As a first year starter, senior quarterback R.J. Archer is used to facing opponents for the initial time, needing to put in extra film study and preparation each week in order to familiarize himself with opposing defenses he has not seen before. Saturday against Villanova, that will not be the case.
Archer faced the Wildcats last season in his first career start under center, as a backup for injured quarterback Jake Phillips ’09. Then a relative unknown, he threw for 307 yards and a touchdown in a 38-28 Tribe loss to a heavily favored Villanova squad.
One year later, things have changed.
The Wildcats are still favored, albeit slightly, in this matchup between the no. 2 and no. 5 teams in the country. But Archer is riding a string of games that have proven him one of the top quarterbacks in the CAA.
“He’s really taken control of the position, really grown into it,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “The biggest thing is the confidence with which he’s playing and the decision making. [He needs] to play at a high level and make good decisions. He’s doing that very well.”
Through four games this season, the senior has completed 60 percent of his passes for 8 touchdowns and 194.8 yards per game. He ranks fourth in the conference in total offense, and is tied with Richmond’s Eric Ward for the CAA lead in passing touchdowns.
Despite only five career starts at quarterback, Archer has stepped into the role left by the departed Phillips seamlessly — a transition that is a major factor in the Tribe’s 4-0 start.
“The biggest thing about R.J. is his desire to win,” junior wideout Chase Hill said. “He hurt his knee against Central Connecticut, and he hasn’t missed a practice. He’s been playing through the pain. He knows he needs to be out there for the chemistry, and he knows that the work he puts in Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday is going to pay off Saturday. He’s definitely the vocal leader in the huddle.”
Two of Archer’s most important statistics are perhaps his most illustrative. While capable of throwing for big yardage — Archer posted 313 yards against Delaware — he excels as a game manager, controlling his offense while taking care of the football. It is that trait that has allowed the College to rack up a nearly 10-minute advantage in average time of possession, while throwing only two interceptions.
“The way our defense plays, you don’t feel a lot of pressure,” Archer said. “Put together drives, and let the defense come out and shut down the other team. We practice it a lot. If a play breaks down, even in practice, we scramble and throw it away. I think that carries over into games.”
That ability to control the clock and keep the offense on the field will be key Saturday against a Villanova squad that can put up points in a hurry. The Wildcats scored 56 points on Northeastern last weekend and are averaging 228 yards per game on the ground.
“You aren’t looking at a team that’s one-dimensional on offense,” Laycock said. “They can run and mix in the pass. There’s not just one player you can concentrate on, you’ve got to be able to cover the whole field.”
The College has a four-game losing streak to Villanova dating back to the 2004 season. Saturday’s game will be the CAA’s first marquee contest of 2009 and will be televised nationally on Versus, giving extra motivation to both sides.
Villanova Head Coach Andy Talley has already said that he and his squad are treating the game as a playoff contest.
Given the stakes, the Tribe is equally prepared.
“It’s our chance to make a statement against a very good team,” senior defensive tackle Sean Lissemore said. “I think it’s a chance to prove what we’re made of and where we really do rank in the nation. It’s going to be one of the biggest challenges we face this season.”