VILLANOVA SPECIAL TEAMS
Villanova is going to be a very different team this year than they were in 2002. Walter Payton Award winner TB Brian Westbrook is now a Philadelphia Eagle. Leading receiver WR Murle Sango is also gone. Only two starters from 2001 return on the OLine. No, this Wildcat team will not have the fangs that previous editions wielded. Furthermore, Villanova has not exactly been noted for its defense prowess. And it lost the heart of its interior defense. Plus, for better or worse, a porous secondary returns mostly intact. Villanova finished in a four-way tie for the Atlantic 10 championship with an 8-3 (7-2) record last season. The Atlantic 10 coaches and media have picked Villanova to finish sixth in the 11-team league.
I pulled the 2000 Villanova-Rutgers game out of my tape collection to scout the 2002 Wildcats. The 2000 Rutgers team is a reasonable opponent to scout Villanova. As a Division I-AA program, Villanova only plays a Division I-A opponent about once a year but hasn't played a Division I-A opponent since a season-opening 34-21 defeat against Rutgers two years ago. And who better to provide a glimpse of the relative talent differential between Rutgers and Villanova than a recent Rutgers team? While the Rutgers coaches, players, and systems have changed in two years, the talent level has not improved appreciably, at least based upon the results of the 2001 season.
Rutgers used a late 2nd-quarter TD drive to take a 14-7 lead after a sloppy first half. Villanova's sloppy play continued in the second half as Rutgers capitalized upon a TO and penalties to open a 27-7 third-quarter lead. A 96-yard TD drive sealed the outcome. Rutgers still employs a spread offense similar to that brandished by former Head Coach Terry Shea in his final season. New Head Coach Greg Schiano revamped the defense, replacing a 3-4 scheme that frequently relied upon two- or three-deep zone coverage with an attacking 4-3 defense that used the safeties aggressively in run support with the result that secondary coverage was frequently man-to-man or Cover 1 (i.e., one-deep zone).
Here's a scouting report on Villanova based upon the tape of the 2000 Rutgers game and summaries/stats from last season. This article, the first of a three-part scouting report, evaluates the Villanova special teams.
Last season, Villanova punting team ranked #14 of 123 nationally at 37 net yards per punt. Villanova averaged 11 yards per punt return, which was #42 nationally. The Wildcat's #68 rated KOR unit averaged 19 yards per return. Villanova must replace nearly all of its specialists -- 1st Team All-Atlantic 10 PK Casey Hannon, 1st Team All-Atlantic 10 P Chris Birch, PR Murle Sango, and KOR Brian Westrbrook. The departures have hurt Villanova's special teams.
The Wildcat special teams made some big plays against Rutgers but the also committed some bonehead mistakes not expected from an Andy Talley team. Some observations from the game:
· Villanova must replace departed 1st Team All-Atlantic 10 PK Casey Hannon (12 of 18 FGAs and 41 of 44 XPAs during 2001). RS Fr P/PK Adam Jones will replace Hannon.
· Kickoff coverage stats could be misleading because Villanova's departed Hannon handled kickoff duties. Of 3 kickoffs against Rutgers, the Wildcat coverage team allowed an average return of 32 yards. Rutgers's average starting position was its own 38-yard line.
· Kickoff return stats likewise could be misleading because Rutgers departed Steve Barone handled kickoff duties and Villanova's departed Brian Westbrook (26 yards per return during 2001) returned the kicks. Sr CB Gary Johnson may replace Westrbrook. Against Rutgers, Villanova averaged 24 yards its five kickoff returns. Villanova's average starting position was its own 27-yard line.
· As with the kickoff coverage team, punt coverage stats could be misleading because Villanova's departed 1st Team All-Atlantic 10 P Chris Birch (41 yards per punt during 2001) handled punt duties. RS Fr P/PK Adam Jones will replace Birch. Rutgers returned only three of five punts against Villanova for an average of 8 yards. Villanova netted 31 yards per punt against Rutgers.
· As with the kickoff return team, punt return stats likewise could be misleading because Villanova's departed Murle Sango (8 yards per return during 2001) returned punts. Sr CB Gary Johnson may replace Sango. Against Rutgers, Villanova returned neither of two punts that averaged only 32 yards.
· Villanova's field goal unit was forced to call a timeout immediately after a Rutgers declined a delay-of-game penalty. Villanova's final first half drive ran out of time just inside the Rutgers 3-yard line. That extra timeout would have been handy.
· Villanova's defense stopped Rutgers' second drive and forced the Scarlet Knights to punt from the Rutgers 48-yard line. Rutgers botched the snap and Villanova covered the loose ball on the Rutgers 10-yard line for a 38-yard loss. Villanova scored on the next play to tie the score at 7-7.
· Villanova's defense stopped Rutgers' third drive and forced the Scarlet Knights to attempt a FG from 35 yards. Villanova blocked the punt and recovered it on the Rutgers 16-yard line, preserving a 7-7 tie.
· Villanova unsuccessfully faked a 47-yard FGA at the end of the first half.
· Villanova unsuccessfully attempted an onside kick attempt late in the 4th quarter.
· Special teams committed 3 of the 11 Villanova penalties. One was an intentional delay of game infraction intended to improve field position for a punt from the Rutgers 39-yard line but Rutgers declined the penalty. A 12-men violation on the punt coverage team in the 2nd quarter cost Villanova 11 yards of field position when the 4th down was replayed after the penalty yardage was enforced. A second 12-men violation, also against the punt coverage team, preserved a Rutgers drive that resulted in a 19-yard TD pass on the following play, giving Rutgers a 27-7 lead.
WHAT TO EXPECT
· RS Fr P/PK Adam Jones will see his live first game action against Rutgers. It isn't unreasonable to expect him to struggle. Especially if he is pressured.
· Just because Villanova is a Division I-AA program doesn't mean they lack talent. It simply means they lack quality depth. The recruitment of Brian Westbrook showed that Talley's staff has an eye for talent. And special teams provide the opportunity for a single exceptional player such as Westbrook to make a tremendous impact returning punts or kicks. While Talley may not have a replacement of Westbrook's caliber, don't be surprised to see the PR and/or KOR making plays.
· Villanova struggled against Rutgers in kickoff coverage two years ago, yielding an average return of 32 yards per return. Coverage units are an area where the talent discrepancy between Division I-A and I-AA programs manifest themselves. I believe the relative talent differential separating Rutgers and Villanova has widened. Expect to see that result in the Rutgers return game.
· The inexperience of the Wildcat P/PK provides a double opportunity. If Rutgers can pressure him early on the punt, Jones might get rattled. The effects would be felt not only on subsequent punts but on placekicking attempts as well. Schiano ought to go after Jones on the first punt attempt deep in Villanova territory.
· Rutgers should have the edge in the return game. That should give Rutgers an advantage in the battle for field position. If the game is closer than expected, Schiano must play to this advantage, something he failed to do against Connecticut last season.
Coming Next: "Villanova Scouting Report – Defense." I reviewed the tape of the 2000 Rutgers-Villanova matchup. I'll break down the Wildcat defense.
Please send any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.