During Saturday's 19-14 home loss to Elon, then the 10th-ranked team in the FCS, it seemed Villanova had more players on the sidelines wearing sweatsuits than it had players in uniform. And many of those were key guys. Some were even wearing leg braces, or forced to use crutches to get around.
That pretty much sums up the season for the Wildcats (4-4, 2-3 Colonial Athletic Association), who had a whole bunch back from a team that made it to the second round of the NCAA playoffs a year ago. But every season is different. The offense in particular right now doesn't look anything like it was supposed to because of injuries. And that has cost them.
They haven't scored more than 14 points in any of their losses. They lost to Temple on a late field goal, and at Albany in overtime. Their last two losses were to the only teams that don't have a CAA loss. On Oct. 14, they were down by only eight at No. 1 James Madison in the fourth quarter — with a true freshman at quarterback, the third player they've had to use at that position.
Yet they're still ranked 20th and would appear to have a decent shot to get into the 24-team tournament field if they win their last three. This Saturday, they will host Richmond (4-4, 2-3), which has dropped its last two to fall out of the top 25. The Spiders were picked to finish second in the preseason media poll, just ahead of Villanova. It hasn't worked out that way. Yet they have one of the best QBs anywhere in Kyle Lauletta from Downingtown East High School.
The winner will have a palpable reason to play next week. The loser, not so much.
If the Wildcats had remained whole, there's no telling what their record might be. But they're not feeling sorry for what might have been. They're thinking about only what can still be.
"They've kept the right attitude," coach Mark Ferrante said. "I'm looking in the huddle before our last kickoff return last week, and there were nine freshmen or redshirt freshmen. That's tough. But we've hung in there. We're gritty. We just haven't been mature enough, or consistent enough.
"I'm not going to lie. Coming back on Sunday, it was a little more somber. But at practice, it was back to business as usual. The young kids are just excited to be on the field. They're a fun group to be around. I have no qualms about the desire. If we keep winning, we might have a chance [to make the postseason]. But if we don't win this one, we'll just be fighting for a winning season."
Kyle McCloskey, who a year ago was playing for Germantown Academy, has looked like he belongs in the six quarters he has been out there taking snaps. But he's going to make mistakes that only more experience can cure. And the players around him have to do a better job.
"It's a little frustrating, because you know if we score 21, we're most likely going to win with our defense," said senior wide receiver Taurus Phillips, who has a team-high 22 catches for 344 yards and four touchdowns. "Even with all the people we're missing, that's all we had to do. And we haven't been able to.
"But you have to put that behind you. You could look at it like the glass is half-full, or half-empty. There's still water in the glass. You have to be a realist and say, 'We can do this.' We just have to make sure Kyle's OK. He's going to be a player. Right now, all he can do is go out and try to make the next play."
The Wildcats lost at Richmond last year, 23-0, after QB Zach Bednarczyk had to leave in the first half with a concussion. Both teams were in the top 13. The Spiders scored on a 6-yard run with 10 seconds to go.
"The only thing I'm focused on about that game is that we didn't score," Phillips said, when asked if the meaningless late TD would provide any added motivation. Not that any should really be necessary.
The Wildcats will be at Rhode Island (2-6, 1-4) before closing with Delaware (5-3, 3-2) on Lancaster Avenue.
"When you go into any season, you should expect the worst and hope for the best," said junior running back Aaron Forbes, who has rushed for a team-best 388 yards on 85 carries without getting into the end zone.
"Every team's going to have some injuries. The good teams handle that. Of course it affects you, but it's not something you get hung up on. We've been kind of lucky in a way. We could have gone downhill fast. But we've stayed together.
"We know what we're capable of, even with all that's happened. Kyle's been thrown into a tough spot. But we're behind him. … We can't look at it as having to go 3-0. That'll only get you in trouble. We have to win one at a time, and then move on to the next must game. That's how you're supposed to do it, anyway."