By Sam Partridge
The CAA Today Columnist
College Sporting News
Stony Brook at Villanova
No team faced a bigger test this past Saturday than Villanova, and the Wildcats passed with flying colors, knocking off Stony Brook, 35-6. The schedule lined up perfectly for coach Andy Talley as his team had not only a bye week but a matchup with a Seawolves team that knocked Villanova out of the playoffs last season. Add in the fact that Stony Brook was coming off a five OT loss against Buffalo and it was tailor made for a big bounce-back win.
Talley remarked on the coaches call this week that it was clear to him early on that Stony Brook didn't have the legs he'd seen on film early in the game and the Wildcats took full advantage, scoring three straight touchdowns in the second quarter for a 21-0 lead at the half. Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore made it clear that his team was a little shellshocked to face that deficit at the half as Villanova had hit them with a couple of haymakers, including a fleaflicker touchdown pass for one of the scores.
After committing 9 turnovers in their first two games, Villanova cleaned things up against Stony Brook and even turned the tables, returning a fumble 36 yards for a score in the third quarter that effectively put the game away at 28-0. As coach Talley said, it was the first game this year where the Wildcats were solid for both halves and hopes that the effort carries forward.
Stony Brook gets to return home after a couple of weeks on the road, but it's not much consolation with Towson coming to town.
Liberty at Richmond
After a surprising loss to Gardner-Webb the previous week, the Spiders needed a win over Liberty and pulled out a rain-soaked victory, 30-21. Richmond came into the game with statistically the best passing attack in the CAA, but given the conditions, winning through the air seemed an unlikely formula. So, the Spiders turned to the ground game and got great results as Jacobi Green rushed for 181 yards on 24 carries and TJ Moon punched in a couple of first half scores to give Richmond a 23-14 halftime lead.
As the rain got stronger in the second half, so did the Spiders defense. After allowing a Desmond Rice 46-yard touchdown run that cut the score to 23-21 less than a minute into the third, Richmond dug in. The defense forced two turnovers and blocked a field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. Liberty's final gasp ended with a turnover on downs inside the Richmond 10 in the waning moments.
Michael Strauss was effective again, going 20-34 for 210 yards and a touchdown as he and the Spiders avoided a 1-3 start that would have put them in a big hole heading into CAA play. Richmond will host Maine this week as they try to climb back above .500.
Towson at North Carolina Central
Towson came into this game as hot as any team in the country, but Coach Rob Ambrose headed home from Durham, NC disappointed and frustrated by his team's play. The Tigers committed more turnovers than they had in their previous games combined allowed a clearly inferior MEAC foe to stay in the game. However, in the end, Towson still had more than enough to put Central away, 35-17.
As usual, Terrance West led the way with 139 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries and he got some help from Darius Victor, who added a couple more scores on the ground. Towson's defense, which hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown all season, held the Eagles to just 2 yards on the ground, but gave up nearly 300 yards passing as Central quarterback Jordan Reid had success moving the ball through the air.
Still, Towson moved to 4-0 and hasn't been seriously challenged yet this season. Stony Brook will see if they can put a dent in the Tigers swagger come Saturday.
Rhode Island at William & Mary
On a rainy night in Williamsburg, the Tribe continued their surprising start to the season with another impressive defensive effort as they moved to 3-1 with a 20-0 win over the Rams. Rhode Island came into the contest hoping to build on a win over Albany that snapped a 15-game losing streak but the Rams were never able to get much momentum going against what has shaped up to be a very stingy William & Mary defense. It was the second straight game without a touchdown allowed and the Tribe has now surrendered only 37 points in four games, the best mark over that stretch since 1948.
The conditions controlled play more than the two teams for the majority of the first half, but the Tribe finally broke through on running back Jarrell Cooper's 28-yard run with just four minutes remaining in the second. William & Mary quickly doubled the advantage, though, as the defense forced a quick punt and quarterback Michael Graham hit tight end Bo Revell with a 49-yard touchdown strike.
John Carpenter added a couple of second half field goals and that was more than enough of a cushion for the Tribe defense, which held Rhode Island to just 11 first downs and only one trip inside the red zone. Of the Rams’ 12 possessions, nine ended with punts while they were stopped on downs twice and missed a 47-yard field goal. Jimmye Laycock talked on this week's CAA coaches call about how important it was to the defense to finish off the shutout and they got a fourth down stop at the William & Mary 2 to do just that.
While the Tribe's 3-1 start has been somewhat surprising, the soft part of the schedule is behind them and we will begin to see just where this team fits in the CAA race when William & Mary heads to Villanova on October 5th. Until then, the Tribe can enjoy their bye week and hope to keep the defensive momentum going against the Wildcats.
Wagner at Delaware
Through four weeks, it's still hard to figure out just what kind of team coach Brock has down in Newark. After knocking off a clearly overmatched Wagner team 49-9, the Blue Hens have had three FCS mismatches and home sandwiched around a 51-7 trouncing on the road at Navy. The most recent win came over a Seahawks team that was one of the great FCS stories of 2012, but is in serious rebuilding mode after the departure of numerous seniors following last year's playoff run.
Considering that the game was 42-3 at halftime, the final score could have been a lot worse had a downpour not arrived in the second half. Trent Hurley had a very effective game, going 10-12 for 226 yards in just one half of work as the Blue Hens cruised to victory. The win marked the 20th straight nonconference victory at home, which might say more about the softness of the Blue Hen's scheduling considering the lack of overall success some recent teams have had.
Still, Delaware moves to 3-1 overall and they are well positioned heading into CAA play. That starts this Saturday when James Madison comes to town, a Saturday night visit that will most certainly start to answer some questions about where the Blue Hens stand.
Maine at Northwestern
Maine went out to Evanston, IL for its second FBS game of the season and gave Northwestern all it could handle, but was ultimately done in by two interception returns for touchdowns. The Black Bears actually outgained one of the better offenses in the country 379-373 and coach Jack Cosgrove was really pleased with the effort his kids showed, but the turnovers were too much to overcome.
After falling behind 7-0 early, Maine took control and had two promising drives end with no points on a blocked field goal from 32 yards and a missed attempt from 38. The game looked to head to halftime at 7-0 or possibly closer as Maine had the ball near midfield, but Marcus Wasilewski was picked off the interception was returned 49 yards for a 14-0 Northwestern lead. When the Wildcats returned another errant Wasilewski toss 19 yards for a score early in the third quarter, the lead stretched to 21-0 and Maine could get no closer than 14 points the rest of the way.
Wasilewski went 25-for-40 with 237 yards and two touchdowns while Nigel Jones led the ground game with 73-yards and a touchdown on 16 attempts. Cabrinni Goncalves had 11 tackles to spearhead a defense that held Northwestern to season lows in both points and total passing yards.
Maine will see if they can bounce back as they stay on the road this week at Richmond.
Charlotte at James Madison
When James Madison fumbled the opening kickoff and Charlotte went ahead 7-0 jumped 30 seconds into the game, it was conceivable that the Dukes were going to struggle against another seemingly weak nonconference opponent. However, despite a few mistakes and a whole lot of rain, JMU quickly regained control and polished off the 49ers, 34-7.
The Dukes took back the lead before the end of the first quarter on two touchdown runs by Dae'Quan Scott and led 20-7 at halftime after a 37-yard touchdown pass from Michael Birdsong to Quintin Hunter. The second half was more of the same as James Madison ended with 30 first downs and 522 yards of total offense. Birdsong was a solid 20-28 but the two interceptions he threw were still sticking in Mickey Matthews' craw during the coaches call on Monday.
We have seen uneven performances from the Dukes for the most part this season and while that has been good enough against nonconference foes so far, JMU will need to be more consistent to have success as we move into CAA play, starting this week on the road at Delaware.
Central Connecticut State at Albany
Coming off a disappointing home loss to Rhode Island the week before, Albany was hoping to bounce back against CCSU, but instead fell at home again, 20-17. Coach Bob Ford was extremely frustrated with his team's effort, especially in the first half, when he felt his squad didn't play well at all. Still, the Danes led 17-10 moving to the fourth quarter on the strength of two touchdown runs from Omar Osbourne, the second of which came with 16 seconds left in the 3rd.
However, the Danes faced a similar problem as in the Rhode Island game, i.e. an inability to finish off a game with a lead. First, the defense allowed CCSU running back Rob Hollomon to bust free for a 59-yard touchdown run to quickly answer Osbourne's score and then the offense was unable to retake the lead. That allowed the Blue Devils the opportunity late in the fourth quarter to move the ball into range for Steven Calitri to nail a 40-yard field goal with 17 seconds left for the win.
It's clear that the excitement of opening the new stadium and moving to the CAA is starting to wear off and that this Danes team needs to find a way to finish off drives as well as games. The defense has played well enough for the most part but the offense has managed only 30 points at home the last two weeks in very winnable games. Coach Ford sounded like he hadn't gotten much sleep since the most recent defeat, and it can't help that he's got Old Dominion, JMU and Delaware looming the next three weeks.
CAA PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Offensive Player of the Week: Michael Johnson, Jr., WR, Delaware
Johnson had a career day in Delaware's 49-9 rout of Wagner, piling up a career-high 168 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the first half to become just the sixth player in program history and the first in nine seasons to snag three scores in a game. The junior, whose 168 yards is the most by a Blue Hens receiver since 2004, has now eclipsed 100 yards in three of four games this fall. Johnson would add a 14-yard run and 41 yards on two kickoff returns to finish with 223 all-purpose yards in the win.
Defensive Player of the Week: Stephon Robertson, Sr., LB, James Madison
Robertson racked up a team-high 12 tackles, including six solo, to pace a Dukes defense that held Charlotte to a single first-quarter score in Saturday's 34-7 win. CAA Football's Preseason Defensive Player of the Year would also force and recover a fumble that then led to a Dukes touchdown on the ensuing play. The win over the 49ers marked the fourth-straight game that Robertson led the team in tackles and his third with at least 10 tackles in 2013.
Special Teams Player of the Week: Wayne Pettus, Sr., DB, Richmond
Pettus picks up his first weekly conference honor on the heels of a complete performance in Richmond's 30-21 win over Liberty. The senior blocked a pair of second-half field goals - the first blocked kicks of his career - to help the Spiders maintain their two-score lead down the stretch. Pettus would also snare an interception and tack on two pass breakups and four tackles as Richmond closed out its nonconference slate with a win in its first-ever meeting with the Flames. Pettus was also named a College Sporting News National All-Star for his efforts.
Rookie of the Week: Darius Victor, Fr., RB, Towson
Victor showed no signs of nerves in his first collegiate contest, making the most of his six carries to finish with 53 yards and two touchdowns as Towson topped North Carolina Central for its eighth-straight win on Saturday. The freshman would put the Tigers up, 28-10, on his four-yard third-quarter score before finding the endzone once again on a 10-yard run with 1:35 remaining to seal the 35-17 victory and the program's best start since 1986.
CAA TODAY TOP 25
1. North Dakota State
3. Northern Iowa
4. McNeese State
5. Eastern Washington
6. Sam Houston State
7. New Hampshire
8. Eastern Illinois
9. South Dakota State
12. James Madison
13. Montana State
15. Central Arkansas
19. William & Mary
23. Youngstown State
24. Coastal Carolina
25. Stony Brook
THIS WEEK'S GAMES
Central Connecticut State at Rhode Island
CCSU looks to make it two CAA wins in a row after last week's win at Albany. The Rams knocked off the Danes as well but the win proved to generate little momentum in last week's shutout loss against William & Mary. Truth be told, the Rams are still struggling with NEC-level talent and Central Connecticut comes into this game with more confidence. Kingston is not the easiest place to play, but Rhode Island simply isn't very good right now.
CCSU 20 URI 16
Maine at Richmond
The Black Bears played well in their first loss at Northwestern last weekend, but coach Jack Cosgrove came out of the game concerned about the team's depth given the injuries that have piled up in the first four games, including two against FBS foes. Richmond has had their own issues in a 2-2 start, but last week's win against Liberty was huge for the Spiders and they get to stay home for another week to open up their CAA schedule. Whoever wins this one gets an early boost and I've got a feeling the healthier Spiders will have an edge in this one.
Richmond 31 Maine 20
Penn at Villanova
Penn coach Al Bagnoli and Villanova head man Andy Talley are good friends, but this is still a good old-fashioned Big 5 Philly rivalry. And, with no playoff option for the defending Ivy League champions, this is a huge statement game for the Quakers. The problem for Penn is that they are running into a rested and focused Villanova team that seemed to put its season-opening struggles behind it last week. While Quakers QB Billy Ragone is an Ivy League player of the year candidate, he lacks the offensive talent surrounding him that John Richardson is blessed with. This should be a good battle and I expect the Ancient Eight team to be in the game in the second half, but ultimately, the CAA co-favorites should win out. Turnovers are the wild card, but the Wildcats should get Andy Talley his 200th win.
Wildcats 34 Quakers 23
Albany at Old Dominion
There have been some significant growing pains so far for the Monarchs in their first transition year to FBS, but they still have Taylor Heinicke at quarterback and the explosive offense that goes with him. Coming off a narrow shootout win over the Citadel, the Monarchs will take on one of the two teams that filled the void left by the departure of ODU and Georgia State. Albany would love nothing more than to knock off its ex-CAA member opponent, but quite frankly the Danes haven't shown the offensive explosiveness or finishing ability at the end of games to think they can go to Norfolk and pull off the upset. Given the back to back tough losses at home, it could get ugly for Coach Bob Ford if Albany gets down early.
Monarchs 44 Danes 17
Towson at Stony Brook
After getting beaten up by Villanova last week, the Seawolves get the other favorite for the CAA title as the undefeated Tigers come to Long Island on Saturday. Stony Brook should be in better shape physically this week, but I'm not sure it will be enough against a Towson team that seems to be on a mission. On top of that, the Tigers were sloppy last week so they will come in focused on playing a cleaner game against Stony Brook. This will spell trouble for a Seawolves team that has struggled to play consistently on offense. It will be hard to keep up with Peter Ahrens and Terrance West unless they can finish drives and put points on the board, and that will be tough against a deep and physical defensive front from Towson. I expect the Tigers will have enough of an extra gear to start the CAA season off with a win and get to 5-0.
Towson 37 Stony Brook 19
GAMES OF THE WEEK
New Hampshire at Lehigh
With two bye weeks already in the first four, this has been rather leisurely start to the season for New Hampshire. The same can't be said for Lehigh, which has needed fourth quarter rallies in all three games to head into this weekend 3-0. The most recent comeback was from a 22-3 halftime deficit at Princeton and included another late touchdown drive engineered by quarterback Brandon Bialkowski. The senior is a first-year starter, but has shown a flair for the dramatic, most notably engineering a 20 point fourth quarter comeback against Central Connecticut State three weeks ago. The comebacks highlight a Lehigh winning streak that now stands at 11 straight nonconference games as well as 11 straight wins in games decided by seven points or less.
Care to guess the last time Lehigh lost such a game? That's right, the last time New Hampshire came to town, a 48-41 overtime thriller on Sept. 10, 2011. Saturday is shaping up to be a beautiful fall day in eastern Pennsylvania and I expect these two teams will treat us to some fireworks again. However, if Lehigh wants to keep the streaks going and knock off the Wildcats, they'd best avoid digging themselves an early deficit as this New Hampshire is not one you want to play from behind. With the two-headed quarterback duo of Vailas and Goldsmith, all-CAA receiver RJ Harris and a solid running game led by Nico Steriti, this Wildcat teams can put up points in a hurry.
Bialkowski and the rest of the Mountain Hawks have had a lot of fun as the latest version of the Cardiac Kids, but it'll be a taller order going up against a top 10 team like New Hampshire. I expect it to be one of the more exciting games in a week filled with them across the country, but ultimately coach McDonnell and his charges will take another Patriot League scalp back to Durham, NH.
New Hampshire 41 Lehigh 31
James Madison at Delaware
Due to scheduling quirks, these teams haven't played since 2009, so they will both spend much of the week getting familiar with each other. Given the way that both squads have played, each coach might have a hard time knowing what to prepare for. James Madison has been inconsistent, not just from game to game but quarter to quarter, with perplexing results, no more so than a narrow 26-24 win over lowly St Francis (PA). On the other side, the Blue Hens have been unchallenged in three home games and pounded by Navy on the road so we have almost no idea about the true quality of the squad. Still, there's plenty of talent on both sides, primarily at running back, where Andrew Pierce and Dae'Quan Scott are the marquee players for their respective teams. Neither Birdsong or Hurley are expected to win games for their teams but they could both lose them if they are sloppy with the ball. Birdsong especially has shown a tendency for poor decisions and that has not endeared him to coach Mickey Matthews.
This game will most likely come down to the turnover battle but also could turn on which defense is most able to make a play when needed. I think it won't be the prettiest game, but in a somewhat unlikely result, let's go with the Dukes to pull one out on the road in Newark.
JMU 24 Delaware 23
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Enjoy the games!