The Wildcats will run out of the tunnel on Saturday, onto Goodreau Field (named after Leo Goodreau, a former Nova quarterback who died 85 years ago after a practice mishap), they will be running toward one of the better defensive teams they have faced all season. The William & Mary team from "devilsburg," as Thomas Jefferson once dubbed it, enters this game with a 3-1 record on the season, its only loss to FBS West Virginia.
The Tribe have done it all with a strong defense and a running game that has accounted for almost 200 yards per game. Head coach Jimmye Laycock, however, has been disappointed with his defense's ability to generate turnovers, and other than the four turnovers they managed against Lafayette, the Tribe has struggled in that area.
They will hope to use those factors, and perhaps the emergence of junior receiver Sean Ballard (six catches, 105 yards), to continue their winning streak to four games. Those wins have come at home against Hampton, at Lafayette and last week against the struggling URI Rams. The 1:00pm start at Villanova on Saturday will be their biggest challenge since Labor Day weekend, it seems.
Turnovers were an issue for the Wildcats during their 0-2 start to the season, but the 'Cats have done a good job of maintaining ball control in the last two games against Stony Brook and Penn.
Quarterback John Robertson has been a big part of the Wildcats' recovery so far. The coaching staff has unshackled the dual-threat quarterback and it seems that he will get the green light to use his legs and make plays from here out. Robertson rushed for 132 yards and passed for another 266 last week, accounting for three touchdowns altogether.
After the first two weeks, he asked coaches to let him run more, that it made him more comfortable in both aspects of the offense.
"You hold your breath a little bit when he’s running, but he is such a force," head coach Andy Talley told CBS. "He’s very fast, he’s 215 pounds and he can sling the football. So he’s been able to do both and we have one of those quarterbacks that you hate to play against, because he can run and throw."
On Saturday, Villanova will look to again maintain control of the ball, but will need the same level of balance that they exhibited in their contest against Penn. William & Mary's defense has allowed an average of just 91.2 yards on the ground, while opposing offenses have averaged 8.9 yards per catch and 192.5 passing yards per game.
Villanova can again rely on Poppy Livers to work out of the slot, after his career-best game last week. He caught passes for 121 yards and his first two career receiving touchdowns. He was the first Wildcat to record over 100 passing yards in almost a year. If the W&M defense locks in on Livers, however, Robertson will have to find either Joe Price or Mike Burke downfield, which is something that hasn't happened often enough this season.
Villanova's defense has also been superb on this homestand, allowing an average of just 1.8 yards per carry across the past two games and just 2.7 yards per rush in one CAA conference game against Stony Brook. The Wildcats are allowing just 102 yards per game on the ground, but haven't been as stingy against the pass, with opponents gaining 258.2 yards in the air, on average. The 'Cats have moved to using a much more conventional 4-3 defensive front since returning to the Main Line, and that has seemed to improve their success against the run.
For Villanova to win this game, they will need to continue that positive trend. The pass defense needs to improve, but the 4-3 defensive front gives the Wildcats the power in the trenches to stop the run and frees stud defensive end Rakim Cox to make big plays. They may also need to force turnovers from the Tribe as they did last week against Penn.
Offensively, using multiple weapons and challenging the Tribe in the air as well as the ground will lead to more success. The 'Cats will play better by getting out to an early lead, which has been the case in both of their wins, so look for some trick plays early to shift momentum if they get into a jam.
The Tribe struggled last year, but their results so far in 2013 suggest that this is a team that is ready to turn the corner. Villanova just wants to make sure that corner isn't at Lancaster and Ithan.