New Villanova Wildcats head coach Mark Ferrante harped on the concept of ‘finishing’ this season during last week’s press conference, and his team responded exactly as he’d hoped.
Beating a quality Top-25 opponent on the road is an early checkbox ticked off on the Playoff resume, and the way in which Villanova’s offense closed out the game will surely have Ferrante in a good mood today.
Here are the three main takeaways from week 1’s 38-35 win over Lehigh.
Worry about the pash rush, not the defensive backs
There was a lot of hype for the ‘No Fly Zone’ this offseason, and for good reason. Giving up 4 TDs passing and 406 yards passing wasn’t the way this unit planned on the starting the season.
Keep in mind, however, that Lehigh returned nearly everybody from a Top-10 offense last year. They’re legitmiately elite on that side of the ball. And also keep in mind that it’s really hard to stop a good quarterback when there’s not much pressure on him.
It will be interesting to watch the amount of ‘mayhem’ that Villanova’s defense can create. They didn’t blitz much (which may have been by design), and stuffed the run (78 yards allowed, 2.7 ypc) as well as they usually do. This may have just been about keeping the game in front of them - but there are some new starters up front.
I’m willing to wait a few more weeks before declaring something is broken, but it is worth keeping an eye on.
Zach Bednarczyk and the offense did whatever they wanted
Last season the offense struggled to put up points against quality opponents, instead forcing the defense to pitch near-perfect games. With Lehigh’s legitimately elite offense opposite them on Saturday afternoon it was an early test to see if the unit was ready to win a game on their own. They responded with a resounding yes.
Zach Bednarczyk and his teammates did whatever they wanted to all afternoon, including a game-killing drive that took all of the remaining 4:43 off the clock. They even had the Patriot League Netowrk announcers admonishing Lehigh’s inability to stop them.
Bednarczyk finished 17-23 for 209 yards and 2 TDs and added 72 rushing yards and another touchdown. Matt Gudzak led a 266-yard team rushing effort with 142 yards and 2 TDs. Taurus Phillips (3 for 97 yards, 1 TD) and Ryan Bell (5 for 78 yards, 1 TD) wreaked havoc on the Mountain Hawks’ secondary. The offensive line was dominant opening rushing lanes and didn’t allow a sack.
Lehigh isn’t up to par with the defenses ‘Nova will see in the CAA, but take nothing away from a monster game from the offense.
Villanova got away with some careless mistakes
As far as week 1 efforts go, that was a relatively clean game with very few flags. However, Villanova’s mistakes seemed to be careless and avoidable. They’re also fortunate that they didn’t really hurt them.
- Jarrett McClenton fumbled a punt early in the game, but the defense foced a 3-and-out and bailed him out.
- Rob Rolle took a fumble back 85-yards for a touchdown (as he does) late in the first half in a huge momentum swing, but it was called back when Rasaan Stewart needlessly blocked a guy who wasn’t catching Rolle in the back. Luckily Matt Gudzak ran it in from a long way out to get those points back.
- On the ensuing kickoff Lehigh brought it out to midfield with just 30 seconds to go. Keeling Hunter was flagged for a late hit on the play, giving Lehigh an extra 15 yards. Luckily, they missed the field goal to close the half.
That’s three bad errors that could have cost the ‘Cats points - but they got away with all of them. Better discipline going forward will be key, clean living doesn’t last forever.
Villanova (1-0) returns to action next week when they head downtown to Lincoln Financial Field to take on the Temple Owls in the Mayor’s Cup. Temple (0-1) was beaten badly by Notre Dame 49-16 on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30pm ET and the game will be broadcast on WatchESPN / ESPN3.