Longtime Villanova coach Andy Talley offered a simple, salient analysis of the Wildcats’ recent loss to William & Mary.
“Their quarterback is a very good player,” Talley said, referring to W&M’s Steve Cluley. “Talk all you want about this, that and the other thing, but usually when the other team’s quarterback is better than your quarterback, (they’re) going to win the game.”
Talley had the better quarterback most of the past three years, in All-American and 2014 Payton Award winner John Robertson. But Robertson’s season-ending knee injury Sept. 19 against Delaware removed a playmaker and security blanket.
As the Wildcats (2-3, 1-1 CAA) prepare for Saturday’s game at Albany, they’ve lost two in a row and are a shell of the team that was picked to win the CAA and ranked top-five in both Football Championship Subdivision polls last month.
“We’re trying to figure it all out,” Talley said on the weekly CAA coaches’ teleconference. “We have not been able to rebound from the loss of John Robertson, and we have to settle down as soon as we can here. We just haven’t been able to get it right.”
Zach Bednarczyk replaced Robertson at the end of the Delaware game and started the past two games, losses to Penn and William & Mary. While the redshirt freshman from Wallington, N.J., has demonstrated qualities that will make him a good player, the learning curve is steep in what is routinely one of the most productive offenses in FCS.
“It takes some getting used to, taking hits at the college level, but it’s not too extreme,” Bednarczyk said. “The whole mental part is definitely the biggest part that I have to get used to. Knowing the playbook, knowing all the little things.”
Bednarczyk completed 50% of his passes the past two games, but he has thrown three interceptions — one a 94-yard pick-six versus William & Mary. The Wildcats totaled 29 points in their back-to-back losses. Their teams the past three seasons averaged at least 29 points per game, topped by last year’s 37.7 average.
“The whole operation is not very efficient right now,” ‘Nova offensive coordinator Sam Venuto said. “John could allay someone else’s mistakes. Zach can’t do that. The game’s moving too fast for him right now. We’re still trying to find our identity.”
‘Nova’s offensive struggles affected the defense, as well. In each of the past three games, the Wildcats experienced at least a 10-minute deficit in time of possession. Opponents ran 52 more offensive plays in those three games.
“I think that’s worn our group down a little bit and made them susceptible to some big plays,” Talley said. “I think right now, we’ve just not played well across the board, to allow our defense to get off the field, get rested and get back and make some stops.”
The Wildcats’ retooled offense had several other injured players return recently, which should help continuity.
“I think Zach is capable of doing what he does and can help us be successful,” Venuto said. “He needs to manage the offense, he needs to eliminate bad decisions, and we need to get the guys around him playing better.”
Bednarczyk is trying to get up to speed, earlier than he or anyone imagined, as the Wildcats hit the season’s halfway mark.
“I think that I have to be a leader, first off,” Bednarczyk said. “I’ve got to keep the guys positive, even if something goes wrong. … I think if everyone stays positive, it will be a tremendous help to us. Playing wise, I think I have to try to not do too much. Take what they give me. Don’t try to make every play a huge play. Aside from those two things, I think if everyone does their job, we’ll be fine.”
Above: Zach Bednarczyk celebrates a touchdown against Delaware after replacing John Robertson. (Courtesy Villanova Athletics)