Villanova is bruised, banged-up and broken after three weeks. Two defensive players are likely done for the season and another is listed as doubtful. On offense, the Wildcats have a quarterback with only one hand, and will miss their number-two tailback for the next few weeks. It isn't the scenario that Andy Talley was hoping for after leaving Syracuse largely unscathed and taking an early bye in week 3, but here we are.
Despite the injury troubles, Villanova is the favorite entering this game. It is the 19th meeting between the two schools, with Penn taking five straight against the 'Cats between 1905 and 1911. Villanova has been undefeated since their meeting in 1980, and holds a 13-5 edge over the Quakers.
It was a little harder than it was supposed to be last week against JMU. After a quick field goal at the start of the third quarter, the Wildcats were down by 10, and had to scramble to make plays and get back into the game. Ultimately, they won 49-31 with five different players scoring.
While JMU started at least nine FBS transfers last weekend, Penn presents a different challenge. A perennial contender in the Ivy League, the Quakers recruit some of the best athletes in that conference, but they rarely compare to the talent that CAA schools stockpile. However, they have a playbook that makes good use of their skillsets and a coaching staff with a penchant for pressing the right buttons.
So, despite Villanova's gaudy win streak against the Quakers, it has been close more than once in a while. The Quakers lost on the last possession of the game at least four times in the last decade.
Penn is working in sophomore quarterback Alek Torgersen, who passed for 200 yards and ran for 65 against Jacksonville last weekend. The Dolphins staged a comeback from being down 31-19 halfway through the fourth quarter to thwart what should have been a solid win for the Quakers to kick off head coach Al Bagnoli's final season. They conceded the winning touchdown with just 39 seconds to play, losing 34-31.
It was their first game of the season -- always a tricky proposition in the Ivy League, where the first opponent normally has at least two games under their belts already. They out-gained their opponent 407-to-393, however, and showed some positives from the loss.
Senior Spencer Kulcsar made some big plays for the Quakers, catching four passes and gaining 127 yards, including a long catch of 58. Four other receivers caught at least two passes for Penn, but combined their yardage still doesn't surpass what Kulcsar managed. The veteran wideout will continue to be a key target for Torgersen.
The Quakers' QB led the team in rushing, carrying 12 times for 65 yards and a touchdown, but senior tailback Kyle Wilcox came close to his mark, adding 51 yards on 13 carries. The Quakers will likely look to rely more on Wilcox and their stable of backs this weekend. Tre Solomon and Lyle Marsh are also likely to take some hand-offs for Penn, which has tended to prefer the running game in recent years.
The Penn defense had issues last week in Jacksonville. Certainly the heat and heavy rain were factors in the loss, but the defense wasn't able to get the key stops late against the Dolphins. Their unit is led by senior linebacker Dan Davis, and the Wildcats can expect him to get into the backfield and disrupt John Robertson's game. If he can do that successfully, Penn can lean on fifth-year players Dan Wilk and Evan Jackson in the secondary to shut down passing opportunities or create turnovers.
This defense isn't the best one that Bagnoli has coached, but the Quakers will surely have a few schemes drawn up to try and contain Robertson and force the Villanova offense to work for their yardage.
Despite all of that, Villanova should win this game, the offense is averaging 41.7 points per game and won't lose much with Gary Underwood stepping into Austin Medley's shoes. The Wildcats have the weapons available to solve the Penn defense, especially if they continue to go on long, clock-eating drives.
The Villanova defense has taken a beating, and especially against JMU, they looked a little less dominant than they appeared in the first two games. Losing two key players for the season obviously is a factor in that, but the 'Cats will reach into the depth chart to replace them, and this week's game is a perfect opportunity to jump-start a new-look defensive line and linebacker corps. Against the relatively-inexperienced Torgersen, the 'Cats should be able to make some big plays and keep the Quakers at bay.
If this is a close game, Villanova needs to hope that it is a low-scoring game. A shoot-out against the Quakers is a game that the 'Cats could still win, but it would not bode well for the quality of the Villanova defense going forward into the rest of their CAA conference games.