We are just days away from the start of the 2019 college football season!
The Villanova Wildcats have the pleasure of kicking off on Saturday, Aug. 24, at 12 p.m. ET against defending Patriot League champion Colgate. It will be the first-ever Division I college football game of the new season. We’ll be counting down to kick-off with a series of previews, first up is a breakdown of the Wildcat offense.
The Wildcats have been pretty lucky at quarterback over the past decade. Between Chris Whitney, John Robertson, and Zach Bednarczyk—and overlooking the gap that bridged the Whitney and Robertson eras—when those guys were healthy, Villanova had great continuity, longevity, and production from its signal caller.
Last season, as Bednarczyk battled injuries, his backups were pushed into the game. Inexperience mostly hampered Jack Schetelich and Qadir Ismail, but they showed some glimpses of being able to be “the guy” after Bednarczyk left—maybe they would have learned from their experiences on the gridiron or the offseason grind would have helped them come back better than ever. The competition seemed to be mostly between those two—and former walk-on J.J. Scarpello—until head coach Mark Ferrante brought in four new quarterbacks since the 2018 season ended.
Of the newcomers, Daniel Smith seems to be an intriguing candidate. Smith, a graduate transfer, is eligible to play right away and he has two years remaining due to early graduation. He comes from Campbell, where he holds numerous program records, including career total offensive yardage, rushing touchdowns, passing yards, and passing touchdowns. Last year, Smith had nearly 2,000 yards of rushing and passing yardage, scoring 13 passing touchdowns and 13 rushing touchdowns.
There’s also J.P. Petricca, who comes to ‘Nova with one year of eligibility remaining after spending most of his time at Howard as Caylin Newton’s (Cam Newton’s brother) backup. The two freshmen and local products, Connor Watkins (Williamsport, Pa./Loyalsock Township) and Matt O’Connor (Ardmore, Pa./Lower Merion), come to ‘Nova after distinguished high school careers. Watkins had nearly 20 Division I offers, with some of those coming from FBS schools. O’Connor left Lower Merion as the Aces’ all-time leader in passing yards.
Whoever ends up at starter, this is certainly the positional battle to watch for on this side of the ball.
Ferrante loves to use the running back-by-committee strategy and that should continue into this season. However, with a number of departures at this position—including last season’s leading rusher Aaron Forbes and Matt Gudzak—the Wildcats will be younger at this position.
Redshirt junior Justin Covington returns as the team’s top returning rusher. He ran for 263 yards and a touchdown on 61 carries. Covington was voted as a team captain for the 2019 season. While Ferrante will most likely continue to feature a rotation of running backs, as opposed to a singular workhorse, Covington should see more carries now.
Villanova also has sophomore Jalen Jackson, who appeared to be a solid contributor right away, until facing a setback with an injury midway through the season. Jackson had 108 yards and a score on 22 carries, and he was also utilized in the return game. Like Covington, he should also see an uptick in carries.
The Wildcats bring in newcomers in senior walk-on Ike Osuagwu, who is also a sprinter for Villanova’s track and field team, and freshmen DeeWil Barlee (Upper Darby, Pa./Episcopal) and T.D. Ayo-Durojaiye (Damascus, Md./Damascus).
Barlee set single-season school records at Episcopal, rushing for 2,963 yards and 23 touchdowns. As for Ayo-Durojaiye, last fall, he had over a combined 1,000 rushing and receiving yards, and 26 touchdowns throughout running, receiving, or returning the ball.
Receivers and Tight Ends
Villanova is going to miss Jarrett McClenton and Ryan Bell, two players that accounted for over half of the Wildcats’ receiving touchdowns.
McClenton posted a team-high 39 receptions, 658 yards, and six touchdowns last season. Despite playing in just five games last season due to injury, Bell was the Wildcats’ second-highest performing receiving, even though he was limited on the field. Through just five games, he had 33 catches for 379 yards and five receiving touchdowns.
Changa Hodge is the Wildcats’ top returning receiver from last season, after putting up 344 yards and a touchdown on 22 receptions. He’s expected to see a much bigger role in the offense, along with tight end Simon Bingelis, who’s been working to improve himself as a receiving threat.
There’s also speedster Josh McGrigg, who demonstrated big play ability against Bucknell last season. Jevon Jones, Zac Kerxton, and Brandon Chadbourn are other receivers that saw spurts of action and flashed glimpses of being positive contributors. With a fairly large amount of turnover in the aerial game, it’ll be interesting to see which receivers are able to stand out and impose themselves.
The big losses are Ethan Greenidge, Louie Csaszar, and Brandon Hitner—three high-caliber offensive linemen that also accounted for a lot of playing time and on-field snaps over the years.
While very valuable contributors, Villanova has worthy players ready to fill in and produce for the ‘Cats.
Starting with the returners, Paul Grattan will be looked upon to anchor the offensive line. The junior lineman has started since day one, and he’s just at the halfway point of his collegiate career. He will be vital in leading the transition up front.
Then there’s M.J. Dumas, who has taken great strides throughout his career. Last season was his first in a starting role, and he jumped to the top of the depth chart just fine. He will resume his post at guard.
As for who may possibly fill the missing pieces, Kofi Appiah is looking like a good candidate for week one starter. Appiah, a tackle, has mostly played behind Greenidge and Hitner for the first three years, but the redshirt junior now has his opportunity for playing time. He did manage to make five starts last season.
Sophomore P.J. Szymanski, junior Colin Gamroth, as well as redshirt freshmen Matt Mazza and James Petrovcik are expected to be competing and in the mix for a role on the line.
New Offensive Coordinators
After the retirement of long-time offensive coordinator Sam Venuto, Villanova is employing two different offensive coordinators, one for the run game—Sean Devine—and the passing game—Chris Boden—to take his place.
Devine, who came to Villanova in 2017 as an offensive line coach, will be taking on another task this season. He has decades of Division I coaching experience as a lineman coach, with some offensive coordinator experience sprinkled across his time along New Hampshire, Delaware, and Boston College.
As for Boden, he’s a newcomer to the Division I scene as a coach, but not as a player. Boden is a 1999 graduate of Villanova and during his time on the Main Line, he was an electrifying quarterback that set 24 different program records by the time he was done. A three-year starter, Boden is one of the gridiron GOATs.
Before arriving at Villanova as a coach this season, he was the head coach at ASA College in Miami, Fla. for four years.