Maine at Villanova
At Villanova Stadium, 3:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Villanova 48-18, Oct. 16, 2010.
Last week: Maine beat Richmond 23-22; Villanova lost to Old Dominion 37-14.
Series: Tied 7-7.
By KEVIN NOONAN
Jack Cosgrove knows that Villanova is struggling. He knows the Wildcats are young and inexperienced. He knows they’re prone to mistakes and are shaky at the quarterback position and have only won one game all year and none in the conference.
But Cosgrove also knows history, especially recent history. And that’s why the Maine coach isn’t taking anything for granted when his team takes on Villanova on Saturday even though the Wildcats are just 1-7 this season and 0-5 in the CAA.
“I know this is not the same team as last year,’’ Cosgrove said. “But all I know now is that we got taken to the woodshed last year. We were embarrassed by Villanova last year [48-18]. And those kinds of things sting.”
Maine is ready to return the sting. The Black Bears are 6-1 overall and sitting atop the standings in the CAA at 4-0. And instead of a bee that stings, Villanova has been more of a fly that keeps getting swatted – the Wildcats’ only victory this season was against Penn, an Ivy League team, and they’ve been defeated in their five CAA games by an average score of 33-13.
RB Pushaun Brown has been the workhorse for Maine – he’s rushed for 648 yards (92.6 yards per game) and six touchdowns and his 129 carries are more than twice as many as all the other Maine RBs combined.
Warren Smith is one of the top QBs in the CAA and he’s completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 1,752 yards, 12 TDs and just four interceptions. And whereas the Black Bears’ running game is basically a one-man show, their receiving game is balanced, led by Maurice McDonald (45 catches, 446 yards, four TDs), Justin Perillo (33 catches, 342 yards, three TDs) and Derek Session (23 catches, 270 yards, two TDs).
On defense, Maine follows the lead of LB Jerr McMillian (team-high 52 tackles), DL Michael Cole (six sacks) and DB Trevor Coston (four interceptions).
And whereas Villanova is loaded with green players (the Wildcats start 12 freshmen and their lone senior starter, James Pitts, is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury), Maine has plenty of experience (the Black Bears have 17 fifth-year seniors on its roster).
Villanova coach Andy Talley knew his young team would struggle this year, but even Talley didn’t expect the Wildcats to self-destruct like they have. The biggest problem has been at quarterback, where red-shirt freshman Dustin Thomas and true freshman Chris Polony have shared the position.
Talley said that big hole at the game’s most important position is the main reason his offense has been so bad this year and he still hopes one of his young passers will assert himself as the team leader before the season is over.
“If you look at all the teams in the conference that are winning, they have a guy,’’ Talley said. “You’ve got to have a guy. And right now we don’t have one yet.”
A couple of those freshmen have stood out for Villanova – Jamal Abdur-Rahman, who is seventh in the CAA in all-purpose yards, with 887, and LB Dillon Lucas, who has 71 tackles and two sacks.
Still, all you need to know about the Wildcats’ season is that the team MVP is probably kicker-punter Mark Hamilton, who is 9-for-9 on field goal attempts.
Even if Villanova takes a lead on Saturday, the Wildcats know they can’t count the Black Bears out. Last week against Richmond, Maine scored all 23 of its points in the fourth quarter and in a big game against Delaware earlier in the season, Maine scored 17 points in the final period for a 31-17 victory.
Those were typical CAA barnburners and that’s not expected on Saturday. Still, whether he truly believes it or is simply being charitable to another CAA team, Cosgrove said his first-place team will have its hands full on Saturday with the last-place Wildcats.
“We respect the hell out of Villanova and what they stand for,’’ Cosgrove said. “We know there’s a ton of fight in every CAA team and this is going to be a very, very nerve-racking week for us, preparing for a team that I think is lethal and ready to play its best football game.”