Drew Wiley and Forrest Rhyne are instinctual. They know where to be and how to put themselves in position to make a big play. It’s why the Villanova pair are playing like two of the top linebackers in the Colonial Athletic Association.
”They’re smart. They can help everyone else get lined up,” coach Mark Ferrante said. “Those are our two biggest playmakers.”
Ferrante always sees them watching film. No two players study more. Wiley and Rhyne often study individually, but occasionally will come together — just like on tackles.
Wiley is the veteran. He’s a redshirt senior who has played in 45 games in his career. He leads the team with 15 tackles for loss this season, and he’s second, behind Rhyne, with 57 tackles.
Rhyne, a junior, is younger. Wiley hosted him on his visit to Villanova and played a big role in showing him “the Villanova way,” said Rhyne, who has 89 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss.
Oh, and they’ve combined for 12 of the team’s 25 sacks.
”It feels really good. We’re focused. We really push each other in the way of constantly working hard every day,” Rhyne said. “The advantage of having a great player next to you is that [it creates] constant competition and uneasiness among the position group.”
Villanova plays a 3-3 stack defense that is designed for the defensive linemen to create opportunities for the linebackers by occupying multiple blockers. So every chance he gets, Rhyne praises the defensive line.
Rhyne and Wiley have each had their wow moment this season.
Rhyne was named the CAA defensive player of the week after securing 15 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks in a 35-28 win against William & Mary.
Wiley received the same honor last weekend after a win over Richmond. Coincidentally, the Wildcats won that game by 35-28, too. Wiley had five tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, and a forced fumble. The interception came in Richmond’s red zone while the Wildcats trailed, 28-21, in the third quarter and was one of the biggest plays of the game.
”To get that interception, he had to run a long way. I don’t think the quarterback saw him,” Ferrante said.
This week, Villanova will be challenged with its opponent. But not because of its record. Villanova (7-3) will host LIU (0-8) for the first time in school history at 7 p.m. Friday. It’s also the first Friday night game at Villanova Stadium since 2014 against Syracuse, a 27-26 double-overtime loss.
And not only that, but also late-season nonconference games aren’t always the easiest to get pumped for. The Wildcats have been in seven straight CAA battles and will have another one next week against Delaware. But they must focus on the task at hand.
“It’s different because normally we have only the first four or five weeks then it’s all league games after that,” Ferrante said. “But regardless of who you’re playing, you have to light it up and get it going.”