Villanova aims to slow down Jackrab­bits

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Terry Toohey ttoohey @21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Ter­ryToohey on Twit­ter

If pressed, Villanova weak safety Rob Rolle and cor­ner­back Ma­lik Reaves could iden­tify South Dakota State’s three big­gest of­fen­sive threats by name, but it’s not nec­es­sary when uni­form num­bers will do.

They know quar­ter­back Taryn Chris­tion (No. 3), tight end Dal­las Goed­ert (No. 86) and wide re­ceiver Jake Wieneke (No. 19) are the play­ers to watch in Satur­day’s show­down be­tween the ninth-ranked Wild­cats (9-3) and the sev­enth-ranked Jackrab­bits (83) at Dyke­house Sta­dium in the sec­ond round of the FCS play­offs.

All three were up for the Wal­ter Pay­ton Award, the FCS ver­sion of the Heis­man Tro­phy. Wieneke is a twotime All-Amer­i­can. He and Goed­ert were pre­sea­son All-Amer­ica se­lec­tions. All three are among the statistical lead­ers in the FCS in pass­ing and re­ceiv­ing.

Yet their names are not as im­por­tant as their uni­form num­bers.

“One of the things we try to do, es­pe­cially on de­fense, is try to take ev­ery week as a face­less op­po­nent,” Rolle said. “That way, we’re play­ing pPitt ev­ery week or James Madi­son. We look at ev­ery op­po­nent as a top­notch op­po­nent.

“In the CAA, you can’t take any­body for granted. So for us, this is just an­other week. Yeah, you have to be alert. You have to stay on top of things. You can’t make any mis­takes be­cause if you do, their of­fense will make you pay for it.”

South Dakota State’s of­fense is im­pres­sive. The Jackrab­bits rank eighth in the FCS in pass­ing of­fense (314.4 yards per game) and to­tal of­fense (481.7), and 11th in scor­ing (37.4 points). SDSU is the only team to beat top-seeded and five­time de­fend­ing FCS cham­pion North Dakota State this sea­son. And the Jackrab­bits scored five touch­downs in a 59-41 loss to FBS mem­ber TCU in its sea­son opener.

Chris­tion, Goed­ert and Wieneke, or 3, 86 and 19 as far as the Wild­cats are con­cerned, make that of­fense go.

Chris­tion was se­lected as the Mis­souri Val­ley Con­fer­ence Player of the Year. The 6-2, 215-pound sopho­more is fourth in the FCS in pass­ing touch­downs (29) and to­tal of­fense (341.3 ypg.), sixth in both pass­ing yards (3,369) and pass­ing ef­fi­ciency (158.5) and sev­enth in pass­ing yards per game (306.3). He has com­pleted 246 of 348 pass at­tempts with just eight in­ter­cep­tions.

“Their quar­ter­back is prob­a­bly the best quar­ter­back that we’ve seen,” Villanova coach Andy Tal­ley said. “He’s dif­fi­cult to put pres­sure on be­cause he has great feet. The prob­lem you have is that if you put pres­sure on him, he can take off and run and break you down that way. He’s a threat. He’s re­ally fast. He’s a run­ning threat with a great arm.”

Chris­tion has two big­time tar­gets that make him even more of a threat. Goed­ert and Wieneke are the only team­mates in the FCS with 70 or more re­cep­tions. Wieneke leads the FCS in touch­down re­cep­tions (16), and is sixth in both re­ceiv­ing yards (1,204) and re­ceiv­ing yards per game (109.5). Goed­ert is sixth in re­cep­tions per game (7.1), eighth in re­ceiv­ing yards (1,146), ninth in re­ceiv­ing yards per game (104.2) and 10th in re­ceiv­ing touch­downs (10).

Eastern Wash­ing­ton’s Cooper Kupp and Shaq Hill are the only team­mates who come close to those num­bers.

“They’re a big, phys­i­cal ag­gres­sive team,” Reaves said. “They like to go right at you and we don’t mind that. We’re not afraid of be­ing phys­i­cal. That’s what we pride our­selves on. We like to be phys­i­cal, too.”

You don’t get to be ranked sec­ond in the FCS in scor­ing de­fense (15.4), third in to­tal de­fense (265.0), eighth against the run (94.3) and ninth ver­sus the pass (170.7) by play­ing soft. And the Wild­cats have faced their share of high-powered of­fenses.

Villanova held Pitt to 28 points and 261 yards in the sea­son opener. The bowlel­i­gi­ble Pan­thers (8-4) are av­er­ag­ing 42.7 points (No. 10 in the FBS) and 447.5 yards per game. Villanova also lim­ited James Madi­son to 20 points and 277 to­tal yards a few weeks ago. The Dukes are sec­ond in the FCS in scor­ing of­fense (47.7 ppg.) and third in to­tal of­fense (522 ypg).

Yes, the Wild­cats lost both of those games, largely be­cause the of­fense strug­gled in both of them. Villanova scored seven points and had 172 to­tal yards against the Pan­thers and man­aged just one TD and 239 to­tal yards ver­sus the Dukes.

The of­fense, though, has come alive in the last two weeks. Villanova av­er­aged 36 points and 485 yards in wins over Delaware in the reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale and Saint Fran­cis in the open­ing round of the play­offs. The Wild­cats have been es­pe­cially ef­fec­tive in the first half, putting 27 points on the board in the first half against the Blue Hens and scor­ing all of their points in a 31-21 vic­tory over the Red Flash in the first half.

All eyes, though, will be on the de­fense, as it has been all sea­son.

“We have to do what we do well,” Rolle said. “We have to limit their run­ning game, make it a one-di­men­sional game and break their will.”

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