Tackling & turnovers cost 'Cats cup

August 31, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Temple Owls running back Matt Brown (2) is stopped by Villanova Wildcats linebacker Devon Bridges (44) and defensive back Joe Sarnese (20) during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

The game was close in many ways, but not on the scoreboard, as the Wildcats dropped a third-straight opening game at Lincoln Financial Field, 41-10. The 'Cats offense was productive in gaining yards, producing 365 yards of net offense — 3 more yards than their opponent, Temple. They also picked up 18 first downs to Temple's 15 and held the ball for only 30 seconds less than the Owls. Where it counted — on the scoreboard — Villanova fell short.

"I was disappointed defensively, I thought we could run better than that." Talley said. "We looked really slow on defense and I really don't know why. We didn't tackle well in the first half and we had so many injuries in the preseason that we haven't had much hitting, so I knew our tackling would struggle in the first half and it did."

It took a change at quarterback, their first of the season but the team's fourth since last season opened, to get the Wildcats into the endzone. John Robertson used his feet and his arm to drive the 'Cats toward the endzone and score late in the second quarter.

"I was hoping our quarterback would play a little better — Chris Polony. We got a spark with John Robertson, our second guy, and decided to stick with him and he did some nice things."

"It definitely felt good to get my first college touchdown, but we should have scored more touchdowns. It never feels good to leave points on the board," Robertson said.

Some costly turnovers earlier in the half, however, left the Owls with 21 points and a minute to work; they used that minute well, ending with a 56-yard touchdown run by Temple's speedy tailback, Matt Brown. He ended the game with 145 yards rushing and one touchdown.

Villanova turned the ball over twice on consecutive possessions in the second quarter, both leading to Temple scores. The first was a Chris Polony pass to Norman White, who was well-covered on the play, that landed in he hands of the safey, Vaughn Carraway, who was coming over the top to help on the star receiver. Carraway ran off with the pick, going 57 yards and eluding a few tacklers to reach the endzone.

"I think we wanted to go to [White] a lot but he was covered," Talley claimed. "They basically played man-to-man exclusively and the quarterbacks didn't have the time against the rush that Temple has, that made [them] throw the bal sooner than they wanted to. It didn't give Norman the chance to get off of some pretty good coverage from the Temple kids."

The ensuing kickoff saw Kevin Monangai return the ball for 7 yards out of the endzone, instead of taking the touchback. On the second play after that, Monangai fumbled the ball, which was again scooped up by Carraway. Temple quarterback Chris Coyer would punch the ball into the endzone to make it 21-3 just moments later.

"When you give up three big plays — two because of turnovers and one turnover that they took back for a touchdown, you have a rough situation for a speed team like Temple is right now," Talley said. " We really had trouble keeping up with their speed.

"We did some good things, we ran the ball well, but our passing game needs to be more crisp. Our return guys are still in space right now in terms of where they need to be and what they are doing, so we made some mistakes on special teams. It all adds up, if you play that way against a really good team, I think you are going to see a score like you saw."

Villanova was able to keep things mostly under control the rest of the half, until some bad tackling allowed Brown to break loose for his long touchdown.

Temple scored again right after the half to make it 35-10, but the Villanova defense managed to compose itself enough to keep them off of the scoreboard for the rest of the third quarter. The 'Cats weren't able to get back to the redzone in the third quarter, and that cost them.

Villanova gained yards in the second half, but was never able to get into position to score again in the game. John Robertson gave the team some hope, however, passing for 135 yards and rushing for 78 more. Most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over (though there were a couple close calls).

A fourth-quarter field goal drive extended the Temple point total to 38, and by the middle of the quarter, the Owls were getting their second-string some work.

Polony was yanked from the game after throwing for just 18 yards and an interception on 7 attempts. He didn't appear comfortable in the pocket at any time and didn't seem to do a good job of making his reads, often forcing the ball to Norman White or taking off running when it seemed that secondary passing options were open.

"John Robertson, you know, he missed a couple throws early, but he's the backup quarterback so that's going to happen when Polony gets all the reps with the first team," star receiver Norman White said of the switch. "But John Robertson is a great quarterback, this week we just have to work on our timing, he's a great runner, we just have to work on his passing. He's going to be a great quarterback."

The quarterback situation, as it was early last season, is in flux it seems. Talley noted that his staff would have to take a look the quarterback situation again after this game.

"You can certainly see that [Robertson] is gifted at running the ball. He does not see as much in the passing game as Chris [Polony] does. So we will start to look at it. I don't like to play two [quarterbacks], I really don't. Like I said we were pretty sett on Chris but some things didn't happen to him today, he was pressured a lot, so we went with John.

"So we will evaluate it this week."

Of course, Villanova always intended to go to Robertson at least for a few plays tonight.

"I was told all week that I had to prepare to come in and play the game, and you know, we had a good wildcat series," Robertson said of the performance. "They thought that I would work better against the man coverage and I'm a little faster so I was able to run better."

"We knew that I was going to get in for a little bit and coach said that if we started driving when I was in there he was going to keep me in just for the drive so the momentum wouldn't stop."

Robertson wasn't happy to just rest on his laurels after his successful debut against a I-A opponent. He had plenty of criticism for himself as a quarterback.

"I've got to keep my eyes downfield a lot next game. I think I did pretty well; I've got a lot to improve, you know, passing-wise there were a lot of open guys that I missed. We're in a tough league and if we're going to win, I've got to hit those guys open.

Nobody, especially Polony, was expecting Villanova to make the switch to Robertson.

"I was a little surprised," Polony claimed. " I knew we had a package going in for John for the game. He was going to come in the game and run a couple of plays. He did really well and I did not perform as well as I should have."

In the end, this was a game that Villanova was expected to lose. They hoped to keep things close, but staying close meant getting key stops and turnovers, protecting the ball, and converting offensive opportunities into points. At times the Wildcats did all three, but not for a full four quarters. Two bad turnovers cost 14 points and could have been avoided with a little more forethought.

It also didn't help that the Wildcats were a little rusty in the tackling department. The missed tackles in the first half (and at times in the second) were a product of the fact that Villanova didn't allow much hitting in practice this preseason. The coaching staff was concerned that those big hits would lead to more injuries that they couldn't afford heading into the season.

"We have been there before with a Division-I team on a hot humid day; they are playing close to 60 kids and we are playing 32. It is a problem for you especially in the second half," Talley noted.

"We have a long way to go as a I-AA team, but I saw enough good things that if we coach them up a bit in the next couple weeks, we will be a better team. But we are not right now and they were certainly better today."

The important difference from last season's opener, however, was that this season, the Wildcat's had a better attitude. At least according to White, who serves as one of their captains this season.

"I feel like no one game up," he noted. "Last year people had their heads down, gave up a little bit at the end. Nobody gave up though, even that last drive when the two's were in, they still ran the ball and tried to score. That's something we can take into Fordham next week."


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