yards per game through the air. As a unit, the offense averaged 409 yards through a complete four-game window. Since Bednarczyk went down, the Wildcats have averaged a meager 71.75 passing yards and a not-as-good 213 total yards per game. As a matter of fact, last week's Elon game was the first in which a Villanova quarterback not named Bednarczyk, notched 100+ passing yards. While McCloskey seemed to hold his own, Villanova is going to need him to grow up really quickly. If Villanova wants any shot of making the FCS Playoffs, it will have to win out.