Villanova (8-3) opens the FCS Playoffs Saturday against St. Francis (7-4) at Villanova Stadium (2:00 PM kick-off, ESPN3, 610 Sports WTEL-AM).
The St. Francis Red Flash won the Northeast Conference and make their first ever appearance in the FCS Playoffs. This is the twelfth appearance for the Cats (8-2 in FCS Playoff home games).
“VU54TheGeezer Previews” the Game:
#30/34 St. Francis (5-1/7-4) at #9/11 Villanova (6-2/8-3)
The Red Flash play in the Northeast Conference. In 2015 they were picked for 5th out of the 7 team conference and finished in 2nd, one win shy of the conference title. In 2016 the Red Flash were picked for 3rd (behind Duquesne, the conference champ in 2015 and Sacred Heart) but ended in a tie for first with Duquesne and being declared conference champs based on the tie-breaker, their win over Duquesne.
Head Coach Chris Villarrial is in his 7th season at St. Francis with a 31-45 record. He gave the Red Flash their 1st winning season in the new millennium last year with a 6-4 record. In his first season at St. Francis (2010) the Red Flash went 1-10. In 2011 the Red Flash went 2-9. In 2012 they were 5-6 with a loss at JMU (55-7) and at Towson (46-17). In 2013 the Red Flash went 5-6 again with a CAA loss to JMU (24-20). In 2014 they would post their 3rd consecutive 5-6 season and lose at JMU again, 38-22. 2015 was their turnaround season with a 6-4 record and a loss at Towson, 35-20.
Let's look at their 2016 schedule. In their opener they flew out to Big Sky Montana (6-5) and had a respectable loss, 41-31. Next they took on CAA Towson (4-7) on the road and again had a respectable loss, 35-28. Next up was Ivy Columbia (3-7) and their first win, 13-9. The following week was their 4th consecutive road game and against another CAA foe in Albany (7-4) and another CAA loss, 20-9. Their 5th game was at home vs Division 2 Malone (3-8) and another win, 52-10. The remaining 6 games were all league games and the first one was at Robert Morris (2-9) and a 24-10 win. The next two were home games with a win over Bryant (5-6), 38-3 and defending champ Duquesne (8-3), which lost to William & Mary in the 1st round, 52-49, and the Red Flash upset the Dukes, 14-10. At Sacred Heart (6-5 and picked for 2nd), the Red Flash would pick up another upset win, 38-17. In their last home game the Red Flash would win over Central Connecticut St. (2-9), 31-21. In their final game of the season, the Red Flash would break their 6 game win streak and lose at Wagner (6-5), 31-24.
The Red Flash average 28ppg and give up only 19ppg (best in the conference). They ranked 5th of 7 teams in pass offense with 217 yards per game (Villanova was 8th with 161 yards per game). The Cats averaged 25.4ppg and on defense only 14.9 (best in the conference). In pass defense St. Francis ranked 2nd giving up 194 yards per game and Villanova was 3rd at 164 per game. In turnover margin St. Francis ranked 1st with a plus 9. Villanova was 4th with a plus 6. In the critical run department, St. Francis was 4th of 7 with 135 yards per game. Villanova was 3rd of 12 with 213 yards per game. A huge difference which is where the Cats will win or lose the game. Of course, St. Francis is a pass first offense and the Cat secondary must play big. St. Francis was the best team in their league at stopping the run giving up only 110 yards a game. Villanova was the best in the CAA and 3rd best in the FCS Nation in stopping the run. St. Francis led their league in sacks on the opposing QB with 38 for the year. Our O line has to be able to protect Bednarczyk. When they do, he usually comes up with an outstanding game. The Cats were also 1st in their league but with just 24. St. Francis does not beat themselves with penalties having the fewest hankies dropped on them in their league. The Red Flash were 1st in the NEC in their Red Zone Offense and Villanova was 8th. The Red Flash were 2nd in Red Zone Defense while Villanova was 1st. JR/RB Marcus Bagley is their best runner with 87 yards per game. Kamron Lewis, only a sophomore was the league's best receiver with 1349 yards for the year and 10 TDs. JR/DB Rob Rolle led Villanova and the CAA with 6 interceptions and SR/DB Lorenzo Jerome led SFU and the NEC with 6 interceptions.
Now for the pick. SFU had one of the most challenging out-of-conference schedules (Montana, Towson & Albany) and played their first 4 games all on the road. They have one of the best receivers in the FCS Nation in SO/WR Kamron Lewis - he's a game breaker. Their SR/QB Zach Drayer is a very seasoned QB. They also have a very stingy defense. All in all, if the Cats have kept their focus on just THIS game all week and have prepared well, they should be able to execute the game plan well. Run well, control the clock, win the turnover margin, protect our QB and try not to let Kamron Lewis get the big pass plays or break our back and the Cats should win 31-14. Fail to execute in those 5 keys to the game and the score will be closer.
Should the Cats win, their next game will be at 7th ranked Missouri Valley South Dakota St. (8-3) next weekend, Dec. 3rd.
Coach Andy Talley & Linebacker, Austin Calitro discuss the match-up with St. Francis:
Moderator: What are some of the keys for success in the FCS playoffs?
Coach Talley: You got to be able to play well on the road - that is a real important ingredient. That is where the CAA gives all of us a great advantage because we have all played in some bad places to be when you are away from home. Fighting through the challenges of a tough league really helps all of us in a playoff setting. That is critical. Obviously, you have got to be healthy and we have the same 22 guys who started the season against Pittsburgh starting against St. Francis. That is really, really important - the health of your team. I am concerned that a JMU has lost their quarterback and Richmond has lost their quarterback. That is hard. That is really difficult. I hope those guys are able to get that right. Staying healthy is very critical - and then, just the ability to adjust to the style of the team that you are playing because every team that you are playing in a playoff is a winning team - they all have a formula to win games late. No matter how far you are ahead it is never enough. Every single team in the playoff has that comeback ability or they wouldn’t be in the playoff.
Moderator: You will be playing a team that won a conference championship, that is statistically very strong … it is early in the week but what do you now about St. Francis and what are some of the keys for your team in that game?
Coach Talley: We don’t know a whole lot right now. We are trying to look at as much tape as we possible can. I think the NEC is a league that has really improved dramatically and they have a win over Duquesne. We know the people at Duquesne. I have a lot of respect for them and they beat them. From what I can tell they are an extremely physical football team with a lot of size. They have CAA size. All of their O-line guys are in the 300 category. Their quarterback is a real good player, I like him. They have a terrific running back. From what I can tell, they are a rough and ready bunch. I know where their school is. I coached at St. Lawrence back in the day and we were up in the mountains and we didn’t feel like a lot of people gave us a lot of respect. So, when we came down out of the mountains and played along the NY thru-way, man, we had a chip on our shoulder and wanted to prove ourself. I think St. Francis is that kind of a team. They are a real tough bunch and we know we are going to be in for a physical encounter.
Moderator: St. Francis played Towson and Albany close this year - does that make any difference to you at all being able to see them against teams that you know in your conference?
Coach Talley: We know from watching those tapes and I remember during the year watching St. Francis line up and going “who are these guys, man, they are good” and they are going toe-to-toe with Towson and toe-to-toe with Albany. Just really impressive. They went out to Montana as well and played extremely well in Montana. They are not awed by Villanova. I can tell you that right now. They played three really outstanding teams out of league - a national power in Montana and two terrific teams in our league. They are very, very battle-tested.
Media Question: What do you see about St. Francis that might give you a problem on Saturday?
Coach Talley: Well, number one is their size. They are a big, physical team and they run extremely well. I think that coming into our game, this is their first playoff experience and I am sure that they will be sky-high - so, you are going to have a very emotional team coming into our stadium. Emotion can carry you a long way in the playoffs. I know that they want to prove themselves for sure and they certainly have proven themselves. You think about a game in Montana and then two CAA teams on your schedule - you are a pretty heady group, ready to play football. I am concerned that they have a lot of team speed. I am hoping we can match up with them early on.
Media Question: Talk about St. Francis’ offense - what do you see early about their offense?
Austin Calitro: They have a big offensive line, probably one of the biggest ones we will see. They have big guys up front and they have two pretty big running backs that run pretty hard and they will try to run the ball as much as they can. When they do throw it, they have a big, 6-4 wide receiver that is pretty good. I know that it is going to be another game where a team tries to run the ball on us and we like that because we have a pretty good run defense and when they do go up top we have all the faith in the world in our DBs.