ORONO — Villanova University may not possess quite the level of talent and cohesiveness that carried it all the way to the Football Championship Subdivision national title last season, but it remains a formidable challenger this season in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Saturday afternoon, the sixth-ranked Wildcats demonstrated the benefits of improved health and the added preparation coming off a bye week.
Senior quarterback Chris Whitney efficiently completed 20 of 25 passes for 322 yards and three touchdowns, spoiling the Black Bears’ homecoming with a convincing 48-18 CAA victory at rainy, cool Alfond Stadium.
It was the second straight setback and the fourth in five games for coach Jack Cosgrove’s team (2-5, 1-3 CAA), which simply couldn’t contain the versatile Villanova offense.
“They played very well. We didn’t do the things we needed to do, obviously, to beat a team of that level of talent,” said Cosgrove, whose squad must regroup for Saturday’s game at Rhode Island.
Whitney, who also rushed for two scores, set up comfortably behind Villanova’s behemoth offensive line (averaging 6-foot-3 1/2, 316 pounds per man) and picked apart a struggling UMaine defense.
“Our line gave Chris a good amount of time to throw the ball today,” said Villanova coach Andy Talley. “At times he ended up just patting the ball, patting the ball and then just sticking it in there.”
Villanova (4-2, 2-1 CAA) racked up 559 yards of offense (7.7 yards per play) overall and converted 10 of 14 third-down situations. The Wildcats executed touchdown passes of 63 and 73 yards while building a 27-3 halftime advantage.
Whitney relied heavily on sure-handed wide receivers Dorian Wells (7 catches, 111 yards, 1 TD) and Norman White (6 receptions, 94 yds., 1 TD), who found space to operate within the Bears’ defensive scheme.
“It was tough,” said UMaine senior cornerback Steven Barker. “We still need to be disciplined on coverage, see what’s coming, make our checks, play our role.”
The Wildcats also demonstrated plenty of balance with a steady ground game led by Aaron Ball (14 carries, 61 yards).
UMaine’s offense had difficulty moving the ball consistently. Quarterback Warren Smith completed 18 of 31 throws for 206 yards with a touchdown, but was intercepted once and fumbled once.
Wideout Tyrell Jones made six receptions for 64 yards, while Pushaun Brown headed the run game with 48 yards on 10 carries.
Playing from behind, the Bears couldn’t stick with the ball-control philosophy it had hoped to employ in an effort to slow down the Wildcats.
“Having a chance to keep them off the field was something we wanted to do with running the football and the short passing game,” Cosgrove said. “We weren’t able to do that.”
UMaine again found itself in an early hole. Villanova scored on its first two possessions and got in the end zone four times while building a 27-3 first-half advantage.
Villanova marched 97 yards on 12 plays on its first drive, which included two key third-down completions. Whitney called his own number on a 1-yard scoring run.
The Bears answered with a drive that ended when Martel Moody picked off a poorly thrown pass by Smith at the VU 18-yard line.
The visitors converted, scoring five plays later when Angelo Babbaro got loose down the left hashmark and caught a wide-open 63-yard scoring pass from Whitney.
“We saw some areas where we could hit them deep and we were able to connect today,” Whitney said.
UMaine responded with a 63-yard drive punctuated by Brian Harvey’s 28-yard field goal with 13:19 left in the second quarter.
Villanova then struck for two touchdowns in the last 4:10 of the half.
Whitney found Wells streaking down the middle on a post pattern for a 73-yard touchdown hookup, then the Wildcats held the Bears, got the ball back and went 50 yards on seven plays. Whitney threw 18 yards to White at the left pylon to give Villanova a commanding 27-3 lead.
“We flat-out blew a couple coverages, that’s where they got those two big plays,” Cosgrove said. “That’s where the game got away early there.”
The Bears got back within two scores at 27-11 on their first possession of the second half, which was prolonged by Chris Treister’s 20-yard pass to linebacker Ryan McCrossan on a fake punt from the UMaine 40.
UMaine ran seven straight pass plays, with Smith hitting a wide-open Derek Session in the end zone on a 20-yard TD hookup. Smith then threw to Jeff Falvey for the two-point conversion.
The Wildcats finally ended the suspense with an 87-yard drive late in the third quarter. ‘Nova converted three first downs before Babbaro burst 28 yards off left tackle with 1:08 to play, making it 34-11.
Smith fumbled two plays later and the visitors moved down and scored on Whitney’s 2-yard keeper, pushing the lead to 41-11.
“We’ve got to execute,” Smith said. “When it comes down to it, we’re not making plays and our record and the scoreboard shows that right now.”
V—Whitney 1 run (Yako kick)
V—Babbaro 63 pass from Whitney (Yako kick)
M—FG Harvey 28
V—Wells 73 pass from Whitney (kick failed)
V—N.White 18 pass from Whitney (Yako kick)
M—Session 20 pass from Smith (Falvey pass from Smith)
V—Babbaro 28 run (Yako kick)
V—Whitney 2 run (Yako kick)
V—Reynolds 14 pass from Culicerto (Yako kick)
M—Brown 18 pass from Treister (Harvey kick)