Did all those “Great Expectations” lead to Villanova’s undoing last year? Or was it simply a case of a good team that couldn’t quite fulfill its promise, primarily due to some key injuries and a bit of bad luck?
Andy Talley says it’s time to turn the page on that 6-5 squad that failed to make the FCS playoffs after starting off No. 5 in the country.
“You just have to have that little extra,” said Talley, who’ll open his 30th season at ‘Nova Friday vs. Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. “For some reason we weren’t able to pull it off.But that’s history and we’re moving on. We got a good team. We’re picked high again (12th according to pre-season polls). Hopefully we can fulfill that.”
Most of those hopes are pinned on do-everything quarterback John Robertson, who threw for 1,957 yards and 13 touchdowns while connecting at a 68% clip, in addition to rushing for 1,405 yards and 20 scores. While Talley would love not to rely so much on his meal ticket this year, the kid from Paramus, NJ says he welcomes the challenge.
“You want to be that guy,” said the 6-1, 221 lb. junior Robertson, who played the end of last season with a torn non-throwing shoulder but is now fully healed. “But if they’re gonna fill the box we have a lot of good players; a few who were hurt last year.So I think we’ll be able to spread ball around. I’m just gonna play my game. I don’t mind throwing it a lot, but when things are open I’ll take it (on the option).”
With Robertson throwing and running it so brilliantly last year the Wildcats averaged 30.6 points a game. Considering they only allowed 22.3, Talley says they should’ve won than six. But losses to Fordham, New Hampshire and Maine by a combined six points proved fatal, as the defense consistently came up short on third down.
“Third down, like every other down is about trust,” said four-year starting safety Joe Sarnese, who was in on 46 tackles and had two interceptions. “You’ve got to trust that the man next to you is gonna do his part, so that you don’t try to do too much.Last year guys were jumping in gaps, not trusting the other person was gonna do his job. What we’ve been stressing in camp is that everyone has to stay together.It seems to me everyone’s buying in this year.”
In the always-rugged CAA they’d better.
“We play in a tough league and there’s gonna be some close games,’’ said Talley. “We’ve got to find a way to win those close games.The first thing we have to do to get in the playoffs is make sure we can win eight games. Once you get into playoffs anything can happen.”
He should know, since it once did for Talley when Villanova won it all in 2010. But now, for the first time there are no remnants of that championship squad on the roster, which is just fine with the 2014 ‘Cats.
“When I was a freshman we were always being reminded of that trying to live up to that,” explained Robertson, ninth in the balloting for the Walter Payton Award as top player in the FCS. “Now we’re trying to raise our own bar.We want to leave our own legacy, so that when people think of the 2014 team they’ll say ‘that was a great year.'”
That will require a more balanced attack than simply turning Robertson loose, with back Kevin Monangai and Austin Medley picking up some of the slack, while Poppy Livers, Aaron Wells and Clay Horne provide reliable receiving targets. Defensively, with a veteran secondary solid linebackers the key will be replacing all CAA D-lineman Rakim Cox and Antoine Lewis.
But if all breaks right look for Talley to have Nova back in the thick of the CAA race and likely back in the FCS playoffs, too.