‘Tal­ley fac­tor’ huge for Vil­lanova

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - Terry Toohey

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.”

ANNE NEBORAK — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Head coach Andy Tal­ley talks to an of­fi­cial dur­ing Vil­lanova’s 31-21 win over Saint Fran­cis in the FCS play­offs Satur­day.

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