"Honestly, I didn't know," Villanova slot receiver Poppy Livers said about Andy Talley's milestone win. "All week, I think that was kept under wraps. I was honestly surprised and then we talked about it a lot in the locker room, so we made up for it.
"Right when we got in, Coach came in, we said our prayers, and then . . . who came in? I think the Chaplain or someone came in and they were like. . . "
"The President of our University," Talley intercepted, sparking a round of chuckles.
"Father Donohue, he came in — I knew it was someone important — he came in and spilled the news and it was awesome," Livers finished.
As it was against Stony Brook, the Penn game was a tale of John Robertson. The Wildcat's sophomore quarterback picked up 132 yards on the ground, his fifth career 100-yard rushing game, and threw the ball for 266 more yards. Robertson played a part in all four of the Wildcat's touchdowns, throwing for three and running in another.
"We're definitely going into every game, not taking anything for granted," Robertson said.
"I think when it really came down to it, John [Robertson] had a really terrific game both throwing and running," Talley added.
"I think we had a really good beat on their defense. For the first time in a long time, I think, we were really able to come out and run the ball against them and when you can do that, obviously, you have a good chance to win."
Robertson was green-lighted to throw the ball 28 times against Penn, which was a bit beyond the 18 pass attempts Talley had predicted for his starting quarterback a week ago. The game plan, however, called for a more balanced attack and offensive coordinator Sam Venuto responded.
"I think, with Penn, you have to try and stay a little more balanced. Usually they're so good, against your running game, and maybe we had a little too much respect for their run defense and figured that maybe we needed to throw the ball more.
He wasn't without help, however, and Kevin Monangai finally got going on the ground this week as well. It was the first time the Quakers have allowed two opposing players to gain 100 yards on the ground in the Al Bagnoli era.
"I think when we can get north-and-south with Kevin, he'll get more runs," Talley explained of Monangai's 101 yard explosion. "Against Stony Brook, that didn't happen, we kind of spread the ball around with Jamal [Abdur-Rahman] and some of the other guys.
"He's going to get 12 to 17 carries when that happens."
The Villanova defense also did their part in shutting down the Quaker offense, holding them to just one touchdown in the third quarter. When the Quakers threatened, Nova's defense held, or made big plays, including two end zone interceptions from safety Joe Sarnese that kept the Quakers struggling make their mark on the scoreboard. The 'Cats would ride that momentum to take home a 35 to 6 victory over the Penn Quakers.
"Defensively, I think we came up with four turnovers, and two interceptions... three interceptions and a fumble recovery, and I think it's really tough to beat anybody when you turn the ball over," Talley noted.
"I don't know if you picked up on it, but the play previous to the two interceptions I made, I had made a bad play," Sarnese said. "The first one, I missed a tackle and the second one I got beat deep down the hash, and thats just, we always talk about it - short memory, you have to react quick. I guess I just saw an opportunity there."
The Wildcats seem to be making their 4-3 defensive look a permanent fixture this season, and they have been rewarded for their efforts. Their defense has been strong against the run with four down linemen, and they have avoided being pushed around in the trenches. The Penn offense was held to just 20 yards on 30 rushing attempts tonight, a testament to that strategic change.
Robertson scored its first touchdown on a 15-yard pass from Robertson to Joe Price, who streaked with the ball the the end zone. For their second score, also in the first quarter, cornerback Craig James scooped up a blocked field goal attempt from the Quakers to go 73 yards for a touchdown. A third score before the half came when Poppy Livers caught his first career touchdown pass, on a 50 yarder from Robertson.
"Before every game, John comes over to me and tells me, 'yo, I trust you,' and I just say 'come find me, I'll be open,'" Livers told reporters. "It felt great, it felt great to do it at home and it felt great doing it for Coach Talley's 200th win. I couldn't do it without my teammates blocking for me, Jamal [Abdur-Rahman], Burke, Clay, Joe, all of them, all the receivers. Then it goes down to the coaches, Coach Flinn trusted in me, Coach Roc trusted in me and then it just goes down the line."
Penn was finally able to score in the third quarter, when Spencer Kulcsar caught a 9-yard touchdown pass, but the extra point attempt from Connor Loftus was no good. Penn was charged with unsportsmanlike conduct on that extra point, leaving Villanova's offense with a short field to work with.
Robertson would respond to the Penn touchdown with a 36 yard rushing score of his own, with 5:08 left in the third quarter, and added to Penn's troubles with another touchdown toss to Livers at the start of the fourth quarter.
"I think Coach Talley said to us before the game, how we played really well against Stony Brook and we needed to play just as well," Robertson explained. "I think we went out there trying to play hard off the bat. Getting a good lead is always a good thing, especially for our offense, we have a good running game and then we can just lean on our linemen to just push guys around."
"I think that they know we have a real tough road ahead, and unless we can go out and play the way we did the last two weeks, we don't really have a shot," explained Talley.
It wasn't all roses for the Wildcats, however, starting center Ross Hall went down early in the game with an undisclosed injury and later in the game safety John Maughan suffered a leg injury that required being carried off the field. According to Talley, the 'Cats have also been weakened by a concussion to an offensive guard and a back injury to Dan Shirey, who slid over to center after Hall's injury, but was eventually pulled as well.
"We are just a beat-up team," Talley described his team's situation.
What Villanova wasn't, was a team obsessed with their coach's milestone.
"Frankly, at this point, for me to still be breathing and still coaching at Villanova, is a big thing. The number didn't really affect me, I just didn't want to get stuck on it, I just wanted to get by it."