The Collegian
Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Next Up: Villanova

The University of Richmond football team has yet to lose a game this season, but if the Spiders want to secure at least a share of the Colonial Athletic Association title this week, they will need to beat No. 4 Villanova University on Saturday at UR Stadium.

The Spiders currently occupy the top spot in the polls and are in first place in the CAA South with a 5-0 record. The Wildcats, whose only loss this season came at No. 7 University of New Hampshire, sit behind the Spiders in the South Division, but would leapfrog Richmond with a win on Saturday.

"With Villanova being a Top 5 team and us being No. 1, this game has a lot of playoff implications," junior wide receiver Kevin Grayson said. "This game is huge. Being late in the year, it's probably the biggest game of the season."

Grayson and the Richmond offense will face a Villanova defense that ranks first in the CAA in scoring defense. The Wildcats have held opponents to an average of 85.6 rush yards per game.

Villanova relies largely on the run to create offense. Wildcats quarterback Chris Whitney leads the team with 561 rushing yards this season and as a team, Villanova leads the CAA in rushing yards per game, averaging 226.

"This is going to be a great challenge for us," Richmond head coach Mike London said. "All aspects, offense, defense, special teams, they play really well. We're going to have to play our best game."

Villanova's most dangerous weapon may be junior wideout Matt Szczur. Szczur lines up as wide receiver, running back and quarterback at different times during the game and also returns kicks for the Wildcats. He averages a CAA-leading 133.6 all-purpose yards per game.

"Szczur is a great player," Richmond junior defensive lineman Martin Parker said. "He's a very shifty guy. He knows how to run with the ball and he knows how to score touchdowns. ... When we get our hands on him, we have to tackle him."

Many of Villanova's strengths are also strengths for the Spiders, including strong running offenses, good rush defenses and efficient quarterback play.

"Both teams are very, very close," London said. "Similar in terms of offense and defense. Whoever executes the best I think is going to have an opportunity to win the game."

The Spiders will rely on their rushing defense to try to slow the Villanova ground game. Richmond ranks third nationally in run defense, allowing 71.1 yards per game.

On offense, senior quarterback Eric Ward leads Richmond's passing game. Ward has won nine-straight games during the month of November and is 38-10 as a starter.

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Senior running back Justin Forte leads the CAA in rushing this season with 738 yards and has rushed for more than 100 yards during each of Richmond's last two games.

Last season, the Spiders lost to the Wildcats 26-20 at Villanova. The Spiders had been ranked No. 1 for the first time during the season before the game, but lost the top ranking after that game.

"That was the first time we'd been No. 1," Grayson said. "A lot of guys were excited about it. I think we kinda lacked the focus that we have this year, which is a big difference."

Parker said the Spiders would not seek revenge for last season's loss on Saturday, but that the memory of that game still stuck in the players' minds.

"I would explain it as a fire just burning from last year," Parker said. "Yes, we lost to them as the No. 1 team, and yes, that fire is still there to come back and play against them and prove that we can go out and execute our game and come out with a win."

Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Buses will be provided to take students to and from the game and will begin leaving X-lot at 1:30 p.m.

Contact staff writer Reilly Moore at reilly.moore@richmond.edu

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