Villanova runs a read-option/spread offensive system. They take advantage of multiple running backs with elusiveness and a dual-threat quarterback. They are a run-first offense that uses their ground attack to set up the passing game. Villanova runs a lot of pistol and shotgun sets with spread formations. That said, don’t be surprised if they mix up their traditional looks to try to catch Syracuse off guard.
Quarterback John Robertson is the lifeblood of the Wildcats’ offense. The junior signal caller threw for nearly 2,000-yards and 13 scoring tosses a year ago while rushing for over 1,400-yards and 20-touchdowns.
Robertson is the definition of a dual-threat quarterback. He is more dangerous with his legs than with his arm. As a passer, Robertson leaves a lot to be desired. At the FCS level, he is solid. But against FBS competition, his arm strength is suspect. He is accurate on the short passes, but cannot hurt a team over the top.
As a runner, Robertson is dangerous. He is smart, elusive and has surprising burst for a quarterback at his level. This is where he will be the biggest threat to Syracuse.
Behind Robertson is senior Chris Polony. He is also a dual threat quarterback but not nearly as dynamic as Robertson.
Villanova relies on their ground game to do most of their damage offensively. Two seniors lead the way in Kevin Monangai and Austin Medley. Both are a bit smaller but have more power than you think. Monangai is a bit quicker with a little more burst. He is also the more elusive of the two.
Medley will spell Monangai a bit and is a similar runner. He is not as thick, however. Neither contributes much as receivers. Both rely on their vision and are patient in the backfield.
Junior Gary Underwood provides some depth and rotates in at times. He has the best hands of the top three backs. Fellow junior Javon White has the best top-end speed of the group and is their primary kick returner.
The top receiver is senior Poppy Livers. He is a smaller receiver at only 5-foot-7, but led the Wildcats with 53 catches for 580-yards a season ago. He is a high energy, high effort player with decent hands. He is a playmaker at the FCS level but may struggle because of his size. Livers is shifty and can cause problems in space.
The other primary target on the outside is big 6-foot-6 Clay Horne. He is expected to have a big year and is a top red zone target for ‘Nova. While not a burner, he does have solid speed for his size.
In the slot, junior Aaron Wells and redshirt freshman Lincoln Collins will both see time. Well is the solid vet who runs strong routes. Collins is the more talented player who is still a bit raw. Collins also has ideal size at 6-foot-3.
Similar to Syracuse, Villanova expects to use a plethora of receivers this year. Also in the mix are juniors Anthony DeCamillo, Mike Burke and Kevin Gulyas. Gulyas rotates between all three-receiver positions and has solid hands. DeCamillo is a possession receiver who does not provide a big play threat. Burke is primarily a blocker but does contribute from time to time.
At tight end, senior Earnest Pettway leads the group. He is the best receiving threat of the four that see playing time, though he only had 13 receptions last season. Morgan Craig, Ryan Morris and Doug Turrell all see action as well. The tight end position is primarily a blocking position in the ‘Nova offense.
In the Trenches
The Villanova offensive line is in a bit of a transition. They are replacing three starters from last season. Senior center Ross Hall and tackle Vince Kowalski provide leadership and experience. Both are preseason All-CAA selections. Both are 6-foot-4 and have solid strength. They held their own against Boston College in the season opener last year.
Brad Seaton, a 6-foot-8, 309-pound sophomore, is the other starting tackle. He has ideal size and strength for the position. Still working on technique and his footwork can cost him at times.
The other two guard spots will feature several options. Senior Kyle Wallace and sophomore Jake Prus are the likely starters. Wallace missed all of 2013 with an injury but was an effective starter the year before. Nico D’Angelo and Peter Sotiriou provide depth at the position.
Villanova uses different looks. Sometimes they line up as a 3-4, others as a 3-3-5. They are led by their back seven who feature some of the best players in their conference.
In the Trenches
Villanova is replacing two of the best defensive linemen they have had in recent years. Their starters at defensive end are sophomore Tanoh Kpassagnon and junior Reggie Paris. Kpassagnon is expected to be breakout performer this season. He is very athletic and has great size at 6-foot-7, 267-pounds.
Parris is a run-stopping defensive end who has a strong motor. He is not as athletic as Kpassagnon, but eats up space well.
Nose tackle Pat Williams has goot lower body strength and plays with solid leverage which is needed in the 3-4 system. He also has a high motor and never slows down his effort. Backing him up is Jordan Hunter who has a bit more size. He will rotate in and provides depth.
Noble Ajakalye and Mike Williams will rotate in at defensive end.
The Back Seven
Don Cherry leads the linebackers as the leader of this group and the defense as a whole. He is a playmaker on defense for the Wildcats. He moves well, has strong instincts and tackling technique. He is a very good FCS linebacker. Cherry had 99-tackles and 12.5 tackles for lass in 2013.
Lucas is a bit smaller but has more quickness than the others. He plays on instincts but can be out of position at times. Majors is another thick linebacker who plays with strength and power.
Joe Sarnese leads a solid safety group. Along with the aforementioned Cherry, Sarnese leads the ‘Nova defensive unit. He is strong against the run and helps create turnovers. He can be exposed in coverage, however.
Cameron McCurry, Matt McCann and Jerry Miles also see significant minutes at safety and are big contributors to the defense. The safety position may be the deepest on the roster for ‘Nova.
McCurry is a playmaker who has a knack for creating turnovers. McCann is more of a run support safety who is a solid tackler. Miles can play corner or safety and has solid instincts in coverage. Redshirt freshman Wesley Smith will also see action.
The cornerback position lacks the depth ‘Nova thought they would have this season. Sophomore Trey Johnson was supposed to be one of the leaders of the secondary this season. However, he suffered a shoulder injury and is out for the year.
Jason Ceneus and C.J. Logan will pick up the slack along with Lorenzo Fertitta. Ceneus is the best cover corner of the group but there are a lot of question marks here that could be exposed by Syracuse’s passing offense.
Villanova’s primary kicker and punter from a season ago had graduated. Chris Gough could be the primary replacement. He was a kickoff specialist in 2013 and could contribute as a kicker and punter. John Hinchen, Preston Seller and Steve Weyler are all in the mix.
Senior receiver Poppy Livers is the primary punt returner with solid elusiveness and experience at the position. Backup running back Javon White will be the primary kickoff returner. He is one of the fastest players on the roster.
Villanova is a very talented team with solid players throughout the roster for an FCS squad. Still, Syracuse has a significant edge is size, speed and athleticism all over the field. Expect the Wildcats to hang in there early, possibly using some trick plays to try to gain an edge. But the Orange should be able to win this one without too much trouble.