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Villanova Football will rely on its defense to set the tone in 2016

The ‘Cats return a lot from one of the CAA’s best units.

NCAA Football: Villanova at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

At the recent CAA Football Media Day, Andy Talley had high expectations for a defense that returns a lot of letterwinners and gave up just 18.4 points per game a year ago. That’s very good. 2nd-best in the CAA good.

Truth is, they were even better than that. If you take out all the points that came directly from turnovers by the offense (five touchdowns in total), that defensive scoring average drops down to 15.2 ppg - over 3 points better than the raw numbers indicate.

So even though they’re replacing some key contributors at important positions, it’s no surprise to see Talley look to the defense to control the game once again. If they can stay at our around last year’s average (with an expected improvement from Zach Bednarczyk), Villanova should be in a good position to win a lot of games.

Villanova’s ATTACK 3-3-5 defense

If you haven’t read Football Study Hall before, it’s a goldmine of the ins and outs of football strategy. One of their more recent pieces covers the ATTACK method for deploying linebackers.

The base concept of ‘ATTACK’ is putting as many players that can raise hell blitzing behind the 2-or-3-man defensive line on the field as possible. They still need to be able to run and defend the pass, but (as we’ve seen first-hand) most of that responsibility falls to the secondary.

That’s fairly close to what Villanova is doing, and thus it’s no surprise that the Wildcats’ stable of linebackers has been insanely deep and talented for years. That won’t change in 2016.

Austin Calitro (11.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 3 FF), Ed Shockley (4.5 TFL, 1 sack) and Corey Majors (1.5 TFL) are big, fast and great compliments to (likely) future NFL defensive linemen Tanoh Kpassagnon (9.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks). Identifying a replacement for Reggie Paris at the other end of the line will be key.

The burden falls on this group to create havoc, broken plays, and ultimately turnovers.

Will the secondary hold up?

Will all the complex blitzing from the front-six, things can get dicey for the secondary if the opposing quarterback can make good (and fast) decisions. That wasn’t the case in 2015 when the pass defense was superb, giving up just 171.4 yards per game (2nd in the CAA).

If there’s room for improvement, it’s in the turnover department where the ‘Cats recorded just 13 INTs. Losing ball-hawk Cameron McCurry (6 BRUP, 3 INTs) stings, and Wes Smith (2 INTs) wasn’t listed on the spring roster and may no longer be with the team. The 3rd starter, Matt McCann, has graduated as well.

The good news? Cornerbacks Jason Ceneus, Malik Reaves and Trey Johnson are all back, and are all very talented. Safeties Rob Rolle, Shayne Jones and Rasaan Stewart all have experience as well and should be able to step in to starting roles without much of a dropoff.

Expecting the group to reach the heights of last year may be foolish, but it’s the assumption. There’s plenty of talent, a history of success, and (frankly) a need for it for this team to be successful.