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2019 Villanova Wildcats Football Preview: Defense

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Defense has been Villanova’s M.O. over the last few seasons, and that trend should continue in the 2019 campaign.

NCAA Football: Villanova at Lafayette Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

After diving in and previewing the Villanova Wildcats’ offense on Tuesday, we resume with a look at the Wildcat defense.

The defensive side of the ball has been a strength for the ‘Cats over the last few seasons and that theme should reemerge once again this year. Villanova allowed the third-fewest total offensive yards per game in the CAA last season (312.6 yards per game). How will the it fare this year?

The Wildcats will open up the 2019 football season with a road game against Colgate on Saturday at noon. Until then, we will be producing a series of previews leading up to kickoff!

Defensive Line

After struggling with the pass rush in 2017, the Wildcats bounced back with a renewed effort last season.

While former Wildcat defensive end and current Kansas City Chief Tanoh Kpassagnon helped bring ‘Nova to the top of the CAA charts in sacks, his departure wasn’t an excuse for the Wildcats to fall in dead last a year later.

Although Villanova was ninth in the conference, it was a much-needed improvement from being in last place. Part of the reason for the increased amount of sacks was defensive end Malik Fisher.

The push begins upfront, in the trenches, and Fisher helped apply pressure and get the pass rush jumpstarted. Fisher is coming off of a good sophomore season, where he had a team-high 9.5 tackles-for-loss and five sacks. Slated to help him out on the line is redshirt junior Peter Fallon, who will likely be at the nose, and another edge rusher in senior Aaron Seigle. Both Fallon and Seigle have played in exactly 21 games over the last two years and will likely see more opportunities to play this season.

Linebackers

The ‘Cats have a strong core group at the linebacker position, and they’re blessed with tremendous depth.

Three of Villanova’s returning linebackers were among the team’s top-seven tacklers last season—Drew Wiley, Keeling Hunter, and Amin Black.

Wiley has played in every single game dating back to the start of his freshman year and that experience has helped him develop into a playmaker on defense. He seems to generate the key plays, delivering when stopping the run or on a blitz, as well as whenever dropping back into coverage. Last season, he tallied 55 tackles, 9.5 tackles-for-loss, a pair of sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles, and one recovery.

Hunter and Black are also experienced veteran members of the Wildcat defense. Hunter, a senior linebacker, has played in nearly every single game since his freshman season. He followed up his sophomore season with another productive outing last year, racking up 43 tackles and an interception.

Meanwhile, Black enjoyed a breakout sophomore season, taking a much bigger role and following the lead of other Wildcat teammates that took huge strides during their second season. Black had 48 tackles and a forced fumble.

Aside from this core trio, the Wildcats should get solid contributions from juniors Trajan Anderson and co-captain Forrest Rhyne, as well as redshirt freshman Qwahsin Townsel, who should all see snaps in the rotation.

Defensive Backs

Like the linebacker unit, Villanova has another formidable bunch in the defensive secondary.

Loaded with experience from senior Julian Williams, co-captain Chucky Smith, and juniors Nowoola Awopetu and Jaquan Amos—as well as breakout player Christian Benford—the Wildcats have multiple playmakers and reliable, productive players in their last line of defense.

As a freshman last season, Benford was quick to make a first impression, but to say it was a good one might be an understatement. He immediately made an impact on the gridiron, earning CAA Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Despite missing two of Villanova’s 11 games, he was among the top defensive contributors statistically for the Wildcats.

Benford had a team-high five interceptions, with 49 tackles and six pass breakups, en route to earning Third Team All-CAA honors.

Amos had a team-high 57 tackles last season, with two interceptions and two forced fumbles to go along with them. He built off a great freshman season and should be one of the players to watch for going into his third season.

As for Awopetu, he’s expected to be a starter at safety. He’s played in many games, but this season should really be his time to shine. He’s flashed his skill and playmaking ability with becoming the first player in ‘Nova history to record two pick sixes in a single game, doing so against Richmond last season. He and senior co-captain Chucky Smith should both thrive in receiving more opportunities on the gridiron.

Last but not least, Williams is the last remaining holdover from the Villanova #NoFlyZone from a few years back. The fifth-year senior has been an underrated contributor in Villanova’s secondary throughout his career, putting up solid numbers and producing when his number has been called to fill the rotation.

New Defensive Coordinator

Like the offensive side of the ball, the defense is bringing in a new coordinator to call the plays and schemes on defense.

The Wildcats will stay in-house and promote Ola Adams to taking over the post left behind by the resignation of former coach Joe Trainer. Adams has been with the Wildcats since the 2015 season, when he was first brought in to be the running backs coach. He eventually pivoted to defense a couple years later, becoming the cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator. Now, he will still coach the secondary but also call the shots on defense.