The Villanova Wildcats (3-2, 0-2 CAA) will continue their search for their first win in conference play on the road.
The Wildcats fumbled away a couple of opportunities for that elusive victory, losing both games against CAA opponents—despite leading at one point in those games.
Last Saturday, Villanova was dismantled by a ferocious second half comeback by the Stony Brook Seawolves. The ‘Cats held a 21-6 lead going into halftime and eventually fell behind, as the Seawolves evetually won 29-27.
As for Maine, the Black Bears (2-2, 1-0 CAA) are trying to bounce back after losing back-to-back games. They suffered a lopsided loss last week, as the Yale Bulldogs ran them out of the state of Connecticut with a 35-14 result.
Here are three things to watch for in Saturday’s game, which is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m.
Quarterback (and Shoulder) Watch
What are the odds that a football game features two opposing starting quarterbacks that wear the same number on the field and are nursing similar injuries? That’s exactly what is happening with Villanova’s Zach Bednarczyk and Maine’s Chris Ferguson.
In Villanova’s loss to Stony Brook, Bednarczyk played through a shoulder issue for a majority of the game. During the second half, he was eventually sidelined for redshirt sophomore Jack Schetelich. Before being pulled from the game, Bednarczyk completed 15-of-23 pass attempts for 180 yards and a touchdown—a quieter game compared to his previous performances this season, likely due to the nagging shoulder. In his absence, Schetelich saw his first bit of extended action since last season and did a decent job of filling in, going 5-for-6 for 56 yards and threw the Wildcats’ only second half touchdown of the game. Earlier this week, head coach Mark Ferrante said Bednarczyk’s condition was day-to-day.
Meanwhile, in Maine, Ferguson is also questionable for Saturday’s game. He suffered a shoulder injury in the first quarter of the Black Bears’ showdown with Central Michigan on Sept. 22. The redshirt sophomore hasn’t played since, but the sling came off earlier this week. With Ferguson out, the Black Bears went with redshirt freshman Isaiah Robinson at quarterback against Yale. Robinson struggled against the Bulldogs, completing just 10-of-27 attempts for 179 yards, but had a pair of touchdown passes.
Keep an eye out for both of these quarterbacks, not only if they return, but how they do after dealing with shoulder issues in their throwing arms.
Air Traffic Control
Quarterback play will be so important in this game, not only because of the presence that Bednarczyk and Ferguson have for commanding the offenses in their respective teams, but because both the Wildcats and Black Bears have excellent run defenses.
The Black Bears have kept their opponents’ run games in check. Through four games this season, they’ve held opponents to a meager average of 53 yards per game—the best rushing defense in the CAA. Villanova has also been pretty good, ranking third in the CAA for rushing defense and giving up 97.6 yards per game on the ground. The Wildcats’ numbers, however, a bit inflated, as they played the run-heavy Stony Brook which features two talented running backs dubbed the “Long Island Express” and they gave up over 200 yards to Towson (the first time an opponent had reached the mark since 2015).
With both teams having a relatively good run defense, the aerial attack will be important. Maine doesn’t have a stellar passing game, as they average 198.8 yards (ninth in CAA). The Black Bears offense also hasn’t been that great since Ferguson went down, scoring a combined 19 points in the last two games, after putting up at least 30 points in each of the first two games of the year.
Villanova loves to run the ball, but it’s been shown that it can also pass very well when Bednarczyk is healthy. In last Saturday’s small sample size, Schetelich looked fairly good, but there would be some questions raised if he starts once again. Perhaps he can provide some answers.
This is a must-win game for both teams. The Black Bears and Wildcats have some impressive victories and their fair share of disappointing defeats. Neither team can afford to lose a third game at this stage of the season.
Maine took down then-top 10 ranked New Hampshire to start the season. After that, the Black Bears followed up with an upset over FBS school Western Kentucky. Since then, they lost to another FBS school—Central Michigan—and to Yale.
As for Villanova, it stunned FBS school and city rival Temple to begin its 2018 campaign. The Wildcats also enjoyed blowout victories over Bucknell and Lehigh. However, they suffered losses to Towson and Stony Brook.
Unfortunately for them, one team will have to suffer another blemish to the season—a buzzkill after the exciting start to the year—while the other gets back on track.