There wasn't any doubt that Villanova was going to make the playoffs on Sunday morning. Saturday's games went exactly as Villanova needed and the 'Cats took care of business on the road against rivals Delaware as well to seal their automatic bid. So while the other CAA members waited to see if they were in, Villanova just needed to know, where, when and who they would take on.
Andy Talley was hoping for a home game and a bye, rather than a first-round showdown with a potent Stony Brook team.
"You know, I'm really happy that we're in; obviously, I wasn't happy with the draw," Talley explained after the selection show. "I mean, to go away from home after representing the CAA, I just thought we should be home and should have a bye the first round. But, you know what? When you think about the teams that were left out — Towson and Richmond — I'm happy to be in.
"We're just going to have to prove ourselves, which we've done all year. We've been under the radar and we'll continue to be under the radar."
Stony Brook's running game propelled it to a top-10 regular season finish and a 9-2 record, including a win over FBS Army. Miguel Maysonet is a legitimate contender to win the Walter Payton award (best player in I-A football) and his back-up, Marcus Coker finished last season second in the Big Ten in rushing before transferring to the Big South school. Together, they have helped Stony Brook average over 290 yards per game on the ground, 6.5 yards per rush and a startling 35 rushing touchdowns on the season.
They also have the nation's most efficient passers in the college game in Kyle Essington, who's efficiency rating of 175.8 was well-ahead of Big South competitors. They might not have Essington on Saturday, however, after he was ruled "questionable" with a right thigh contusion. Stony Brook head coach Chuck Priore said that his starter will play if he is 100-percent, but if not, he won't put him in.
If Essington is out, Lyle Negron, a junior college transfer, will get the start. According to Priore, "[h]e's got as strong an arm as I've seen at this level."
It's hard to tell what Negron is capable of, but regardless who starts the game at quarterback, it will be Villanova's job to make him uncomfortable whenever he drops back to pass. That job will be a little harder with starting defensive end, Rakim Cox sidelined this week with a knee injury — Brennan Erbeznik will likely get the start in his place, just a year after switching to defense from tight end. Erbeznik was a natural at the end spot, forcing himself into consideration for a starting role during preseason camp.
If needed to bolster the pass-rush, Keelan Malone could also see plenty of time on the field, especially if the 'Cats shift to a 4-3 front on passing downs.
The Cat's first job will be to stop the run, however. Miguel Maysonet averages 156.5 yards per game on the ground, going for 1721 in total this season with 19 touchdowns. The Villanova defense will have to perform better than the Syracuse and Army defenses that gave up 158 yards and 220 yards to Maysonet, respectively.
Even if you can slow Maysonete, Coker is no slouch either, picking up 855 yards this season as the back-up and scoring 9 times.
When the Seawolves find themselves in a passing situation, receiver Kevin Norrell is their go-to target. He has 60 receptions this season, 1291 yards and 14 touchdowns. Leading the Big South in both yardage, receiving touchdowns and yards per catch and finishing second in receptions.
Defensively, the Seawolves led almost every category in the Big South conference, holding opponents to an average of just 16 points and 296 yards of offense. They've held opposing runners to 126.1 yards, and opposing passers to just 165.8 yards. Those numbers might be skewed by playing in a league that normally only lands one bid to the playoffs.
Villanova will rely on it's powerful thunder-and-lightning rushing attack of quarterback John Robertson (a Jerry Rice Award finalist) and Kevin Monangai, who has had the third-best rushing season in school history so far with 1,190 yards on the ground (behind only Brian Westbrook's 2000 and 2001 seasons). He is one of only four players to break 1,000 yards rushing for Villanova and one of just two to cross the 1,100-yard threshold.
"John is just as good a runner as I am, if not better," Monangai said. "He's a little faster than I am. It doesn't allow defenses just to key on me. It keeps people guessing."
That running game has often succeeded even against some of the better run-defending teams in the CAA, like James Madison and the coaching staff is going to be looking for a way to run against Stony Brook as well. For the Wildcats' relying on the run allows Robertson to find more success in the passing game, with defenders worried about who has the ball behind the line of scrimmage, it will often allow Robertson to find wide-open receiver downfield.
Make no mistake, the Seawolves will be a test for Villanova. They have the talent and the coaching to play with anyone in the CAA right away. Villanova won't be getting a break on the road in the playoffs.
If Villanova can get the running game going, they should win this game. If they don't, John Robertson would be forced to throw the ball more, and the 'Cats would have to depart from the playing style that they have been most-comfortable with this season.
Robertson's legs have been an x-factor that has supercharged all aspects of the Nova offense, just as the combination of Chris Whitney and Matt Szczur accomplished from 2007-10. The Wildcats haven't been built for pocket passing in a long time.
This game, like many, will be won in the trenches with the Wildcats forced to neutralize and beat a Stony Brook offensive line that starts a 345-pound right tackle along with three other linemen who crack the third-century mark on the scales and gave up just 8 sacks all season. The Villanova offensive line will have to contend with a defensive line that lead the Big South in recording 20 sacks this season.