Rhode Island doesn't seem like a challenge at 0-5, but that doesn't mean that Villanova should look past the Rams tomorrow. Yes, they have a big game the week after at William & Mary, but the Rams are the challenge that presents themselves this week. Winning keeps the 'Cats on-track for what could be a very big season, losing could set them up for a tougher road ahead in terms of playoff selection and seeding scenarios.
Villanova needs to keep its focus.
URI's defense has allowed 6.4 yards per carry, 12.9 yards per catch, and opponents have scored an average of 39.4 points against the Rams, while averaging 517 yards of offense. The Wildcats have the top rushing and scoring offense in the CAA and a top-3 passing attack -- getting after Rhody's defense shouldn't be a struggle.
Wildcats' quarterback John Robertson is the likely front-runner for the Walter Payton award (for the best offensive player in FCS football) with EWU's Vernon Adams sidelined for up-to 6 weeks with a broken foot. Robertson's busted hand can't even stop him from producing stunning numbers -- scoring four touchdowns in each of the last three games and unleashing an aerial attack that has surprised a lot of people.
Meanwhile, the Rams rate near the bottom of the CAA conference in most statistical categories. They are 12th in scoring offense, scoring defense, and total defense, and in the other categories they are usually found no higher than 11th. It's a program in distress, losing more than they've won each year for the last 12 years.
It's a team that will rely on the big plays to make things happen. Junior safety Tim Weinclaw and senior linebacker Andrew Bose are the key guys to look out for to get a big stop or create a turnover opportunity. Securing the ball will be important, as will placement in the passing game (but John Robertson is already one of the best in FCS at doing that).
Offensively, quarterback Mack Lowrie has five touchdowns on the season in the passing game, and the Rams have managed to score at least once in each of their five games this season, scoring multiple times in their last three. While they hardly can be accused of executing a high-powered scheme, they are capable of taking advantage of their opponent's weaknesses to move the ball, or find a seam to rip off a bigger play.
Under the Sagarin Rating's formula, the 63rd-ranked Wildcats are a whopping 43-point favorite over the 232nd Rams in this game. It seems unlikely, however, that the 'Cats will win by such a massive margin. Though they're scoring an average of 45.25 points against FCS opponents this season, the Rams will surely reach the endzone themselves, and if the Wildcats get off to a fast start, the starters will ride the bench in the second half, as they did against Penn.
There is no use in risking injury to Robertson -- though sitting down in the second half is perhaps the only thing that can de-rail his Payton candidacy, since some observers may only see his statistics.
Despite injuries to three key players on defense, running back Austin Medley and tight end Earnest Pettway, the Wildcats need to power forward on Saturday. This is a game where the 'Cats need to get comfortable with new faces and adjustments to the play-calling.