Going into Saturday's game against fifth-ranked William and Mary, No. 2 Villanova had a simple, brutal plan.
"It was very important for us to break William and Mary's will," Villanova coach Andy Talley said.
The Wildcats got to work on that goal early, scoring on the first play of the game on a 57-yard flea-flicker. They kept hammering away at it, surrendering 472 yards of offense but no touchdowns through three quarters while putting up crucial points themselves.
They ultimately achieved it, leading from start to finish in a 28-17 victory in the Colonial Athletic Association's first nationally televised regular-season game. The win was the fifth straight against the Tribe for Villanova, which is 15-1 in its last 16 home games.
Villanova came out firing, as quarterback Chris Whitney hooked up with Brandyn Harvey off a direct snap to wildcat formation QB Matt Szczur for a little razzle-dazzle as fans still were filing into their seats.
"We were caught flat-footed right there," William and Mary coach Jimmye Laycock said. "We should be ready. You always coach them up to be ready the first play of the ballgame for something tricky and stuff like that, and our guys weren't ready for it."
William and Mary (4-1, 1-1 CAA) outgained the Wildcats (5-0, 2-0) by 189 yards, ran 34 more plays and had the ball for more than five minutes longer, but repeatedly failed to turn red-zone trips into touchdowns and committed several costly miscues.
"When we were doing things right, we were fine, but when we're turning it over or committing penalties and things like that, we weren't fine," Laycock said. "I think that ultimately is what did us in."
The most devastating penalty came when sophomore cornerback Terrell Wells laid out Wildcats receiver Dorian Wells on a minimal gain on third-and-9 from the Villanova 21.
But the Tribe — whether the call was on the corner, who stood over the receiver for a few moments, was unclear — was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul, keeping alive a Villanova drive that ended with Szczur's 5-yard touchdown run.
After Brian Pate's 44-yard field goal trimmed the Wildcats' lead to 14-3, Villanova tacked on its third TD of the first half after James Pitts, who had a game-high 15 tackles, recovered Terrence Riggins' fumble.
The penalties (A total of eight for 75 yards) and turnovers (Tribe quarterback R.J. Archer had a pass intercepted in the end zone) kept William and Mary, off to its best start since 1994, from recording a victory over its highest-ranked opponent since beating No. 1 New Hampshire in 2005.
Archer completed 35 of his career-high 55 attempts for a career-best 354 yards, but didn't find the end zone until a 3-yard TD to Chase Hill with 4:18 to play. Whitney was an efficient 10-of-13 for 146 yards and a TD.
The Tribe's rushing defense, which held Delaware to minus-2 yards on the ground last week and came into the game allowing an average of 59, eighth in the country, gave up 114 rushing yards to the Wildcats, who were averaging 228.
"They were obviously a good offensive line," William and Mary defensive tackle Sean Lissemore said. "They're quick, they're strong. But I think it came down to our execution. We made some stupid mistakes, penalties and execution, and you can't do that against a good team. It's just as simple as that."
William and Mary opened the second half with a drive to the Villanova 8-yard line, but settled for Pate's third field goal when Archer, who nearly lost the ball on third-and-4, was sacked.
Villanova responded with a 10-play, 85-yard drive, featuring a pair of pinpoint passes from Whitney and capped by Szczur's 4-yard TD off a direct snap, to take a commanding 28-9 lead with 2:38 to play in the third quarter.
VILLANOVA 28, WILLIAM AND MARY 17
William & Mary
First quarterVill—Harvey 57 pass from Whitney (Yako kick), 14:41. Second quarterVill—Szczur 5 run (Yako kick), 14:54. WM—FG Pate 44, 6:08. Vill—Babbaro 3 run (Yako kick), 1:53. WM—FG Pate 28, :00. Third quarterWM—FG Pate 29, 7:28. Vill—Szczur 4 run (Yako kick), 2:38. Fourth quarterWM—C.Hill 3 pass from Archer (Varno pass from Archer), 4:18. A:8,217.