"The great thing about the playoffs is that everyone you play can be a top-10 team," head coach Andy Talley stated during his Monday teleconference.
This week, the Wildcats are preparing to take on the Liberty Flames at home on Saturday after the Flames knocked off CAA-members James Madison in the first round of the FCS playoffs. The Wildcats had a bye last weekend, and allowed the team to spend Thanksgiving at home with their families.
"We didn't practice," Talley said bluntly. They had a short session on Tuesday last week, and had planned a Wednesday-morning session, but with snow in the forecast, the team was sent home early instead.
"We had a clearer practice yesterday [Sunday]," he explained. Last week, the Wildcats weren't sure if they were getting ready for dual-threat Vad Lee and the Dukes, or if they needed to learn the intricacies of Liberty University's team. Now, they know its the Flames.
"They have the perfect balance that you're looking for as a college coach, they can run and throw."
Talley noted that the Flames had a 1000-yard rusher in D.J. Abnar, and a big quarterback in Josh Woodrum who "reminds me of Chris Whitney." The quarterback doesn't run as well as Whitney, collecting just 257 yards, but he has the size and fearlessness in the ground game that has allowed him to take 8 scores across the goal line himself. Abnar has scored 16 times and collected a whopping 1,235 yards on the ground this season.
Defensively, the Flames were impressive, keeping JMU off the scoreboard in the first, third and fourth quarters on Saturday.
"Their defense is extremely sound," Talley noted. "They have held their opponents to 24 points."
"They're pretty fast and play man-coverage most of the time," junior quarterback John Robertson added. "I think it is pretty impressive that they go with that scheme."
A lot of man-coverage will be a challenge for the Villanova passer, who has been able to find his man uncovered often this season.
Liberty not only outlasted James Madison, but the week before was able to topple a previously-unbeaten Coastal Carolina team to take home the Big South title. The Flames also knocked off Appalachian State -- a former FCS power in transition to FBS in the Sun Belt -- earlier in the season.
"They have our attention, I can guarantee you that," Talley exclaimed.
Villanova is excited to get some key players back this week, who should help them on Saturday.
"We get Ross Hall back, our center, we get Jake Prus back, one of our offensive guards, and we get Tanoh Kpassagnon back. The only guy who is still questionable is Gary Underwood; I'm not sure we'll get him back this week."
Returning two offensive linemen who were banged up is always good, but even with a relatively makeshift line, the 'Cats have had good blocking in 2014.
"We've had some good offensive line play this year," the coach said. "All along our offensive line has been real good and I think we're as athletic as we've ever been [in that unit]."
Last season's team had big expectations, but things didn't pan out to pursue them. This season, Talley feels like his team has better chemistry than they have shown since 2010. Winning in the playoffs is a combination of match-ups, , home-field, talent and luck, but with 24 teams included in the field, "it's the best possible way to crown a champion."
"I think we were disappointed with our year last year," he said. "When you can get that chemistry to play together as a team in all aspects of the game . . . This year we have it."