Andy Talley

Villanova still a top FCS threat in first year without Andy Talley

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Villanova still a top FCS threat in first year without Andy Talley

A new era for Villanova football begins Saturday as the Wildcats open the 2017 season vs. Lehigh (12:30 p.m.) with a new man in charge: Mark Ferrante.  

But even though Andy Talley retired after a wildly successful 32-year coaching run, things may not look a whole different at Villanova, where Ferrante has preached to follow much of Talley's philosophy and the Wildcats once again enter a season as a national player in FCS football.

Here's a breakdown of the 10th-ranked Wildcats, who will aim for a title in the loaded Colonial Athletic Association before making a deep run in the FCS playoffs.

Offense
It all begins with junior quarterback Zach Bednarczyk, who is looking to take a big leap in his third year as the starter. He was thrown into the fray as a freshman two years ago after an early injury to star John Robertson and improved as a sophomore, throwing for 2,158 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushing for 539 yards and two TDs on 126 carries. 

What can he do now with two seasons under his belt?

"Zach has made great strides," Ferrante said. "Obviously from his year two years ago to be forced into the starting role to what he accomplished last year, if he can make the same type of improvement from last year to this year, he'll be a really good one that people will be talking about."

Bednarczyk will have a lot of weapons, too — Villanova returns almost all of its skill players from last year, as well as most of its offensive line, after an injury-ravaged season from the offense in 2016.

Leading the charge will be running backs senior Matt Gudzak and junior Aaron Forbes, who came in strong last season and finished with a team-leading 799 rushing yards on 132 carries and eight TDs. And the 'Cats bring back every receiver, including the promising trio of senior Taurus Phillips, junior Jarrett McClenton and senior tight end Ryan Bell, who Ferrante called Bednarczyk's "go-to-guy."

"The chemistry looks great out here," Bednarczyk said. "Everyone gets a good amount of reps. It's great. It gives me more choices. I can look around the field."

The biggest thing Ferrante is harping on is consistency, considering the Wildcats averaged over 30 points per game in their seven wins last season and just seven points or fewer in each of their four losses.

That included their season-ending 10-7 defeat to South Dakota State in the second round of the FCS playoffs.

"We gotta work on finishing the game," Bednarczyk said. "Against South Dakota State, we had the opportunity to go down the field and potentially win. That's been one of our main focuses this year."

Defense
The Wildcats lose freakishly good defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon and stalwart linebacker Austin Calitro, both of whom are now trying to make it in the NFL. Kpassagnon was a second-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs; Calitro is an undrafted free agent with the San Francisco 49ers.

And yet 'Nova still thinks it can build off its ferocious FCS-leading defense from a season ago. One big reason for that confidence? Senior safety Rob Rolle, who's been named the CAA preseason Defensive Player of the Year as well as a couple of preseason All-America nods.

As a junior last season, Rolle led the FCS with seven interceptions and scored two defensive TDs, including a 100-yard interception return.

"My goal is always to be around the ball, to change the game," Rolle said. "Ten to 15 tackles are good but interceptions are something everyone likes. And it's what I love to do."

The Wildcats have another dominant defensive player in senior linebacker Ed Shockley, who tied for the team lead in total tackles last year with 18, including 11 for a loss, and had four sacks and a fumble recovery.

And although the team does have to plug holes on the defensive line after losing Kpassagnon and Bryan Osei, Shockley thinks they have a lot of playmakers in Rolle, cornerback Malik Reaves and linebacker Jeff Steeb, among others.

"I think we've picked up from last year when we finished No. 1 in the country," Shockley said. "We lost pieces but I feel like a lot of young guys are ready to step up and take on bigger roles. ... The defense as a whole has a lot more mature, older guys."

Special teams
The Wildcats are in good shape at punter as senior John Hinchen, a four-year starter, was named to the preseason All-CAA team after averaging 41.5 yards per punt with 10 punts of 50 yards or longer and 10 placed inside the 20.

Junior Gerard Smith is expected to be the placekicker. He was 5-of-7 on field goals and 36-of-40 on PATs last season.

Coaching
Ferrante enters a tricky situation trying to fill in for Talley, who guided the Wildcats to the playoffs in six of the last nine seasons, including a 2009 national championship.

But heading into the opener, it's been a smooth transition for Ferrante, who had been Talley's assistant for the last 27 years.

"It's not too much of a change," Bednarczyk said. "I can still sense some of Coach Talley in him, just being around him so long."

Now it's time to find out if Ferrante can bring Talley's coaching chops on game day.

Player to watch
Last season, NFL scouts came in droves to watch Kpassagnon, and this year they're doing the same for Rolle, who Ferrante called the "quarterback" of the defense.

"He'll be a force to be reckoned with in our secondary," said the Villanova coach, who also marveled at how much the All-American does off the field.

For Rolle, the only thing on his mind is winning a ring in his final college season.

"It would mean everything," the senior said. "It's the storybook ending."

Game to watch
While all the CAA games are important, including an Oct. 14 tilt at defending national champion James Madison, the game of most local interest is probably Villanova's clash with Temple at Lincoln Financial Field on Sept. 9.

It will be an extremely difficult matchup for the Wildcats but they've performed well playing up a level in the past.

"We're excited to play Temple," Ferrante said. "That's a great FBS game for us and there should be a really good crowd down there."

Prediction
Villanova's offense should improve and even if its defense takes a small step back, the Wildcats will likely remain one of the best teams in the CAA.

And if things break right for them, they can certainly not only challenge for a conference title but also make a run to the national semifinals.

Villanova football set for new era with 'Andy Talley 2.0' at the helm

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Dave Zeitlin/CSNPhilly.com Contributor

Villanova football set for new era with 'Andy Talley 2.0' at the helm

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Mark Ferrante walks underneath a huge sign that reads “Andrew J. Talley Athletic Center” every day. His coach’s office is in a suite named after Talley. And Talley himself is just down the hall from him, in his new administrative role at Villanova University.

All of which is to say that Ferrante is not going to be able to escape Talley’s shadow anytime soon.

Luckily for the first-year Villanova head football coach, he doesn’t want to.

“Coach Talley built this thing from the ground up when he got here in ’84 and he did a great job with the program,” Ferrante said Tuesday during his first media day at the Wildcats’ helm after serving as Talley’s assistant at ’Nova for the last 27 years. “If the winning formula and the successful formula is in place, why would you want to change anything? 

“He and I have been together a long time so he’s taught me how to do things, as far as the recruiting aspect of things, as far as running the program, as far as everything he’s developed into the culture of the program. So there are not gonna be a lot of changes from that perspective.”

Surely, though, it must feel different as Villanova prepares to begin the 2017 season — with a road game at Lehigh on Sept. 2 followed by a city showdown at Temple the next week — without Talley running the show?

The common sentiment among players during media day may have been surprising: No, no really.

“I feel like it’s more hyped up on the outside than it is on the inside,” senior linebacker Ed Shockley said. “In here, not much has changed. We still have the same coaches, the same meeting times. Everything is really similar. For us, it’s not really a big change. We lost Coach Talley and that’s a great loss. But in actuality, it’s not that much of a loss because they’re so similar. He’s Andy Talley 2.0 in a way.”

Shockley, a preseason All-CAA selection who led a dominant defense last season, is confident the Wildcats can pick up right where they left off in Talley’s final season, as they charged into the second round of the 2016 FCS playoffs before bowing out to national power South Dakota State.

That was one of 12 playoff appearances for Talley, who won 230 games during his 32 years on the Main Line. And now, judging by the fact that they’ll come into the 2017 season ranked No. 10 in the FCS, the expectations remain just as high after the coaching shuffle.

That said, Shockley did notice a few subtle differences when this year’s training camp opened.

“They’re very similar as far as their coaching styles but as far as their personalities, Coach Talley was a little more old school,” the linebacker said. “Coach Ferrante is a little more in-tune to modern day and what we like now.”

Of course, Talley is still around the program, sometimes even stopping to watch practice, or chat with players in the sparkling new facility that bears his name. That’s not an issue for Ferrante, who occasionally will lean on his old mentor for help.

“We’re not getting away from Andy Talley for the foreseeable future,” he said. “And he has an office right down the hall, which is great. It’s invaluable to have him in the building because there are things that will come up. There have been a couple already. Nothing too crazy but I’ll go in there, sit down, bounce some ideas off him, how he’d handle a situation. To have a guy like that who’s done it, as successfully as he’d done it, I think it’s great to have him around.”

In truth, Ferrante has been learning from Talley for the last three decades. And through much of that stretch, Talley has also prepared Ferrante to be a head coach, paving the way for what’s been a smooth transition (and one that neighbor Penn has shown can be successful with Ray Priore winning a piece of the last two Ivy League championships after serving as Al Bagnoli’s longtime assistant).

In some ways, the only thing that’s different for Ferrante is his official title. And he hopes few other things change — particularly the winning.

“They’ve heard me before,” Ferrante said. “I’ve spoke to the team before. Coach [Talley] put me in as the head coach of situations in years prior to now. I’ve handled banquets. I’ve been to media days. Coach has sent me to head coach’s meetings in his absence for various reasons. I’ve spoke in front of the team to break down a practice or to start a practice or in a team meeting. 

“So for the returning players, they’ve heard that before. Now they’re just hearing it more frequently.”

Andy Talley's career comes to an end as Villanova falls to South Dakota State

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Andy Talley's career comes to an end as Villanova falls to South Dakota State

BROOKINGS, S.D. - Villanova got its style of game. South Dakota State got the victory.

Freshman Chase Vinatieri kicked a 40-yard field goal with 1:21 left to lift the eighth-seeded Jackrabbits to a 10-7 victory at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium and end the career of retiring Villanova coach Andy Talley.

South Dakota State (9-3) advanced to a quarterfinal next weekend at No. 1 seed North Dakota State (11-1). The two times shared the Missouri Valley Football Conference title, but the Jackrabbits beat NDSU 19-17 inside the Fargodome on Oct. 15.

Villanova (9-4) controlled the clock and the No. 3 defense in the FCS limited SDSU's high-powered offense to 197 yards - 284 below its season average.

But the Wildcats' bid to extend Talley's career fell short. His career ended with a 230-137-1 record in 32 seasons at Villanova and 258-155-2 in 37 overall. Included was the 2009 FCS national title.

Vinatieri's field goal capped a 37-yard drive. He is the nephew of NFL kicking great Adam Vinatieri.

The first-ever meeting between these programs was played in snow showers. South Dakota State took a 7-0 lead on Taryn Christion's 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Goedert with 2:40 left in the first quarter.

Villanova tied the game on Alex Padovani's 6-yard touchdown reception from Zach Bednarczyk with two seconds remaining in the second quarter.

Christion completed 20 of 33 passes for 190 yards, accounting for most of the offense as the Jackrabbits had only seven rushing yards. Bednarczyk was 20 of 36 for 220 yards.

SDSU linebackers Christian Rozeboom and Jesse Bobbit, the team's leading tacklers, had 13 and 10 stops, respectively.