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William & Mary vs. Villanova preview: Wildcats face toughest CAA test yet

Which William & Mary will Villanova get?

Drew Hallowell

For the last few years, the Tribe has been one of the toughest teams in the CAA to score against. That era seemed to end last week when they coughed up 32 points in a blow-out loss at New Hampshire. While the Tribe did a good job of slowing the other Wildcats' running game -- holding them to 50 yards under their rushing average -- they struggled overall against the elite offense.

The Tribe come into the contest, which will be their homecoming game, ranked 15th in FCS. Villanova is in the top-5 and enters the game with the top scoring offense in the CAA and the number-two scoring defense.

The last four meetings between the teams were tight, decided by a touchdown or less. This time around, Villanova's offense is averaging almost 42-points per game so far this season, and no team so far has scored more than 31 points against the 'Cats. With Ross Hall back on the field this weekend, they are starting to look like a team that is getting healthy again.

The W&M offense may have to do better than they have been this weekend if they want to win for their homecoming crowd. They average 281 yards of offense and 23.8 points per game, but the key to beating Villanova may be to rack up more offense than that, to try and keep John Robertson and the high-powered Wildcats offense off the field.

They have a pre-season all-American wide receiver in Tre McBride who can help them with that. Whether McBride can be a difference-maker will depend a lot on quarterback Steve Cluley, who has been only "sporadically" successful in the passing game this year. If chewing up clock is their goal, however, running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor is the man to look to -- a runner who has racked up decent yardage as the workhorse for W&M so far this season.

With Jerome Couplin III and last year's defense, that offensive threat would likely be enough to put the fear of god into Villanova. This year, however, their unit has definitely taken a step back. They still have players like preseason CAA Defensive Player of the Year Mike Reilly and junior linebacker Luke Rhodes who will look to create turnovers and take away yardage from the 'Cats.

The Wildcats biggest weakness is in the kicking game, where freshman Steve Weyler appears set to take over the starting duties again this week. The Tribe may be able to take advantage, leading the CAA in blocked kicks this season; if they are stopped in field goal territory it won't be an easy 3-points for the Wildcats. Weyler was perfect on PAT attempts last weekend, but struggled mightily against Fordham in week 2 of the season.

The Sagarin Ratings predict a nine-point win for Villanova over the Tribe, close enough that the Wildcats can expect John Robertson to actually have to play four quarters this week. He only played two against Penn and Rhode Island, after the 'Cats went ahead big before halftime in those games. The history of competition between these two programs, however, suggests that blowing out William & Mary won't be as easy. Even so, the ratings and statistics under-play the dominance of 'Nova's offense with Robertson on the field because of that.

The Wildcats have outscored opponents 225-85 in their last five games against FCS teams. Robertson has thrown for four touchdowns in each of the last four of those games and won Offensive Player of the Week as many times.

The trip to Zable Stadium hasn't been an easy one for the Wildcats, and it is one that they have avoided since a loss there in 2010. They are 4-10 all-time in games played at W&M, but come into this game with a tremendous amount of momentum, riding their longest winning streak since winning nine straight on their way to the National Championship in 2009.

Surviving against the Tribe will be a vital boost for the Wildcats, who will return home the week after to face middle-of-the-pack MEAC school, Morgan State before resuming CAA play with a road trip to 19th-ranked Richmond. The 'Cats toughest games down the stretch will all be on the road.