ATLANTA--No. 24 Villanova ran the ball 53 times for 343 yards in a 49-24 win over host Georgia State on Homecoming at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.
The Wildcats, ranked No. 24 by the Sports Network, improved to 6-2 overall and 4-1 in Colonial Athletic Association move into a tie for first place in the conference standings. In addition to the rushing statistics, Villanova used a 66-yard punt return touchdown and a 32-yard interception return to open a 35-10 halftime lead.
Georgia State, coming off its first win of the year last week, fell to 1-7. The Panthers ran 70 plays to Villanova's 68 plays on the day and gained 309 total yards, sparked by junior Albert Wilson's six catches for 104 yards and five kick returns for 176 yards. His 61-yard kick return and 55-yard touchdown catch were GSU's two longest plays of the day.
Donald Russell, the reigning Colonial Athletic Association offensive player of the week who was coming off a school-record 201 rushing yards in last week's win over Rhode Island, was held to four yards on five carries before leaving the game in the first quarter with a knee injury. He did not return.
Playing in place of Russell was redshirt junior Travis Evans, who carried five times for 10 yards in the opening half. His last carry was a nine-yard touchdown scamper with 1:38 left in the second quarter to cut Villanova's lead to 35-10 at halftime.
Rosevelt Watson added 45 yards on eight carries.
"Donald had a knee strain and couldn't return today. It will take time to see where he is," said Curry. "The other backs ran extremely well. They all ran well today and they all practice hard. One thing everyone preaches in this sport, if you've not a starter, practice as if you are going to start. All of them have practiced well and they played well."
Despite the lopsided score, the Panthers offense didn't quit and got a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns. GSU capped a 12-play drive when Ben McLane found Emmanuel Ogbuehi for a three-yard score. With just over three minutes left in the game, backup quarterback Ronnie Bell found a wide-open Wilson who tight-roped the sideline for a 55-yard touchdown that made it a 49-24 game.
Wilson finished with six catches for 104 yards, along with 186 return yards for a school-record total of 290 all-purpose yards, breaking the record of 236 that Russell set last week.
"Albert plays his heart out on every play, he's just a great player. It was too little, too late and that's too much of a repetitive story," said Panthers coach Bill Curry. "We're just better than this and that's the part that is so painful."
Georgia State got on the scoreboard for the first time with 9:32 to play in the second quarter. Following Wilson's 61-yard kickoff return the Panthers' drive stalled at the 16-yard line, but Wil Lutz booted a 33-yard field goal to get GSU to within 21-3.
The Wildcats answered immediately with a pair of touchdowns. First, Villanova took just six plays to go 66 yards as Kevin Monangai's 12-yard touchdown run made it 28-3. On the first play of the ensuing drive, McLane was intercepted by Eric Loper who returned it 32 yards for a score.
Villanova marched down the field on its opening possession, traveling 86 yards in just seven plays to take the first lead of the day. The big play came when Kevin Monangai got deep into Georgia State territory on a 33-yard run. Three plays later, quarterback John Robertson scored from six yards to make it 7-0.
Midway through the first, Villanova punt returner Poppy Livers made a pair of Panthers miss, then found his way down the sideline for a 66-yard touchdown that put the visitors up 14-0. Livers' touchdown was the first Villanova punt return for a score since David Martin ran one back October 25, 1980 against VMI.
Villanova made it 21-0 early in the second when Robertson found Norman White in the back of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown.
Roberston, a redshirt-freshman who in last week's upset of Old Dominion ran for a school-record 189 yards, picked up 87 yards on the ground and 183 of total offense Saturday. Monangai rushed for 130 yards on 18 carries and Villanova picked up 470 yards of total offense.
"We were out of position on the quarterback runs," Curry said. "We have a response, we see it every week, it's not as if it's some kind of magic show. Probably didn't practice as well as we have, but the guys sucked it up and pulled it together. We thought by Thursday that we were in good shape in terms of concentration, but we didn't play that way."
Georgia State travels to Harrisonburg, Va., for a 3:30 p.m. game at James Madison next Saturday.