Villanova’s defense performed well, holding the dynamic JMU Dukes offense to just 20 points (they averaged 49 coming into the game), but a poor offensive performance ultimately cost them the win. The Wildcats scored just one touchdown, and made it within field goal range just one other time; missing on a poorly kicked line-drive into the line. A late pick-off by JMU near the Villanova endzone allowed the Dukes to pull away, 20-7, late in the fourth quarter.
“We were in the game, I really felt we could come back and win it 14-to-13, but you know, we sort of broke down a little bit,” Villanova head coach Andy Talley explained.
“Its just a disappointing offensively, we did not play well on the offensive side of the ball and kind of blew a tremendous defensive effort away. Which is what you needed to beat a team that scores almost 50 points per game, we had the defense but we didn't have the offense, which surprised me.”
JMU clinched the CAA’s automatic qualifier to the FCS playoffs with the win, and at least a share of the league title.
James Madison’s dynamic starting quarterback Bryan Schor helped lead the Dukes to a score on their opening drive, but the Villanova Wildcats’ defense dug in to slow them the rest of the half. After Zach Bednarczyk scored on a 56-yard run in the second quarter, they were able to knot things up at 7-all heading into the half.
After whiffing wide on his first two attempts, JMU kicker Tyler Gray nailed his next two from 21 and 27 yards in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. After kicking the ball back to Nova with 4:43 left in the game, the Wildcats’ offense coughed the ball back up to the Dukes a few yards short of their own endzone, making it almost inevitable that they would be able to put the game out of Villanova’s reach.
The Wildcats’ starting quarterback was 12-of-30 passing for 71 yards with four interceptions. He completed passes to eight different receivers, with tailback Matt Gudzak being the biggest gainer, with 15 yards on 3 receptions, including a long of 13 yards. The offense ran for 168 yards total, with Aaron Forbes leading the team with 65 yards.
“I thought we would score at least 21, my question was whether we could hold them to 20,” Talley said of his offense. “It was really disappointing that [Bednarczyk] didn't have the time and sight lines to throw the ball when he needed to.
“I think our lack of ability to throw the football put so much pressure on us to run the football successfully, and they played better than I really saw them play on film. We struggled with their defensive line. I thought Maine's defensive line last week was way better, but those guys came up with the game and we didn't.”
Villanova had a long drive in the third quarter that stalled in the red zone. Gerard Smith lined up for a field goal, but kicked the ball low into a mass of bodies on the line.
“I think that’s really deflating, to take the ball on a long drive and come up short,” Talley said of the missed opportunity. “That was probably one of the real keys to us losing the game, actually.”
The Villanova defense held the powerful JMU offense to just 20 points, and 277 yards. While tailback Khalid Abdullah recorded 101 yards on the day and two touchdowns, he had to work hard for them; he averaged just 3.1 yards per carry.
“Games like that kind of humble you as a running back,” Abdullah said. “Sometimes you’re going to go into those games where defenses scheme-up and they practice too. Hats off to them, they’re a great defense.”
It also helped that JMU’s starting quarterback, Schor, had to come out of the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury. That forced them to bring in Cole Johnson, a redshirt freshman seeing his first college action. JMU had just 151 passing yards in the game, and 108 of those were thrown by Schor early in the game. Johnson passed for just 43 yards and two interceptions.
“I thought when he went down, we were going to win the game. He's really their team, he's a tremendous quarterback; I don't even know who the second kid is, but he wasn't going to be the same deal,” Talley said. “We were our own worst enemy, it wasn't anything their second quarterback did.”
Those pick-offs were grabbed by safety Rob Rolle and cornerback Malik Reaves. Tanoh Kpassagnon, who was being watched by the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints today, had one sack, 3 tackles for loss, 5 total tackles and put a lot of pressure on the JMU backfield. The ‘Cats had 11 total tackles for loss.
Still, the Dukes had the ball for almost 33 minutes of the game, and played some of their best defensive football all season. Their defensive line was putting consistent pressure on Bednarczyk, forcing him to throw the ball away, or make tight passes into coverage. It also slowed down the Villanova running game, that never broke off a big run after the quarterback’s second quarter score.
The interceptions didn’t help the ‘Cats, but two came at the end of each half, and were not very consequential. The first came with the clock ticking down towards halftime and Bednarczyk threw deep on a hail mary attempt before the break. The last came, down 20-7 with about two-and-a-half minutes left in the game — it would have been miraculous to score two more touchdowns at that point. The other two were far worse, giving the Dukes’ amazing field position.
“Offensively, legitimately turned it over three times – I know we turned it over one time at the end that I don’t think meant much – but the tipped balls were both inside the 10 yard line and were terrible, terrible turnovers for sure,” Talley explained.
The loss means that Villanova needs a win next week on the road at Delaware to feel good about their chances for a playoff bid. That scenario is hardly a new one for Andy Talley, as he closed out his final regular season game at Villanova Stadium.
“There's only only one thing that I'm interested in right now, we gotta go beat Delaware,” the Wildcat’s coach said he told his team. “You need to throw this thing out the window – you can't dwell on it, they're a really good team, a playoff team, and you know we gave it our best shot.
“We've gone to Delaware before having to win that game to go to the playoffs so for me its nothing new.”
Talley’s last home game
“I try not to really put to much thought into that,” Talley said when reminded that he may have coached his last game at Villanova Stadium.
The coach will retire from his position when the Wildcats season is finished -- whether that comes after next weekend, or after a run in the playoffs. He won’t be completely gone from campus, however, staying on for one more season as a special assistant to AD Mark Jackson.
“Its been a long career, and I'll be here, I'll be around next year,” he explained. “Its not like I'm leaving.”
That said, Talley claimed he was too wrapped up in preparing for his game today to really concentrate on his milestones. His focus is on getting his team into the playoffs and finishing the season on a strong note.
“I think I sort of have mixed emotions about it, because I was so caught up in trying to get it done, get this upset and be a 9-and-2 team and be in the playoffs; and you know now we have to lower our goal a little bit and go down to Delaware and see if we can win there. I didn't have a lot of emotion regarding my last appearance here. Maybe I should but I think most football coaches have tunnel vision regarding what's available and whats left.
“I don't want any focus taken off of our team, we're a fighting struggling tough team trying to be a playoff team and you know Andy Talley is on his way to being on the sands of time, I guess.”