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Maine vs. Villanova football preview: Tough to hunt bears in Orono

The 6th-ranked Wildcats are on the road this weekend to take on an opponent that has always played them tough.

Pushover has never been a word that accurately described Maine football. Villanova head coach Andy Talley can tell you about it -- since 1988 he has gone 8-9 against the Black Bears in a series he has rarely been above .500 in. Seven of Talley's nine losses to Maine have come under current head coach Jack Cosgrove. While they were able to win on the Main Line last season, their strength in the series (and in the CAA) has been defending their home field, where they hold a 5-3 all-time record against the Wildcats.

Two of the Wildcats' three wins in Orono came on their last two trips up north, however.

This year they'll do it with their defense. They enter the game as the number-two passing defense and third-best overall defense in the CAA. If you ignore the fact that Boston College mopped the floor with them 40-10, they've held their FCS opponents to an average of 14 points so far this season.

Villanova should have the firepower to match them, they have outscored it's opponents by a 140-44 margin over the last three games against FCS opponents. The Wildcats' quarterback leads all FCS passers in yards per attempt (9.92) and is also tops for passing efficiency (194.0), that's despite being primarily known as a runner -- something that he has done exceedingly-well the last two years. He's the team's number-two runner after Kevin Monangai despite being held back in that aspect of his game against JMU and Penn.

The offense's average of 41.5 points per game puts them seventh in the nation for scoring average and tops in the CAA. That average is much higher when you scratch the Syracuse Orange off the schedule, where the 'Cats have scored 46.6 points per game against just FCS opponents.

As good as the offense is, they'll be playing without senior center Ross Hall, who is out this week after suffering a high-ankle sprain last week. Robertson has not really had to work with anyone else at center in his career on the Main Line, so the hope will be that he doesn't have any issues with junior Peter Sotiriou, who is moving over from right guard.

Villanova's defense has also been stout against the running game. They are the number-three rushing defense in the CAA, holding opponents to an average of 2.9 yards per carry and just 102.2 yards per game. They are also the leagues' third-best scoring defense. They are thoroughly middle-of-the-pack, however, at passing defense, and that was demonstrated well by James Madison, who took advantage of an inexperienced Villanova secondary.

Last week, Maine took to the air to beat Towson, throwing for 272 yards and picking up just 46 on the ground. Their quarterback, Dan Collins, is in his first season starting for the Black Bears and has shown improvement over his first four games. Against the Tigers, he set his career highs for completions, passing yards and touchdowns, and now he returns home to try and do better against the 'Cats.

He has a few good targets to throw to down field, including fifth-year senior Damarr Aultman, who has 11 catches for 165 yards this season and NFL aspirations. The senior was a top target for Marcus Wasilewski in last year's CAA championship team.

Jordan Dunn is the top target, however, catching 13 balls this season for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Jeremy Salmon has just 4 catches, but has accumulated 132 yards with a huge 33-yards per catch average.

The running game for Maine has averaged about 79 yards per game on the ground, with Nigel Jones leading the way with 175 yards on the season. Freshman Nigel Beckford was named the CAA rookie of the week for his 2 touchdown performance last weekend. The two tailbacks each average less than 4-yards per carry.

Against Villanova, the Black Bears will likely look to the air to exploit a Villanova pass defense that has been a little easier for opponents to figure out than their run defense. Against the run, the Wildcats have held FCS opponents to 91 yards per game, while the passing defense has only limited FCS opponents to 262 yards (including a 406-yard passing day yielded to James Madison).

The 'Cats will look to tighten things up against the pass this week, especially with Maine's growing proficiency in that category.

Beating the Maine defense will be tough on the road, as well. They are a blitzing defense that will look to get after the ball and hit hard. With Hall absent from the offensive line, Robertson will have to make quick decisions to avoid having to deal with a defender in his face. If the pressure comes, the Villanova quarterback has to be able to run this week -- using his legs to give himself room and maybe a big gain. The 'Cats offense has found ways to score in every game so far, however, so the question will be whether Maine can hold off the offensive enough to keep the 'Cats from building a big lead.