In the FCS Huddle: Injury bug is making its way around early

In most cases, an early week off for an FCS team doesn't really do much good.

Bye weeks serve teams the best when they occur later in the season after teams have played a handful of games and need rest.

But in Villanova's case, the football team is thanking its lucky stars to have off the third weekend of the season.

Considering football is a violent game, injuries are therefore inevitable. They vary from year to year, and the toughest part is their unpredictability. They can change a team's season dramatically.

Right now, 'Nova coach Andy Talley is probably wishing he had had a magic crystal ball before his season's kickoff.

The Wildcats' early season injuries are most prevalent on defense, and unfortunately for Talley and his team, some of them are pretty serious and potentially season-ending.

Strong safety Matt McCann may be done for the year, depending on what type of knee operation he will need, Talley said Monday. McCann, a sophomore, was injured during the team's first game against Boston College.

He was the second player to go down in that game with the Eagles. Linebacker Pat Haggerty's season is over after he sustained a torn ACL on a special teams play.

Villanova began the season ranked fifth nationally in the FCS Top 25, but has since slipped to No. 19 after dropping its two opening contests to Boston College and Patriot League member Fordham.

The Week 2 Fordham game, which was originally thought to be a lock for a Wildcats win, turned out to be a surprising defeat for Talley's bunch. The Rams posted 27 points on Villanova's defense, including three rushing touchdowns against one of the top front sevens in the Colonial Athletic Association.

The defensive fallout, Talley said, was in part due to the absence of free safety Joe Sarnese, the field general for the defense. He had to sit out the Fordham game with an injury.

"Sarnese missed the game, and he calls all our stuff back there," Talley said. "We had to reconnoiter our secondary. ... These are the kinds of things that haven't happened here in a long time, which takes a pretty good football team out of the box early. When you reshuffle your secondary, you've got problems."

As if that wasn't enough for the Wildcats, the defense lost lineman Rakim Cox early in the Fordham game due to a concussion. Talley also said that Buck Buchanan Award candidate Antoine Lewis, who anchors the defensive line from the nose guard spot, played the whole contest last Saturday with a high ankle sprain.

Add to the lengthy list of injuries a whopping nine turnovers through the first two games and you get a simple recipe for an 0-2 start, something no one foresaw for this Villanova team.

But that's where the bye week comes in. Talley said he and the team will use this time to first get some rest and heal, then deal with the other stuff.

"We normally would not be excited about a bye this early in the season," Talley said. "But based on the injuries we have right now, it comes at a good time for us to kind of get our head together and clear out some of these guys and give them a little more time to heal. ... It does come at a good time, and our team needs to really more than anything reflect on the kind of football that we've played these last two weeks and recognize that we need to play two good halves back to back. We need to put the mistakes away and get back to playing our style of football."

More than halfway across the country, Montana State coach Rob Ash is facing a similar situation as Talley, although the Bobcats aren't off to quite as surprising a start as Villanova.

On the final play of Montana State's at SMU last Saturday, senior quarterback DeNarius McGhee went down with a separated shoulder - an injury that will keep him out of the lineup for weeks. Although no timetable has been set for his return, Ash believes it will be sometime in October when McGhee sees the field again.

And really, no one injury can damage a team as much as the McGhee injury could to Montana State.

He had previously started 40 consecutive games for the Bobcats dating back to his redshirt freshman year. In that span, McGhee was named a finalist for the Walter Payton Award three times. There's no understating his importance to his team.

"We have other great leaders on the team as well, but he's been sort of the face and personality of this program," Ash said following the announcement of McGhee's injury. "It's going to be very strange to be coaching without him and for his teammates to be playing out there without him, but we have a very resilient and positive group of guys and I know that they'll go out and do a great job."

Although his injury isn't season-ending, you can toss McGhee's name on the list of already injured Bobcats. All-conference linebacker Na'a Moeakiola, who finished last season with 70 total tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss, was announced out for the season before fall camps even began. It got worse, though. Aleksei Grosulak, another member of the linebacking corps, suffered from recurring knee injuries that effectively ended his football career.

At least the Bobcats knew what they had to replace on defense before the season started. Talley and Villanova can't say that much.

For the time being, sophomore Jake Bleskin will start under center for Montana State. And Ash is confident in his backup.

"I feel great about Jake Bleskin," Ash said. "He's been here for two full years plus this preseason, he knows the offense every bit as well as DeNarius does. He's got a great arm, he's confident, he���s athletic. I think it's going to be fun to watch Jake play."

The Bobcats have Division II Colorado Mesa this weekend, but will face Stephen F. Austin and North Dakota to close out September, all without McGhee. He could even miss the first game in October, Montana State's Homecoming against Northern Arizona. But that's looking far down the road.

For now, Ash and the Bobcats, like Talley, will utilize what they have and what they know. When injuries hit, the season doesn't stop and wait for a team to catch up.

It's all part of the game.