‘Talley factor’ huge for Villanova
RADNOR >> Saint Francis never had a chance Saturday. The Red Flash was doomed long before ninth-ranked Villanova rode a fast start to a 31-21 triumph over the Northeast Conference champions.
Villanova rarely loses playoff games at home. The Wildcats have only lost twice in 11 playoff games on the Main Line. The lone losses, to Youngstown State in 1997 and Sam Houston State in 2010, were by three points each.
The Wildcats were unbeaten in playoff openers at home and remained that way with the 12th playoff win in Andy Talley’s 32year tenure on the Main Line.
Then there was the Talley factor. This was his last game at Villanova Stadium, so you knew
the Wildcats were not going to send their beloved coach into retirement with a loss at home.
If nothing else, the defense would not allow it. Villanova has one of the best defensive units in the FCS and it’s a big reason why the Wildcats are in the Sweet 16. The most points the Wildcats have allowed in a game is 28 and that was to ACC member Pitt in the season opener. Yes, that’s the same Pitt that has scored 43, 56 and 76 points in its last three games.
The defense did its job, as expected. Only 15 of SFU’s points came against the defense. The other TD was on a pick-six.
The difference, though, was the offense, which has struggled at times. The Wildcats only scored one offensive touchdown in its losses to Pitt, Richmond and James Madison, and struggled to move the ball.
That was not the case Saturday. Villanova piled up 495 total yards, its second-highest output of the season and scored all 31 of its points in the first half. The Wildcats were efficient and used every weapon in their arsenal.
Matt Gudzak, Jarrett McClenton, Zach Bednarczyk and Aaron Forbes accounted for 204 of Villanova’s 241 rushing yards. Bednarczyk also completed 18 of 27 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns.
“We had to (open up the offense), to continue to grow as an offense, and add more as our young receiving corps started to grow and get better,” Talley said.
That’s what it takes to win in the playoffs. You can’t hold back and save something for next week because next week is not guaranteed. If it’s in the playbook, it has to be part of the game plan. Villanova ran a jet sweep with McClenton on the first play of the game and went with a direct snap to Gudzak two plays later.
The Wildcats went back to both of those plays several times. McClenton finished with 115 yards of total offense (50 rushing, 65 passing). Gudzak had 117 total yards.
“The Matt Gudzak thing was something we started playing with a couple of weeks ago.” Talley said. “It turned out pretty good for us, a nice change of pace.”
Villanova’s offensive approach had Saint Francis on its heels.
“They hold you true,” Saint Francis coach Chris
Villarrial said. “You have to play true defense. If you get out of your gap, they’ll make you pay. If you break down in coverages they have a quarterback who can read it and make you pay … They’ve got a great scheme.”
The Wildcats scored on their first five possessions. The sixth possession was a kneel-down following an interception to end the first half, so that almost didn’t count. Villanova was efficient, yet also showed off its big play capabilities.
Tight end Ryan Bell went 59 yards for a touchdown with a swing pass. He caught another TD pass, his third game with two TD receptions. McClenton raced 53 yards for another score. There were contributions all over. Six players had at least one carry and seven caught at least one pass. The running game was solid. The passing game was strong, too.
It was nearly the complete package, but not perfect. Villanova did not score in the second half and managed just four yards per play after averaging nine yards a play in the first half. Bednarczyk threw a pick six early in the fourth quarter. There is
room for improvement.
“The second half was a little disappointing for us but I think the Delaware game gave us a lot of momentum,” Bednarczyk said, referring to Villanova’s 4110 romp over the Blue Hens a week earlier. “A lot of young guys stepped up and made plays and it carried into the first half of this game. We wish we could have put up some points in the second half. We know if we want to win next week we have to play four good quarters of football. That’s our goal.”
The Wildcats will get the chance to rectify that problem next week when they visit South Dakota State (83) in the second round. It won’t be easy, the Jackrabbits were the only team to beat top-seeded and fivetime defending champion North Dakota State this season.
The way Villanova is playing, though, Talley likes his team’s chances.
“Keep your eye on the Wildcats,” Talley said. “We’re a dangerous, dangerous animal right now.”
Head coach Andy Talley talks to an official during Villanova’s 31-21 win over Saint Francis in the FCS playoffs Saturday.