Villanova and Liberty will meet on Saturday at 4:30pm ET in Villanova Stadium for a second-round clash in the FCS playoffs (the game will air on ESPN3). The Wildcats enjoyed a bye week that meant some extra R&R while the Flames were in a dogfight with James Madison.
Most Villanovans are happy to avoid the Dukes for a second time this year, but Liberty won't be a pushover. At 9-4 their record appears to indicate an inferior squad, but upon closer examination those losses came to North Carolina, Indiana State, Richmond, and Charleston Southern. Only the CSU loss could be construed as a 'bad' loss (and even then they were missing their starting QB), as UNC is an FBS team and the other two are currently still in the playoffs.
Here's 3 things to know about the Flames:
DJ Abnar is a big-time running back
The junior running back is actually averaging less yards per carry than he did as a freshman or sophomore, but he's nearly quadrupled his number of carries from a year ago and thus far has run 1235 yards and 15 touchdowns. At 5'10" and 185 lbs. the Florida-native uses his speed more than his size to take apart opponents.
Villanova's strength has been stopping the run this year when compared to the pass, and the key to beat Liberty starts with containing Abnar. In the Flames 4 losses, Abnar is averaging just 14 carries and 63 yards per game. Expect 'Nova to load the box and force Liberty to pass.
Josh Woodrum can beat you through the air
Double-edged sword, right? Stop Abnar, and Woodrum can get it done. The junior has thrown for over 2700 yards to go with 19 TDs and 9 INTs on the year. That last stat is the key - Woodrum has turned it over, and Villanova will need to force a couple and get extra possessions for John Robertson and the offense.
Woodrum is very efficient completing over 65% of his passes, but he can also burn you deep. In all but one game he completed at least one pass over 40 yards. The Villanova secondary tends to favor a bend-don't-break style of pass defense, and that might be the right move against a solid quarterback.
Word is that 18 student buses are heading up from Lynchburg, Va. for Saturday's game. Andy Talley has stressed the importance of home field advantage in the playoffs and while the Wildcats will undoubtedly benefit from the lack of travel and familiarity of playing in their own stadium, the Flames student body is looking to cause some unrest.
Students, I implore you. This Saturday has the potential to be one of the best days of your college career. Basketball/Football doubleheaders just don't happen this often - and they surely never happen when St. Joseph's (PA) is on the hardwood and a playoff game awaits you next door in Villanova Stadium.
Make the most of your opportunity, and protect Villanova's home field advantage.