The Villanova Wildcats suffered a disappointing -- though not-unexpected -- loss last week at UConn. It will be another week before they get to open up Villanova Stadium for the Fall semester, though, as they move on to try their hand against the Fordham Rams. The 'Cats split the last two games with Fordham, losing a tight one their last trip to the Bronx, and winning big at home last season.
The Rams are looking a little different this season, however, so we reached out to Mike Watts, who helped us out with this last year, to catch us up once again.
(1) Fordham lost a lot of guys from last year's team, but brought in a QB who passed for over-300 yards and just knocked off Army, did they reload?
It's important to remember that the players that turned Fordham around were largely arriving at the advent of scholarships in the Patriot League. Theoretically, the talent that comes now should be better simply because a winning culture promotes better recruiting and the Patriot League's reputation and standard of play will improve as more scholarship classes arrive. The team may be young or inexperience in places, but it's not lacking talent. As I will mention later, I also think the losses, particularly on defense, look worse than they actually are.
As for the Kevin Anderson, both Joe Moorhead and QB Coach Andrew Breiner have been high on him all offseason. Much like Michael Nebrich, he is a prototypical fit for the Moorhead scheme and is an FBS talent. When I walked off the field with Coach Moorhead after the spring game (in which Anderson went 29 of 43 passing), he said "I think we'll be just fine [at quarterback]." I think they anticipated a strong quarterback situation even after losing the best statistical quarterback in program history. It's a great luxury that an FBS caliber player was able to sit and watch Michael Nebrich and Peter Maetzold last season.
(2) Chase Edmonds had a bad game against Villanova last year, what contributed to that?
As Andy Talley mentioned earlier this week, it was somewhat circumstantial. He had a 99 yard kickoff return for a touchdown called back that would have made it a four point game in the second quarter. Instead, the Wildcats piled up 19 additional unanswered points in the second quarter, and the running game never had a chance to establish itself down 33-3 at the half.
Part of the problem is that Michael Nebrich was coming off of another ACL surgery. Behind closed doors there were concerns he'd be healthy enough to suit up week one, and his running numbers would attest that his knee was just not capable of taking the load off of Chase in the running game that early in the season. The fact Michael played the majority of last season was a testament to his sheer will and determination, but Villanova's defense can smell blood in the water, and they focused their attention on Edmonds.
In addition, this was a big "welcome to ranked FCS football" for a freshman. Villanova offered him with a plan to redshirt and play him at defensive back this season. He's added 15 pounds of muscle without losing the speed that made him FCS Freshman of the Year at tailback for Fordham. He is a little more ready for the rigors of carrying the ball against a big, physical defense than he may have been last year. I will go out on a limb and say he will never rush for negative yards in a game again.
(3) The Rams showed some football ambition when they added scholarships before the rest of the PL, is this a program with ambitions beyond the Patriot League?
I don't think it's really been discussed seriously to this point. Had the rest of the conference not gotten on board with scholarships, there will probably have been greater consideration to moving. The other sports are firmly in the Atlantic 10, and the Patriot League suits the school's academic profile. It would be very hopeful, in my opinion, to predict a leap into a CAA-level conference in the short term. I think they have every intention of seeing what the scholarship Patriot League looks like before considering a move, but there will come a time when the archaic redshirting rules and the league's overall strength will need to be addressed for the Patriot League to take the leap into legitimate annual title contention.
Also, not to be forgotten is that Fordham trailed against Bucknell last season with under two minutes left in the de facto Patriot League title game. If not for a great drive in the final minutes we may not be talking about how dominant Fordham was in the Patriot League. If Fordham dominates most of the league, but doesn't win the championship they may miss the playoff field altogether. But history is written by the victors, and they are 11-1 in the Patriot League with a trophy over the past two seasons.
(4) Edmonds is clearly a great player, what other playmakers do the Rams have on offense this season?
The wide receiving corp is entirely new with Sam Ajala, Tebucky Jones and Brian Wetzel graduating. Veterans Ben Johnson and Robbie Cantelli are seeing time early. Cantelli started a game last season with Ajala out and managed a touchdown - he has a pretty polished high school pedigree. The freshman have a ton of potential but it may take a bit of time to see who pulls ahead and gets opportunities in games. Corey Caddle and Austin Longi have been impressive among freshman.
Phazahn Odom had a good first game statistically at tight end but needs to hang on to the football to get to a Dan Light level of effectiveness. He stands 6'8" and has the potential to be really effective for this team.
As with past years - there is a lot of pressure on the quarterback to be an efficient passer and runner. Kevin Anderson and Chase Edmonds are the engine that will make this team go, and the other players will see opportunities to make plays because of their presence.
(5) Fordham lost 10 starters from last season on defense but bring back Hodge. How does the defense compare to the last few years?
I think this group has the potential to be better than last year's team if the secondary holds up. The "one returning starter" stat is misleading in that Hodge, Dawson, Crook, Thorpe, Pretlow, Bowers, Adeyeye, and Ham all either started a game in the past two years or played equal snaps to a starter for some length of time. By that standard, eight players with starting level experience are back. Totally different ballgame. With that in mind, Army runs a system Fordham won't see again until they visit Navy next season and it may be illogical to judge their run or pass defense off that game alone.
The funny thing about the defense last year is how many guys weren't highly recruited but grew into the defense over four years. Hodge, for instance, was a wide receiver who walked on after his brother played on the 2002 Patriot League title team. Ian Williams had no other offers, Jordan Chapman only played for two years in high school, Levon Williams came from community college, Jake Dixon had one other offer, Brett Biestek was a high school quarterback. Not a knock on a defense that propelled Fordham to the second round of the FCS playoffs in consecutive years nor an expectation of greater things this year necessarily, but an observation nonetheless.