Szczur on shelf, Villanova grows stronger

7:42 PM, Oct 23, 2010   |    comments
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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 player.

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 approach.

"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 games."

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 Szczur's absence.

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.

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