With the Wildcats sitting at 5-5 on the season, it seems strange to talk about a tie-breaker against the 7-3 Delaware team, but that is what this year's Battle of the Blue will be.
The Blue Hens didn't pad their record with any Division II opponents this season, opting to add the I-A Naval Academy to their schedule in Week 3. Contests against Jacksonville, Wagner and Delaware State helped Villanova's rivals from Newark to hit their high-water-mark of seven wins, but both schools are sitting at 4-3 in the CAA conference.
This will be the 12th game of the season for Delaware (and the 11th for Villanova), and while they have seven wins already, there is a feeling around that program that this game is a must-win. The Wildcats have won six of the last seven in the rivalry.
Defensive mistakes have cost the Hens this season, including in their 46-43 loss last weekend at Richmond, when they gave up 543 yards in the air, a record for Delaware. This Delaware defense has been historically bad, setting new school records for most points (31.3) and yards (427) given up to opponents per game. It doesn't matter whether you attack on the ground, or through the air, the Hen's defense has generously-spotted opponents yards.
In other words: Don't show up at PPL Park expecting a low-scoring contest on Saturday.
Neither team enters this game with great depth, and neither is playing its best defensive football in Week 13 of the season.
Delaware has lost its last two games, to Richmond and William & Mary, while Villanova broke a three-game slump before the bye week with one of two blowout-shutout games that likely led to head coach Joe Trainer's dismissal. While Rhody was hardly the toughest out in the conference, the fast-start and effort against the Rams should give Villanova more confidence going into their rivalry game this weekend.
The 'Cats still have some good football left in the tank, and they're hoping that a week off will help fill that tank back up.
John Robertson will be looking to slice up the Delaware defense, and though the 'Cats run-heavy attack will be different from Richmond's air raid last Saturday. While Villanova's Sophomore quarterback has been efficient throwing the ball in few attempts, it has been his running prowess that landed him on the Walter Payton Award watch list this season. He is second in the CAA in rushing yards per game.
Villanova will be without a number of starters, including receivers Joe Price and Jamal Abdur-Rahman on offense.
Delaware's quarterback, Trent Hurley came back from an injury to complete 18-of-35 for 286 yards and four touchdowns while running 14 times for 47 yards. Star tailback Andrew Pierce also carried the ball 14 times for 55 yards and a score and caught the ball four more times for 52 yards and another score. The senior Pierce, who blasted his way onto the scene as a freshman, is averaging just over 70 yards per game on the ground, good for fifth in the CAA for rushing.
Junior wideout Michael Johnson serves as their primary receiving threat, checking in at 6-2 and 205-pounds. Johnson has grabbed 52 passes for 908 yards, or 17.5 per catch. He shares the team lead for receiving touchdowns (seven) with Nick Boyle, a 6-4 junior tight end.
Delaware's offense hasn't been the problem, however, they are scoring an average of 32.6 points per game, but their defense has allowed opponents to hang around.
For Villanova, they will need to do better than hang around. The 'Cats need to look for a fast start against their rivals, to make the Hen's play from behind and potentially change their strategy. The Delaware defense should allow some room to gain yardage, and Delaware opponents have averaged 31.3 points against them.
The key for the Wildcats will be defense. They need to look more like the defense that played well early in the season and more like the defense that handled URI two weeks ago, than the one that allowed New Hampshire and Maine to move the ball at ease. Especially with Delaware's defense struggling, it will be important for 'Nova to get stops.
A win against the Blue Hens will push the Wildcats, who have played FCS' toughest schedule this season, into a winning season, but chances are that the season will be over for them, regardless of the outcome this weekend. A six-win team seems unlikely to make the FCS playoff, even after the field was expanded to 24, but there is a chance. The committee has stated that they will consider a six-win team this season, and there will be new emphasis on a computer rating system that looks favorably on the Wildcats.
While nothing is certain about a game-12, the Wildcats always find themselves in a must-win situation against Delaware -- losing in this rivalry is worse than missing the playoffs.