Stakes high for Villanova, William & Mary
Andy Talley and Jimmye Laycock have seen it all in their combined 95 years of coaching. Both are hoping their players have decidedly shorter memories.
Talley’s Villanova Wildcats and Laycock’s William & Mary Tribe each enter Saturday’s important CAA Football showdown at a bit of a crossroads following their second losses of 2015. A last-second field goal by Delaware sent William & Mary to a tough 24-23 road defeat last week, and the injury-riddled Wildcats were handed a startling 24-13 loss to crosstown rival Penn on Sept. 24.
Both sit at 2-2 with daunting schedules ahead, especially in the Tribe’s case. Three of their next four games come against ranked CAA foes – Villanova, New Hampshire and James Madison – and a second conference loss could prove catastrophic to their playoff aspirations.
"Our guys have got to forget about last week and get refocused for sure on this one," Laycock said.
The Wildcats, 14th in the latest STATS FCS Top 25, are in better shape considering they remain unbeaten in conference play and have had a week off to recover. Still, conquering the effects of invaluable quarterback John Robertson’s season-ending knee injury remains an ongoing challenge.
Zach Bednarczyk’s first start in place of Robertson had an inauspicious beginning, as the Wildcats mustered a mere 29 yards in the first half and couldn’t overcome an early 14-0 deficit against Penn. The redshirt freshman was more effective over the final two quarters, but tailback Javon White’s fumble that was returned 90 yards for a touchdown with under seven minutes left sealed Villanova’s first loss to the Quakers in 104 years.
"It was probably one of the worst performances in my career here," said Talley, in his 31st season as Villanova coach.
Bednarczyk passed for 185 yards with a touchdown and an interception behind a makeshift offensive line missing three key contributors – tackles Brad Seaton (knee) and Ethan Greenridge (ankle) and center Kyle Wallace (personal). Tight end Doug Turrell was forced into playing left tackle, though he should be back at his regular position this week with Greenridge expected to return.
Greenridge had been starting in place of Jake Prus, who missed two games recovering from a bone marrow donation to a 65-year-old cancer patient before returning against Penn. The junior became a donor through Talley’s "Get in the Game, Save a Life" program which recruits registrants for potential matches for those with life-threatening blood diseases.
White’s pivotal fumble was one of three Wildcat giveaways, and they’re an uncharacteristic minus-four in turnover margin. They had 11 penalties and are averaging just 17.5 points, in part due to a league-low 64.3 percent touchdown rate in the red zone.
"We are a better program than that, so if you go back and critique it as a coach that is what we are going to look at," Talley said. "That is why I ripped up the stats and threw them away after the game because that was a throw-away game for us. We need to move on."
William & Mary enters Villanova Stadium with a big health problem of its own with star running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor uncertain due to a lower-body injury that kept him out against Delaware, though Kendell Anderson rushed for 101 yards in his place. Perhaps of greater concern to Laycock is a defense that surrendered 347 rushing yards to the Blue Hens and a rough game from usually dependable quarterback Steve Cluley, who completed 8 of 20 passes.
"To play so-so on the road against a very good team and then it came down to the last-second field goal, there’s a lot of positives that came out of it," Laycock said. "But we’ve got to shore up some things and keep getting better because it doesn’t get any easier for us."
Cluley threw for a career-high 350 yards and three touchdowns in the Tribe’s 35-31 loss to Villanova last season, with Robertson tossing a go-ahead touchdown pass with 52 seconds left. The Wildcats have won eight of the past 10 meetings.
A capsule look at Saturday’s other CAA games can be found below (all times Eastern):
Delaware (2-3, 1-1) at Rhode Island (0-5, 0-2), Noon
After beginning league play with a pair of nail-biters against Villanova and William & Mary, the Blue Hens may have a less stressful day against a Rhode Island program that’s lost 19 of 20 overall and seven of eight in the series. Running backs Thomas Jefferson and Kareem Williams, both of whom eclipsed the 100-yard mark against the Tribe, take on a Rams defense ranked last in the CAA in yards and points allowed. Rhode Island had a four-point lead with under six minutes left in last week’s rivalry game at Brown, but the Bears scored two late defensive touchdowns to pull out a 41-31 win.
James Madison (5-0, 2-0) at Towson (2-2, 0-1), 3 p.m.
If last year’s meeting is any indication, the fifth-ranked Dukes’ season-long scoring binge figures to continue another week. JMU produced its highest point total ever in a CAA game in a 62-7 rout of the Tigers. The Dukes, 5-0 for the first time in program history, surpassed 500 yards for a fifth straight week in last Saturday’s 38-20 victory over Stony Brook and top the FCS in total offense (640.8 ypg) and scoring (47.8 ppg). Towson, which lost 17-13 at Elon in its league opener Sept. 26, had last week off to prepare for a grueling four-game stretch that includes tilts with Stony Brook, Villanova and Delaware. The Tigers won 28-17 in 2013 in JMU’s last trip to Towson, their lone victory in the teams’ past 10 matchups.
Maine (1-3, 1-1) at Albany (2-3, 1-1), 3:30 p.m.
The Black Bears and Great Danes attempt to bounce back from lopsided losses with a chance to enter the upper echelon of the CAA standings. Maine’s normally stingy defense surrendered 484 yards in last week’s 48-17 loss at No. 16 Richmond, while Albany was held to 203 and shut out for the first time since 2012 in a 37-0 loss at Holy Cross. The road team has won the last five meetings, with the Great Danes winning 20-7 in 2014.
Elon (2-3, 1-1) at Richmond (3-1, 1-0), 3:30 p.m.
Richmond, up three spots in the STATS FCS Top 25 from a week ago, limited the Phoenix to 141 yards and posted seven sacks in a 30-10 road victory last season, but it’s the Spiders offense that’s rolling right now. Kyle Lauletta threw for a career-high 311 yards and four touchdowns – two to Brian Brown – in UR’s rout of Maine. Brown finished with 177 yards on seven catches, and the junior wideout’s 117.0 receiving yards per game lead the CAA. Elon, 0-5 all-time against the Spiders, wasn’t able to build off its first CAA win against Towson two weeks back, yielding 34 straight points en route to a 37-14 loss at No. 21 New Hampshire last Saturday.
Idle this week: New Hampshire (3-2, 1-1), Stony Brook (2-2, 1-2).