With his team at 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association, Villanova football coach Andy Talley is trying to make sure his young squad doesn't lose the faith.
Going into the Wildcats game at No. 7 New Hampshire on Saturday. there are 17 freshmen or redshirt freshmen on the team's two-deep chart, including six starters. The sophomore class is represented by six players, including three starters.
There are only four senior starters.
``We're strugglig to keep our heads above water, and keep that pride going," said Talley, who is working with one of the most inexperienced teams he's had in 27 years at 'Nova. ``The biggest thing for me is to groom the young players. Just try to keep our morale up. When you start to lose, the wheels can come off. I can't let that happen."
'Nova, which is averaging 14.4 points a game, will have its hands full trying to keep up with a New Hampshire squad that's putting up 38.5 points a game.
The Wildcats gave a good account of themselves last week in a 20-16 loss to visiting William and Mary, which was the preseason favorite to take the CAA title. But the Tribe did not offer the same kind of challenge that New Hampshire presents.
The 'Nova defense, which is giving up 26.8 points per game, has played well at times. The unit has returned two interceptions for touchdowns. But the offense has only reached paydirt five times, and the defense is on the field too much as the team is 22 for 66 on third-down conversions.
``We have to hit that field on Saturday with some energy and enthusiasm," Talley said. ``We have to figure out how to win a game. Against this team, we have to put some points on the board and be competitive. It's always hard to defend them because you are always on the razor's edge with them. I'm hoping we can score some points. We have to be able to run the ball."
Last year at 'Nova, New Hampshire 31-24 victory that put the Wildcats in the position of having to win their final regualr-season game to make the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. With a veteran team, the Willdcats accomplished that by downing Delaware.
Currently, Delaware (10) and New Hampshire are two of the eight CAA teams who are in the FCS top 25. The others are James Madison (No. 6), William and Mary (No. 11), Richmond (No. 16), Maine (No. 17), Towson (No. 20) and Old Dominion (No. 22).
That's the most ranked teams the CAA has ever had.
``That's what makes surviving in this league so difficult," Talley said. ``You almost have to play the perfect game, and we're not ready for that yet. We have to play better to survive down the stretch. We played pretty good against William and Mary, but just not good enough. Maybe against an unranked team, that would have been good enough to win. When you walk away from a game like that, everybody says you're improving. And we are. But it's still a loss, and you're 1-4, and you're now playing another top 10 team."