FCS Game of the Week: Villanova at James Madison
By CRAIG HALEY
(STATS) - Villanova has lost so many key starters on offense there's a sense the Wildcats defense feels an added responsibility to carry the team with new players moved into unexpected roles.
"If you talk to our guys on defense, regardless of who we have on offense, I think that's their mind-set anyway," first-year coach Mark Ferrante said. "We do have a lot of good senior leadership back there with our linebacker corps and our secondary. We did lose some guys on offense, but I don't think (the defensive players) really changed their mind-set, I think that's been their mantra all along. They want to be an elite defense collectively and want to make sure they do their part to help us win a ballgame."
The defense pitched a 31-0 shutout against Maine last weekend - the second of the Wildcats' season.
In the STATS FCS Game of the Week on Saturday, the No. 11-ranked team in the FCS will need a similar effort if it's going to spoil the party at top-ranked James Madison, which in the morning will host ESPN's iconic "College GameDay" preview show. The Dukes, the defending national champs, are seeking to break the CAA Football record by posting an 18th straight win.
Statistically, Villanova had the best defense in the FCS last season, and coordinator Joe Trainer's 3-3-5 unit surely deserves extra credit this season. Last year's CAA defensive player of the year Tanoh Kpassagnon departed as the first FCS player selected in the 2017 NFL Draft, and last month, the 'Cats lost safety Rob Rolle, this year's preseason player of the year, to a season-ending knee injury. But linebackers Ed Shockley and Jeff Steeb and cornerback Malik Reaves have led the way on a still-veteran defensive unit.
FCS GAME OF THE WEEK
The Matchup: No. 11 Villanova (4-2, 2-1 CAA) at No. 1 James Madison (5-0, 2-0)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. at Bridgeforth Stadium (24,877) in Harrisonburg, Virginia
Television: MASN2, CBS Sports Digital, JMU/Sprint Broadcast Network
Series: James Madison leads 14-11 (last meeting: JMU won 20-7 at Villanova on Nov. 12, 2016)
The Skinny: Too much is at stake for "College GameDay" to be a distraction as Villanova needs to win to remain a legitimate CAA title contender and No. 1 James Madison seeks to continue the longest winning streak in Division I. Villanova's offense has been decimated by injuries (WR Changa Hodge, TE Ryan Bell, RB Matt Gudzak, QB Zach Bednarczyk) and seeks to play ball control without overwhelming redshirt freshman QB Jack Schetelich ('Nova had 47 rushes and eight pass attempts in his first start against Maine). The Wildcats rank second in the FCS in rushing defense and 14th in total defense, holding their last eight opponents under 100 rushing yards. But James Madison will challenge that streak, ranking seventh nationally in rushing yards per game (289.8) behind RBs Trai Sharp and Marcus Marshall. QB Bryan Schor has 12 touchdown passes this season and is three shy of the school's all-time record (51). The Dukes feel their defense reached a turning point in last year's win at Villanova and it's been at a superb level this season, ranking third nationally in allowing just 231.2 yards and 11.6 points per game (only 37 of the 58 points allowed have come against the defense). The secondary, featuring S Raven Greene and CB Jimmy Moreland, is particularly strong.
Prediction: Both teams seek to get a lead and milk it through a game of field position. The Dukes' offense is much more explosive in this matchup. James Madison, 24-14.
Updated October 12, 2017