By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — Villanova coach Andy Talley noted on Wednesday afternoon at his weekly press luncheon that he had received plenty of text messages, phone calls and emails in the past few days, congratulating him on the 38-14 road victory his Wildcats pulled off against previously unbeaten Old Dominion Saturday afternoon.
The reaction wasn't surprising.
In its short, four-year tenure as a Football Championship Subdivision squad, ODU hasn't made many friends and the announcement that the Monarchs were moving from the Colonial Athletic Association to Conference USA next season and were taking their football program to the Football Bowl Subdivision further strained those frayed feelings.
No. 6 Old Dominion (5-1, 2-1) was one of five teams in the College Sports Journal's Top-7 to lose on a day when seven top-25 squads tumbled and several others were pushed to the limit.
It seems like there is one day of absolute chaos in the FCS ranks every season and Saturday proved to be that day in 2012.
TAKING THE PICK-SIX
No. 1 North Dakota State (5-1, 2-1) lost 17-14 to Indiana State — its first loss after 10 consecutive wins — when quarterback Brock Jensen threw two pick-six interceptions to Sycamore freshman defensive back John Towalid. Jensen had gone 140 pass attempts without an interception before Towalid ended the string.
A 33-yard Adam Keller field goal proved to be the margin of difference for Indiana State (5-2, 3-1) when NDSU — the defending national champion and the unanimously top-ranked team — made a late comeback.
A MATTER OF EXECUTION
No. 3 Wofford found it difficult to execute its triple-option against a Georgia Southern defense that sees a version of it everyday in practice, losing 17-9 at GSU's Paulson Stadium as the Eagles (5-1, 4-1) stopped the Terriers (5-1, 3-1) short on 9-of-13 third downs.
The No. 5-ranked Eagles let fullback Dominique Swope carry them on his back as he rushed 25 times for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
PICKING UP THE OFFENSE
No. 4 Montana State (6-1, 3-1) watched No. 7 Eastern Washington (5-1, 4-0) come up big on defense and special teams to turn a 17-13 lead into a 27-17 deficit in the fourth quarter on a day when Bobcats miscues led to 24 Eagle points.
Dylan Zylstra blocked an MSU punt early in the fourth quarter that Evan Day recovered for a touchdown and Jordan Tonai scored on an interception off Bobcat quarterback DeNarius McGhee just 59 seconds later.
THE QUARTERBACK SHOWDOWN
No. 7 Youngstown State led 28-7 against No. 20 Illinois State in the first half, but the Redbirds (5-1, 3-1) locked the Penguins (4-2, 1-2) down defensively in the second half and scored 21 unanswered points to win 35-28.
Illinois State quarterback Matt Brown threw for three TDs and ran for another, finishing 20-of-31 for 225 yards in a showdown of two of the top FCS quarterback. Kurt Hess of Youngstown State was 16-of-29 for 201 yards and one score as the Penguins dropped their second-straight Missouri Valley Football Conference game.
Jamaine Cook pounded out 177 and three touchdowns on 30 carries for the Penguins, but it wasn't enough.
Two other ranked teams, No. 21 McNeese State and No. 24 Samford, dropped heartbreakers in the final seconds against higher-ranked opponents at home.
Eddie Camera had hit a 41-yard field goal earlier in the game, but his pressure-packed 46-yard effort with 23 seconds left lifted No. 17 Central Arkansas (5-2, 3-1) to a 27-26 Southland Conference victory over the Cowboys (4-2, 1-2).
After rebounding from a 21-10 third-quarter deficit to lead 25-21 with 2:33 remaining, Samford (5-2, 3-2) was just a yard away from clinching its first victory against Appalachian State (5-2, 3-1) since 1970.
But the Bulldogs were stopped on second and one when Ronald Blair and Davante Scott stuffed Jeremiaha Gates for no gain and were stymied again on third and one when Blair and Adam Scott tackled Gates short of the first-down marker.
ASU quarterback Jamal Jackson then marched the Mountaineers 80 yards in seven plays with just 1:33 left on the clock, hitting fabulous freshman Sean Price with a 22-yard scoring strike with 22 seconds left for the 28-25 Southern Conference victory.
There probably should have been one other top-ranked upset.
A week after holding off Towson, 13-10, JMU barely hung on for a win at home against William & Mary, 27-26 in double overtime to remain at No. 2 in the rankings.
The Dukes (5-1, 3-0) needed a missed 39-yard field goal from Drake Kuhn of William & Mary in the final seconds, an overturned touchdown on a controversial offensive pass interference call in the end zone in overtime and a failed two-point conversion pass on the final play of the game to pull its CAA contest out.
Dae'Quan Scott's second rushing TD of the game from three yards out gave JMU the lead in the second overtime and Cameron Starke's PAT made it 27-20.
A seven-yard pass from Raphael Ortiz to Tre McBride pulled the Tribe (2-5, 1-3) to within one, but the gamble to win the game with a two-point play failed when Ortiz was pressured and missed a pass to a receiver in the back of the end zone.
JMU won despite being outgunned 381-350 in total offense and after trailing 14-0 in the first half.
CLOSE CALL AGAIN
No team in the top-25 has played it closer to the margin than Lehigh this season, with the Mountain Hawks winning by a total of 11 points in four of their past five victories.
Lehigh (7-0, 1-0) ranks 91st nationally in turnover margin and that fact nearly bit the Mountain Hawks in a 17-14 nail-biter at Georgetown to open Patriot League play.
A year ago, Lehigh pounded out a 34-12 victory over the upstart Hoyas in the de-facto Patriot League title game. But Georgetown (3-4, 0-1) was much tougher on its home turf, forcing seven Mountain Hawk turnovers.
Cornerback Jeremy Moore snared three interceptions and recovered a fumble to almost single-handedly keep Georgetown in the game. His 80-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Hoyas a 14-7 halftime lead.
But Lehigh, which had tied the game once on a one-yard Zach Barket (28 carries, 123 yards) TD run, rallied in the second half behind a one-yard scoring plunge from Keith Sherman in the third period and Jake Peery's career-long 29-yard field goal with 11 minutes left to complete its 15th-straight regular-season win.
One other undefeated team wasn't as fortunate as Lehigh.
Alabama A&M (6-1, 5-1) might have made a case for the top-25 with a few more wins — the Bulldogs were 26th in last week's CSJ poll voting.
But that might be out of the question following a stunning 21-20 loss at home to Alcorn State (3-4, 3-2) in SWAC play on Saturday.
Devon Francois gave the Braves a 14-10 halftime lead with a 66-yard interception return for a touchdown and quarterback John Gibbs put Alcorn State ahead for good with a 17-yard TD pass to Tavoris Doss with 5:30 left in the third period.
After a 39-yard Chance Wilson field goal with 5:30 remaining in the fourth quarter cut Alcorn State's lead to one point, the Brave defense came through, stopping the Bulldogs on downs late in the game to preserve the win.
THE SHOCKER OF THE WEEKEND
But no game was more of a shocker in the FCS universe than Villanova's dismantling of Old Dominion before a wild and raucous, overflow crowd at Foreman Stadium in Norfolk, VA.
"We wanted to run the ball and hold them to field goals," Talley said of Villanova's strategy. "But (the Monarchs) took it right down the field and scored on their first two possessions and we were down 14-0. Fortunately, we settled down after that and got back to our game plan."
Like many coaches the past two years, Talley said the sight of ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke taking snaps made him nervous.
"Heinicke is the best quarterback at our level I've seen in a long time," said Talley. "He scares you. He is so accurate passing to all those speedy receivers and if you try to rush three men and drop eight into coverage, he can run the ball on you."
Heinicke hit Nick Mayers on a 17-yard TD toss less than two minutes into the game and found Kirk Spellman for a 47-yard scoring play eight minutes later. But the sophomore was held in check the rest of the way as Villanova played mostly man-to-man coverage and limited him to 16-of-32 passing for 232 yards, with one interception.
It was only the second time Heinicke had been held to less than 360 yards this season.
"We matched up pretty well with them defensively, which surprised me," Talley said.
THE OTHER QUARTERBACK
It also helped that a pretty good, young quarterback was available to direct the Wildcat attack.
Redshirt freshman John Robertson won his second national freshman of the week award from College Sports Journal — sharing the honor with Indiana State defensive back John Towalid — as he was 10-of-18 for 151 yards passing, including a 44-yard scoring play to Norman White and rushed 24 times for a season-high 189 yards with three more touchdowns.
"John had a tremendous game," said Talley. "He is probably the best freshman quarterback we've ever had. He is probably more advanced than Chris Whitney. He's got Matt Szczur speed and he can throw the ball."
Villanova didn't realize what it had at first with Robertson, who battled talented sophomore Chris Polony in the spring and summer for the starting job.
"John is better in a game than he is in practice," said Talley. "We really didn't know how good he could be until we saw him against Temple."
The competitive Robertson replaced Polony in that game, a 41-10 loss, and told one of his teammates on the bench "I'm not giving this spot up."
Since then, Villanova has suffered only one setback in six games — a 28-17 defeat at home to Richmond when Robertson piled up 425 yards of total offense, but was intercepted three times.
The baby-faced quarterback also has one other thing going for him.
"He's having fun playing football," said Talley.
DEFENSE, WHAT DEFENSE?
Overall, Villanova shredded Old Dominion's suspect defense for 376 yards and doubled the Monarchs' time of possession (40-20) and first downs (30-15).
There is no doubt that Old Dominion can rack up the offensive numbers, but the Monarch defense is just as suspect as the unit that allowed 55 points to Georgia Southern in last year's second-round playoff game.
It also hasn't helped that ODU played a weak non-conference schedule against Duquesne, Hampton and Campbell, who are a combined 6-11 — with Northeast Conference contender Duquesne picking up four of those wins.
Since entering CAA play, Old Dominion has been torched by New Hampshire for 61 points and 37 by Richmond before Villanova explosion for 38 consecutive points.
That's an average of 45.3 points per game allowed.
Fortunately for ODU, it came back to stun UNH 64-61 and held on to beat the Spiders 45-37.
And it probably won't get much easier for the Monarchs on Saturday night, when they travel to play defending CAA champion Towson at 7 p.m.
The Tigers have the fifth-ranked overall defense in FCS and are rated second against the pass.
HOW GOOD IS HARVARD?
Someone asked that question earlier week on the national message board for FCS, AGS (Any Given Saturday).
More precisely, the poster wanted to know how many teams in the top-25 that the Crimson (5-0, 2-0) would beat.
Many fans like to snub Harvard and other Ivy League teams because of the postseason ban — largely supported by administrators of Harvard and Yale, but not by the other coaches and most players in the league.
It is sometimes hard to draw comparisons when Harvard's only non-conference game outside of Patriot League competition was against Pioneer Football League stalwart San Diego.
But there are ways around that.
THE SCORE COMPARISION GAME
Harvard had a competitive game with the Toreros, winning just 28-13 in the season opener for the Crimson, but since then, the offense for the No. 22-ranked team has been on a surge that would make one think of the early-morning rowers, ripping their way through the waters of the nearby Charles River.
The Crimson won a wild 41-31 game against Brown and then crushed Holy Cross 52-3 in the annual Friday night festival at ancient Harvard Stadium.
The later game wasn't even really that close — Harvard called off the dogs after building a 49-3 lead at halftime.
Ironically, this is probably the best comparison game for the Crimson.
New Hampshire edged the Crusaders 38-17 in a competitive contest on the opening Thursday of the season, so at first glance, someone might make a case that Harvard would probably be a challenge for the Wildcats — year-in and year-out one of the premier programs in FCS.
And considering New Hampshire's struggles on defense — we do remember that 64-61 loss to Old Dominion — one would have to think that the Crimson could put some points on the board against the Wildcats.
Senior quarterback Colton Chapple ranks second in FCS in passing efficiency and is seventh in total offense. He out-dueled Cornell's All-American passer Jeff Mathews a couple of weeks ago, winning 45-13.
Chapple was 24-of-36 for 362 yards and four touchdowns, while Mathews was under fire from the Harvard defense, hitting 21-of-44 passes for 302 yards, but with just one TD and two interceptions.
Of course, Chapple didn't have to face the Harvard defense like Mathews did. When Chapple goes against those guys in practice, it is with a colored jersey on that signifies no contact.
Harvard's defense ranks first against the rush (43 yards per game), first in sacks (4.8), fifth in points allowed (13.4) and 14th in yards allowed (308.8).
Zach Hodges is sixth nationally with an average of 1.1 sacks per game
On offense, Harvard is third in scoring (41.0), seventh in passing (294.8) and sixth in total yards (492.2).
Trevor Scales has balanced Chapple's throwing by average 103 yards per game as a rusher and Kyle Jusczyk is living up to his All-American status at tight end with 20 catches for 341 yards and three TDs thus far.
The Crimson wasn't as domineering in a 35-7 victory over Bucknell (1-5, 0-2) last Saturday, but Chapple (11-of-18, 189 yards passing) threw a pair of first-half TD passes as Harvard built a 28-0 lead.
It was Harvard's 14th consecutive win — all of them by double figures.
THIS WEEK'S CHALLENGE
The Crimson could face an interesting challenge this Saturday when it travels to meet one of its fiercest rivals, Princeton. It is a game that this writer will look forward to seeing in person.
The young, but improving Tigers (3-2, 2-0) held Brown to 17 yards rushing and 242 yards of total offense in handing the Bears their first shutout since 2005 — an Ivy League record 162-game streak.
All-American defensive tackle Caraun Reid had a monster game for Princeton, with four tackles for 20 yards of losses, 2.5 sacks, a safety and six total tackles.
THAT OTHER IVY LEAGUE THROUGHBRED
Coach Al Bagnoli has been around coaching long enough to know what kind of challenge that Penn faced this season against a non-conference schedule that included two physical CAA opponents, Villanova and William & Mary and always tough Lafayette.
As anyone familiar with the Quakers would expect, Penn (2-3, 2-0) hasn't lacked for effort in losing those three games (28-21 to Lafayette, 24-8 to Villanova and 34-28 to William & Mary).
"It is going to be a challenge every game," said Bagnoli. "We are really banged up and it isn't going to get much better."
One of the biggest losses is the lisfranc fracture to the foot of senior running back Brandon Colavita, who has been one of the Quakers' biggest weapons when he has been healthy. The injury, suffered in a 28-21 win over Dartmouth, will cost Colavita the rest of the season.
Injuries, or not, the Quakers found a way to earn another victory last Saturday at home against Columbia, coming from behind in the fourth quarter for a 24-20 victory.
Quarterback Billy Ragone tossed his second touchdown pass of the final period with 50 seconds left, hitting Lyle Marsh from six yards out as Penn rallied from a 20-10 deficit.
Ragone found Mitchell King for a 16-yard TD aerial on the previous drive to cut the Lions' lead to four points.
The Quaker defense came up big on Columbia's last desperation drive, with Dan Wilk tackling Hamilton Garner at the two-yard line on the final play of the game.
"At least we're 2-0 in the Ivy League," said Bagnoli. "Only two other teams can say that (Harvard and Princeton)."
THE NEXT HURDLE
In recent years, Harvard and Penn have usually battled for the Ivy League title and Bagnoli hopes to put his Quaker squad in position to be there again when the two rivals meet at Franklin Field in the second-to-the-last game of the season.
But this week, Penn will think only of beating Yale — a team that Bagnoli has dominated through the years, winning five straight games and 15 of 20 overall. It will be the 80th all-time meeting in a series that started in 1879.
"We know we are going to have to play better," said Bagnoli. "The road continues to get tougher and tougher."
A win would give Bagnoli, the winningest active coach in FCS, the highest winning percentage of all time in the Ivy League.
But Bagnoli is looking for consistency above all else, not individual accolades.
"We're still trying to play 60 full minutes," said Bagnoli. "It's not a Picasso at this point."
LOOKING AT YALE
Yale is trying to regain some footing under a new coaching staff. The Bulldogs fell to 1-4 overall with a 20-10 loss at home against Lafayette(4-2). Yale is 0-2 in the Ivy League.
Andrew Shoop threw for 243 yards and two TDs, Mark Ross had 105 yards in receptions and the Leopard defense added four more interceptions off Yale QB Eric Williams, giving Lafayette 15 picks in six games.
Tyler Varga was one of the bright lights for Yale with 100 yards rushing and the Bulldog defense helped keep Yale in front until Shoop's second TD throw gave Lafayette a 17-14 lead with less than four minutes to play in the third period.