By Tommy Keeler Jr.
Villanova coach Andy Talley was late for his Colonial Athletic Association teleconference this week, and said it was in part because of how bad things have been going for his team lately. Talley is well aware things need to turn around in a hurry if they want to take down James Madison University when the teams play today at 2:30 p.m. at Bridgeforth Stadium in JMU's Homecoming game.
The Wildcats have lost their last two games by a combined three points to New Hampshire and Maine.
"Right now you're trying to rally everybody," Talley said. "We've lost two games in a row to two really good teams. We could easily be on the better side of it, but we're not. We're hanging by our fingernails, and we have a lot of kids banged up, which usually is the way it is when you're having a season like this."
Talley said wide receivers Jamal Abdur-Rahman, Mike Price and Mike Burke are all out with injuries. On the defensive side of the ball, the Wildcats will be without defensive lineman Antoine Lewis, and possible defensive lineman Rakhim Cox.
Talley certainly won't get any sympathy from JMU coach Mickey Matthews.
The Dukes may be without top running back Dae'Quan Scott due to an ankle injury. Scott has 802 rushing and 207 receiving yards this season.
Matthews moved JMU freshman Khlaid Abdullah into a more prominent role last week in the loss to William and Mary. Abdullah and Scott both saw time at running back, while Scott also played some at wide receiver. Matthews said he liked how it worked and plans to continue splitting Scott at running back and receiver as long as Scott is healthy.
Scott had eight receptions last week for 87 yards and a touchdown.
JMU sophomore quarterback Michael Birdsong was 18 for 34 for 208 yards, with one touchdown and one interception in the loss last week. Matthews said he was surprised at how poorly the team played on offense.
"We weren't ourselves offensively," Matthews said. "We were out of sync. We snapped the ball early. We were just out of sync, offensively. We had really been making some strides offensively the last three or four weeks."
The Wildcats have given up 66 combined points in its last two games, and Talley said the injuries on defense have led to the losses.
"[Because of injuries] we're just scrambling and trying to get it right," Talley said. "We're just not playing the kind of defense we need to play to win in this league."
The Wildcats (4-4, 3-2 CAA) may have some injuries at wide receiver, but they have perhaps the best running quarterback in FCS in sophomore John Robertson.
Robertson has rushed for 1,063 yards on 157 carries and 15 touchdowns this season. He has also thrown for 1,307 yards and eight touchdowns, but Rahman and Burke are second and third on the team in receptions and yards.
"We think John's a great kid. We think he's a great player," Matthews said. "He's tremendously strong in the upper body, people can not tackle him. The best thing that Villanova does is they call a pass and he takes off with it. The worst thing you can do is cover everyone.
"He carried it 22 times last week and their running back carried it five. That shows you who they expect to win the game for them."
The Dukes have been stellar on defense all season. JMU is allowing just 20.8 points per game, and only 93.8 rushing yards per contest.
Talley said his team has its work cut out for him, especially with all of their injuries.
"We just have a couple guys banged up and we're really deficient at a couple positions," Talley said. "We have to try to figure it out and see if we can come up with a magic formula and get to JMU and see if we can compete."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd