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Playoff preview: Villanova at Stephen F. Austin

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -


Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 4, 3:30 p.m.

Facts & Figures: Homer Bryce Stadium (14,575) - Nacogdoches, Texas. Surface: Artificial Turf. Television: ESPN Game Plan/ESPN3.com, MASN, CW Philly. Announcers: Todd Harris, Jon Berger. Home Record: Villanova 4-1; Stephen F. Austin 5-1. Away Record: Villanova 3-3; Stephen F. Austin 3-1. Neutral Record: Villanova 0-0; Stephen F. Austin 1-0. Series Record: First Meeting. Conference: Villanova - Colonial Athletic Association; Stephen F. Austin - Southland. Nicknames: Villanova Wildcats; Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. Sports Network/Fathead.com Ranking: Villanova (10); Stephen F. Austin (3). Head Coaches: Villanova - Andy Talley (186-106-1 at Villanova and 214-124-2 Overall); Stephen F. Austin - J.C. Harper (23-24 at Stephen F. Austin and Overall). All-Time Record: Villanova (569-443-41); Stephen F. Austin - (364-462-30). Playoff Records: Villanova (8-7); Stephen F. Austin (7-5). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Villanova 8 (1989, 91-92, 1996-97, 2002, 08-09); Stephen F. Austin 5 (1988-89, 93, 95, 2009).

What to know: Villanova, last year's FCS champion, played its way to an at- large bid with a 28-21 overtime victory over then-No. 1 Delaware in the season finale on Nov. 20. It was arguably the Wildcats' most inspired victory in a season marked by injuries and uncharacteristically sloppy play. The most significant injury came when running back/wide receiver Matt Szczur, a Walter Payton Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) favorite, injured his ankle in a Sept. 25 game against Penn. The Wildcats went just 3-3 in his absence. Szczur returned in the win over Delaware but saw limited action, carrying the ball just three times for 24 yards.

Villanova's first-round bye was crucial to Szczur's health. He did not participate in practice during the off week, instead using the time to rest and heal. The Wildcats are hoping the added time off will allow him to increase his workload come Saturday.

With Szczur largely incapacitated, the Wildcats have employed a committee of ball-carriers behind one of the best offensive lines in the country. Running backs Aaron Ball (56.2 ypg) and Angelo Babbaro (35.4 ypg) and quarterback Chris Whitney (45.6 ypg) lead an attack which averages 188.5 rushing yards per game (tied-No.1 CAA). The reintegration of Szczur will only bolster this unit.

Whitney also is capable of slinging it. He has thrown for 1,818 yards and 17 touchdowns this season and has a pair of capable targets in Norman White and Dorian Wells, who have combined for 1,239 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.

As with the offense, the defense's primary area of expertise is the run. Led by Marquis Kirkland (80 TT) and Terence Thomas (56 TT, 3 INT), the unit ranks first in the CAA and seventh nationally in rushing defense (99.18 ypg). In short, the Wildcats are geared to stop the run, which has benefited them in the hard-nosed CAA. They allow just 16.3 points per game (No. 7 FCS), but this Saturday they will face an entirely different type of team: a quick-paced, pass-happy offense fueled by a gun-slinging quarterback.

In recent years, one name has been synonymous with Stephen F. Austin football: Jeremy Moses. The senior quarterback rewrote the Southland Conference's record books this season and carried the Lumberjacks to a second consecutive league title and a No. 3 national ranking. Moses, a Walter Payton Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) finalist, currently ranks seventh all-time in the FCS in total offense (12,853), sixth in passing yards (13,061), fourth in touchdown passes (121) and second in completions (1,151).

The Lumberjacks like to throw the ball, and they throw it often. This season, Moses led the FCS in pass attempts (499), completions (303), touchdown passes (34) and passing yards (3,658). He is supported by a group of talented wide receivers, led by Cordell Roberson (85.8 ypg, 16 TDs) and Gralyn Crawford (80.8 ypg, 5 TDs). They also like to keep a brisk pace, snapping the ball about once every 15 seconds.

Not only is this the best offense Villanova has faced all season, but it is also tailor-made to exploit the Wildcats' weaknesses.

It is likely that Villanova will be able to put points on the board as well. The Lumberjacks have an impressive scoring defense (19.45 ppg, No. 21 FCS), but they allow 123.27 rushing yards per game. The ability to run the ball will be elemental to the Villanova attack, as their committee of ball-carriers and a rejuvenated Szczur must keep the ball out of Moses' hands. If they can impose their will and play their style of football, then the Wildcats will likely survive, although the same can be said for Stephen F. Austin.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Villanova 32, Stephen F. Austin 31

12/03 15:29:16 ET

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Breaking The Line
by Samuel G. Freedman
Samuel G. Freedman's "Breaking The Line" vividly recreates the world of black college football in the civil rights era with a gripping chronicle of the 1967 season for coach Eddie Robinson at Grambling State and Alonzo S. "Jake" Gaither at Florida A&M.