Non-Conference Preview -- Part 1

This is the first in a five part preseason tour of the non-conference opponents. I'll start with a look at Division IAA power Villanova. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits

 

VILLANOVA WILDCATS PREVIEW 

Villanova is a Division I-AA program known for its potent offense.  The Villanova defense does not share in the reputation of the offense.  The defense yields points and yardage almost as prolifically as the offense earns them.  The Wildcats have engaged Rutgers in some shootouts in recent years.  Six years ago, Rutgers spotted Villanova a 14-point lead before rallying to beat the Wildcats 38-28.  Two years ago, Villanova adjusted to the loss of record-setting QB Chris Boden by orchestrating their offense around versatile TB Brian Westbrook.  Rutgers defeated the 2000 Wildcats 34-21 after pulling away from a 7-7 tie late in the first half.  The 2001 Wildcats featured Water Payton Award winner Westbrook and an experienced QB.  Villanova finished in a four-way tie for the Atlantic 10 championship with an 8-3 (7-2) record.  With the record-setting Westbrook now gone, the Wildcats will rely upon the passing of veteran QB Brett Gordon to compensate Westbrook's lost production. 

Head Coach Andy Talley employs a spread offense that will feature 3WR, 4WR, and 5WR formations.  Talley plays a 4-3 defense with a lot of two-deep zone coverage (Cover 2).  As a Division I-AA program, Villanova is limited to only 65 scholarship players.  Against Division I-A programs, fewer scholarship athletes usually means less quality depth, which usually translates to an inability to hang with I-A competition for a full sixty minutes.  Here's a look at the retooling Wildcats of Villanova.   

 

OFFENSE

Villanova lost 5 starters from a Division I-AA juggernaut: 

  • 37 points per game (#10 of 123 in Division 1-AA)
  • 452 yards per game (#8 in Division 1-AA)
  • 175 rushing yards per game (#48 in Division 1-AA)
  • 277 passing yards per game (#11 in Division 1-AA)

Two years ago, RS Sr QB Brett Gordon – six months removed from ACL surgery –inherited the keys to the Villanova offense.  The diminutive (5'-10") Gordon (262 of 382 for 3,017 yards, 25 TDs, and 13 INTs) is now the leader of the wide-open Wildcat offense.  Backup QB RS Jr Scott Lukash returns but he attempted only five passes last season.  Gordon will assume primary responsibility for offensive production this season.  His past performance indicates he is equal to the task. 

 

Villanova lost the star of a deep and very productive receiving corps – WR Murle Sango (67 receptions for 728 yards and 4 TDs).  The Wildcats return RS Sr WR Shaz Brown (37 receptions for 479 yards and 2 TDs), Sr WR Brian White (33 receptions for 391 yards and 6 TDs), and three-year starter Jr TE Matt Chila (15 receptions for 136 yards and 3 TDs).  Villanova uses 3WR formations frequently in their spread offense.  RS Fr John Dieser and RS FR Leighton Zema will battle for the 3WR job.  True freshmen WRs J.J. Outlaw or Chris Polite could also see action.  Villanova will spread the ball around to many different receivers but Brown and White will bear the heaviest burden. 

Villanova lost three starters off an effective OLine – 1st Team All-Atlantic 10 OT Eamonn Allen, 3rd Team All-Atlantic 10 C Robert Richardson, and OT Adam Barondess.  The Wildcats return starting OG Sr Sean McCarthy, who Talley moved to OT for this season, and starting OG Jr Jason Rogers.  RS So C Mike Finn, who missed last season with a knee injury, will replace Richardson, who Finn backed up as a true freshman.  Sr OG Chuck Tornetta and RS Fr Jason Saks will vie for the other starting OG job opposite Rogers.  Jr Mike Roseman or RS Jr Chris Potter will start at OT opposite McCarthy.  Rebuilding the OLine will be more difficult with the departures of such talented skill players as Westbrook and Sango. 

Villanova suffered an irreplaceable loss with the departure of Payton Award winner TB Brian Westbrook (249 carries for 1,603 yards and 22 TDs plus 59 receptions for 658 yards and 6 TDs).  Former backup TB RS So Terry Butler (10 carries for 59 yards) likely will start and RS Jr TB Henry Ridley (27 carries for 106 yards) will likely be the backup.  True freshmen TBs Martin Gibson or Aaron Jones could break the two-deep.  Starting FB RS Sr Cameron Cross (35 carries for 151 yards plus 22 receptions for 331 yards and 4 TDs) returns, as does backup FB So Phil DiGiacomo (10 carries for 44 yards plus 12 receptions for 115 yards and one TD).  Villanova's RBs are nearly as big a threat as receivers as they are rushing.  The Wildcats probably will lean more heavily upon their experienced FBs this season to ease the burden on the relatively inexperienced TBs.   

 

DEFENSE

Villanova lost 5 starters from a porous unit that forced its offense to win shoot-outs: 

  • 28 points per game (#81 in Division 1-AA)
  • 380 yards per game (#84 in Division 1-AA)
  • 138 rushing yards per game (#44 in Division 1-AA)
  • 242 passing yards per game (#112 in Division 1-AA)

Villanova lost the core of its DLine – 2nd Team All-Atlantic 10 DT Kwesi Solomon (36 tackles and 4.5 sacks) and DT Willie Lewis (40 tackles and 4.5 sacks) departed.  Starting DEs RS Jr Baylen Botts (22 tackles and 4.5 sacks) and RS So Jamil Butler (55 tackles and 6.5 sacks) return although Talley has moved Botts to DT.  Former backup DT RS Jr Mike Tesei (16 tackles and 2 sacks) will start alongside Botts.  RS Fr Darrell Adams will likely start opposite Butler.  The backups are inexperienced.  True freshmen DT Jim Dubenetzky, DT Christian Gaddis, or DE Michael Castellano could break the two-deep.  The Wildcat DLine is small but quick, as witnessed by its sack production.  They likely are susceptible to fatigue against bigger opponents. 

Villanova lost two of its starting LBs but returns 3rd Team All-Atlantic 10 and leading tackler Sr OLB Jamison Young (89 tackles and 6.5 sacks).  OLB Joe Keating (74 tackles and 2.5 sacks) and MLB Jason McMillion (69 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 2 INTs) have departed.  Jr OLB Ryan Breeden (27 tackles and one INT) will replace Keating while RS Fr MLB Randy Sims will likely replace McMillion.  The backups are inexperienced.  True freshmen LBs Bryan Adams, Kasey O'Brien, and John Angelo also could earn playing time.  The sack output of the LB corps suggests frequent blitzing and would also explain the passage yardage yielded – it's a big play defense. 

Villanova lost one starter from a porous secondary – FS Steve Neugebauer (52 tackles and one INT).  Sr CB Gary Johnson (55 tackles and 2 INTs) returns but will start at FS in place of Neugebauer this season.  Former backup safety So Raymon Ventrone (25 tackles and one INT) will likely start at SS.  Co-starter Jr CB Clarence Curry (32 tackles 2 INTs) also returns.  So CB transfer Kingsley Echema, who started 11 games last season at now-defunct Cal State Northridge, will likely replace Johnson at CB.  Former starting SS RS Sr Darnell Greene (83 tackles and one INT) will be the primary backup safety.  So CB Jeremy Morgan (6 tackles) and So CB Isaiah Harrison (10 tackles) will be the backup corners.  Though the personnel are essentially unchanged, the displacement of second-leading tackler Greene from the starting lineup should indicate an improvement in the secondary.   

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Villanova must replace nearly all of its specialists.  Sr CB Gary Johnson may replace KOR Westrbrook (26 yards per return) and PR Sango (8 yards per return).  1st Team All-Atlantic 10 PK Casey Hannon (12 of 18 FGAs and 41 of 44 XPAs) and 1st Team All-Atlantic 10 P Chris Birch (41 yards per punt) have also departed.  RS Fr P/PK Adam Jones will assume both punting and place kicking duties.  The departures have hurt Villanova's special teams.  The Wildcats will be pressed to replace these losses.   

 

SCHEDULE

Villanova has a full 12 game schedule with 6 home games.  Rutgers is the only Division IA team the Wildcats will play.  The Atlantic 10 coaches and media have picked Villanova to finish sixth in the 11-team league.  Obviously, the loss of a player of Brian Westbrook's caliber will hurt any team.  It will be especially difficult for an offense-oriented team that doesn't have a defense capable of compensating for reduced offensive production.   

I predict that the Wildcats will finish 7-5 (5-4).  The 2001 Villanova team had enough offensive firepower to possibly beat the sputtering Scarlet Knights.  However, Rutgers should roll over Villanova while dominating the line of scrimmage.  

 


August 31

@ Rutgers

September 7

@ Colgate

September 14

Maine

September 21

New Hampshire

September 28

@ James Madison

October 5

Hofstra

October 10

Penn

October 19

@ Massachusetts

November 2

William & Mary

November 9

@ Northeastern

November 16

Rhode Island

November 23

@ Delaware

 

Coming Next:  Non-Conference Preview, Part 2.  I'll continue my pre-season tour of the non-conference schedule with a look at the Week 2 opponent – the young Buffalo program.  I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits. 

Please send any comments to bump86@earthlink.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.


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