It looks like Villanova’s season of redemption, which started off with a bang with a stunning upset of Temple at the Linc, followed by a blowout of Lehigh, may well end with a whimper.
Following Saturday’s stunning 34-0 loss to 1-6 New Hampshire, who scored on a 75-yard run on the first play from scrimmage and never looked back, the Wildcats are now 3-5 and reeling. Suddenly a team ranked as high as No. 10 in the FCS Top 25 poll, will need to win out just to finish over .500 and top last year’s 5-6 mark.
Then to make matters worse, they may have to do it without starting quarterback Zach Bednarczyk, who briefly returned after missing the past two games with a bum shoulder. After showing some rust, he reinjured it early in the third quarter of what was then a 31-0 game and it’s anyone’s guess when—or if—he’ll be back.
But none of that explains how what was billed as a battle of the Wildcats turned instead into a Main Line mauling by UNH. Or, for that matter, what happened to ‘Nova after such a promising start.
“I don’t know if I’d say I’m shocked,” said Wildcats coach Mark Ferrante, whose club has now gone scoreless for nine quarters and been blitzed 71-0 in the last two games at home by James Madison and UNH.
“You’re eight weeks into the season now, as opposed to the opening game of the season when you’re 100 percent healthy,” he explained.
“Then we got the injury bug a little bit. We lost our starting quarterback in Zach. We had a little bit of musical chairs with some of the guys up front. Then you don’t have the consistency, the rhythm when you have so many moving pieces”
“But one thing I’ll say after a bye week and getting some our guys back is I thought we’d perform a little better than what we did today. Fundamentally, we weren’t good and they obviously out-executed us,” added the Villanova head coach.
That lack of execution started with the first play of the day when Carlos Washington burst up the middle untouched on a 75-yard romp to the end zone.
“You start off with a little bit of energy and enthusiasm and the first play from scrimmage that happens,” sighed Ferrante, whose club quickly found itself down 24-0 by the second quarter.
“I think that takes some wind out of your sails. But hey. It’s the first play and there’s a lot of game left. I didn’t anticipate we wouldn’t be able to score more than seven. It’s a downer but it shouldn’t be something you can’t overcome.”
Instead, it pumped up New Hampshire, which also had been banged up, playing most of the season without quarterback Trevor Knight. Together Knight and Washington chewed up Villanova’s overmatched defense for 206 combined yards rushing (179 on 17 carries by Washington) and four touchdowns, with Knight throwing for 158 more.
As for ‘Nova’s offense, which hasn’t scored since the third quarter of a 13-10 loss at Maine on Oct. 6, nothing seems to be working. The Wildcats twice made it inside the red zone, only to miss a 41-yard field goal, then failed to connect on Bednarczyk’s fourth-and-goal pass to Jarrett McClenton just before halftime.
“We’re just lacking rhythm right now, said Aaron Forbes, who had just eight yards on six carries, as Villanova managed a paltry 13 yards rushing. “We need to focus on getting back to what we were doing against Temple, Lehigh and the first half against Towson (a 45-35 loss).”
“But we’ve got to stay positive. There’s no finger pointing in a loss like this. You’ve got to clean your own house first before you tell other people how to clean theirs.”
Between all the injuries and the breakdowns on both sides of the ball right now Villanova’s house is a mess. They’ll hope to start the cleanup process next week at Richmond, before finishing with William & Mary and Delaware.
But a season which started with such promise has gone off the rails, leaving loyal Villanova fans with just one thought: How soon until opening night for Jay Wright and the defending National Champions?