Villanova, PA (Sports Network) - Another week for Villanova football, another
game without Matt Szczur. The senior wide receiver, dubbed "Mr. Everything",
has not played since sustaining an ankle injury early in a 22-10 victory over
Penn on Sept. 25.
Szczur was expected to return for last week's contest against Maine, but the
ankle was aggravated in practice and "Mr. Everything" is now out indefinitely.
"The hardest part is mentally, wanting to be out there with my teammates,"
said Szczur. "It's my senior year, of course I want to be back out there
helping these guys out, but I really can't do anything about it right now."
The injury has been draining for everyone involved with Villanova football,
but the sixth-ranked Wildcats have soldiered on without their star, posting a
3-1 record, which includes a 14-7 win over No. 11 James Madison Saturday at
Villanova Stadium. They were 2-1 before the injury.
But the offense has tailed in productivity, averaging 27 points per game post-
injury, as opposed to 36.3 points per game pre-injury.
The Wildcats, winners of 14 in a row at home, were able to hold on against JMU
thanks to James Pitts' interception in the end zone on Drew Dudzik's prayer
pass on the game's final play.
Szczur's absence is most noticeable on first and second down, and also in
short-yardage situations. Typically, Szczur will line-up in Villanova's
version of the Wildcat formation, where he is a threat to run or pass. Without
Szczur, head coach Andy Talley has relied on a more traditional running
attack. This approach has not been as effective, resulting in an increased
number of third and longs for quarterback Chris Whitney.
Senior running back Angelo Babbaro has taken over Szczur's role in the
Wildcat, but Babbaro is just that, a running back. Szczur is a veritable force
of nature, and Talley seems reluctant to employ the formation without his star
Against James Madison, Talley found strength in numbers, turning to a
committee of ball carriers to replace Szczur's production. Six different
players carried the ball for Villanova, resulting in 206 rushing yards against
a Dukes' defense which entered the game ranked No. 2 in scoring (13.3 points
per game), No. 20 in rushing (118.1 yards per game) and No. 6 in total defense
(266.1 yards per game) in the FCS.
Until Szczur returns, the Wildcats must continue to employ a win-by-committee
"Last week at Maine we attacked them a lot through the air, this week we kept
the ball on the ground," said offensive lineman Ben Ijalana. "We just have
weapons everywhere and we have been using them. When one guy falls down, Matt
Szczur, another guy steps up...This is what we're going to have to do to win
The individual who has stepped up and led the committee in Szczur's absence
has been Whitney, who was named the CAA Offensive Player of the Week following
a 48-18 win over Maine last Saturday. He completed 20 of 25 passes for 322
yards and three touchdowns.
Whitney entered the James Madison game having thrown for 1,089 yards and 11
touchdowns on the season, while rushing for 212 yards and six scores.
Still, there was one play in the James Madison game that epitomized Szczur's
importance. Holding a seven point lead with under two minutes to play,
Villanova attempted a 4th-and-1 conversion from the JMU two-yard line. The
call went to Whitney, he fumbled, and JMU recovered, giving the Dukes an
opportunity to tie the game.
It is clear that a healthy Szczur takes that 4th-and-1 over Whitney every
time. That is why Szczur is important to this team. He takes close games and
shifts the balance heavily in Villanova's favor.
So how is the ankle?
"It's feeling all right," said Szczur. "It's getting better every day. I'm
kind of taking it on a day to day basis."
Szczur sounds positive, but given the nature of the injury, it is possible
that "Mr. Everything" won't be back for several more weeks.
With upcoming games against an ailing Richmond squad and a rebuilding Rhode
Island team, it is safe to believe the committee will hold down the fort in
It is also likely that this experience will make the team stronger as it
approaches a pivotal stretch of late-season games against the likes of New
Hampshire and Delaware.
As players are called upon in Szczur's absence, they gain confidence, and the
team is fortified. When Szczur returns, add him to the committee, and the team
becomes truly dangerous.
The Sports Network