Where to begin? Villanova has lost yet again at home in ugly fashion, and I’m as confused as I was on my Political Theory midterm last week. It’s difficult not to be negative looking forward after what we witnessed at Villanova Stadium. As Coach Andy Talley made clear after the game, this team is not where it needs to be to be competitive in this league.
Before we look for excuses and explanations, let’s examine the game as it happened. William & Mary may be the second-oldest college in the country and include three Presidents as alumni, but Villanova has almost always been the better football team. That was not the case Saturday. It did start out as we would’ve liked though; after an opening field goal by William & Mary and a punt by each team, Villanova began marching down field. Just to make sure we haven’t forgotten that Coach Talley always has a trick up his sleeve, he called for Zack Bednarczyk to pull a flea flicker on first down. Kevin Gulyas caught the long pass and was tackled at the three yard line. Gary Underwood ran it in the very next play to give the Wildcats the lead, 7-3. Things were looking swell when the Tribe fumbled the very next drive, and Villanova recovered the ball with prime field position on the eleven yard line. Yet penalties marred what could’ve been another touchdown, so with fourth and long Villanova kicked a field goal to extend the lead to 10-3. This was, unfortunately, the last time the Mainliners would lead.
The second quarter was a world of pain. I’ll spare you the details: William & Mary scored three touchdowns in the first seven minutes of the quarter. By halftime, the Tribe had scored 28 unanswered points, and the game was all but over. The nadir of this dreadful stretch came after a promising Villanova drive. Bednarczyk was orchestrating a beautiful comeback that found the Wildcats looking at a first down on the Tribe’s 23. A touchdown here would have tied the game at 17, but after three straight stops by the Tribe defense, Bednarczyk was intercepted on fourth-and-13, and William & Mary ran it all the way back to the opposite endzone to go up 24-10.
The second half was played out of mere formality. The Villanova offense was severely allergic to first downs, going three and out every time with the exception of another Bednarczyk interception and a meaningless touchdown at the end to make the final score 38-16.
Nova Nation deserves to be perplexed. We’re all thinking it, so it may as well be said out loud: this is not the team we thought it was. While there were some points that suggested this was simply a good team with a few fixable weaknesses, the evidence to the contrary has been piling up game by game. In the opening loss to UConn, we could all chalk it up to yet another good fight against a Division 1 team; a victory in everything but the score. Then there were the wins: first, over well-ranked Fordham at their field, then dramatically against rival Delaware. The playoffs were set, it only remained to be seen what seed the Wildcats would take and when they would finally get their chance to stop North Dakota State. Then Penn happened. But we don’t talk about that game. Ever since, in looking for an explanation for that ugly loss, it has become abundantly clear that this team has more holes than solid footing, and that needs to be acknowledged before moving on as a program.
Perhaps it is the leadership that is suddenly lacking. We all knew John Robertson was the best player in FCS football, but the disappointing performance of the past two games after his season-ending injury suggests his leadership was also All-American. I’ve accepted that Bednarczyk, after going 13 for 31 with two interceptions, is not the second coming; a reality I could ignore at the Penn game because he never had time to throw. However, he is still just a redshirt freshman. He has time to grow and improve: these next few games are his chance, as well as other young leaders, to set the tone for the future of Villanova football.
If we’re looking for something positive to take away from this loss, that is the kicking game. Freshman Gerard Smith was brought in to replace Steve Weyler, the author of Villanova’s kicking woes, and he hit the one field goal attempt he was brought out for. He even hit his only point after attempt! Granted, it was a short field goal, and Talley clearly doesn’t trust the kicking game like a head coach should yet, as evidenced in his choice to go for it on fourth-and-13 from easy kicking distance, but at least we don’t have to cross our fingers after every touchdown hoping for a successful extra point. Gerard Smith may just be enough to kick this team into the extra gear it needs to win moving forward.
I’ll finish with a declaration to Nova Nation: now is not the time to give up on this team. I know basketball season is fast upon us, but that is no excuse to ignore the football team. Neither is the cold. Don’t even think about giving me the cold as an excuse. Villanova football is 1-1 in conference play, and could turn this skydive of a season around at any moment. The heart of the season is upon us, and this team needs you now more than ever, so let’s be the strength we wish to see in our football team.