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No. 10 Villanova needs to rediscover its ‘standard’ quickly after humbling defeat to William & Mary

The Wildcats look to get back on track against Elon after last week's blowout loss to William & Mary.

Villanova linebacker Forrest Rhyne had 19 tackles last Saturday in a 31-18 loss to William & Mary.
Villanova linebacker Forrest Rhyne had 19 tackles last Saturday in a 31-18 loss to William & Mary.Read moreCourtesy of Villanova Athletics

Villanova linebacker Forrest Rhyne believes that football is math. You can’t win a game if the statistics are not in your team’s favor. In Saturday’s 31-18 loss to William & Mary, the math did not add up for the Wildcats.

“We talk a lot about the statistics,” Rhyne said. “If you’re minus three in the turnover ratio, you have a 96% chance of losing the game no matter what you do in any other statistical category.”

The other categories did not look great for Villanova this past weekend either. The Tribe had possession of the ball for almost twice the amount of time Villanova did, and in those 40 minutes, they gashed the Wildcats defense for 258 yards on the ground.

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In stark contrast, the Wildcats only ran for a season-low 39 yards. Through the air, they didn’t fare much better as quarterback Daniel Smith, who completed 18-of-38 passes, threw four interceptions, two of them in William & Mary territory. After putting the first three points on the board via a 39-yard Cole Bunce field goal on their opening drive, the Wildcats did not score again until the fourth quarter.

“It’s going to be hard to establish a running game when you’re not out there enough,” head coach Mark Ferrante said. “To [William & Mary’s] credit, they were able to hold onto the ball and control the clock with the run game.”

Villanova was simply outplayed in every facet. While the 6-2 Wildcats have excelled in nearly every statistical category this season, they were not sharp against the Tribe and their mistakes were capitalized upon. However, Villanova can at least take solace in the grit they played with, despite struggling for much of the game.

The Wildcats entered the fourth quarter down 31-3 but ended up winning the quarter. Villanova put up 15 points in the final stanza, courtesy of a 15-yard touchdown catch by Jaaron Hayek and the subsequent two-point conversion reception by Todd Summers, followed by a one-yard touchdown run by Smith.

Rhyne also stepped up despite the defeat and totaled 19 tackles (one short of his career-high). While he wasn’t happy with the team’s performance he did credit his team for not throwing in the towel late in the game.

“We’re very resilient,” the graduate student said. “We still have a standard to reach and we still have something that we’re striving for, and we’re going to strive for that no matter what the score is.”

“I don’t have a problem with this group,” Ferrante said. “They have that resiliency, and that ‘hey we’re hit with a little adversity but let’s just keep plugging away.’ ”

Villanova will look to return to their normal standards this Saturday at Elon (2 p.m.). On the season, the Wildcats have outscored the 4-4 Phoenix, 260-185, suggesting that this has the potential to be a bounce-back game for the Wildcats. Elon is coming off of a 45-21 blowout loss to James Madison, whom Villanova topped, 28-27, earlier this season.

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If the Wildcats are to get back on track, Rhyne and the rest of what he calls an “unselfish” defense will need to shut down Elon’s passing game as quarterback Davis Cheek averages 280.63 yards a game through the air.

As the regular season draws to a close, Villanova needs to regain its momentum before games against Stony Brook and Delaware. The 2021 season has the potential to be remembered as a special one, but after last week’s humbling, the Wildcats need to refocus and prove that they deserve their No. 10 national ranking.

“We’re definitely going to bounce back,” Rhyne said. “I expect that we’re going to play 100%, we’re going to tackle, we’re going to play physical. Those are the things that we talk about every week. So in and out, we’re going to continue to try and reach for that standard that we hold ourselves at.”

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