Almost all of the time, it’s mostly about the quarterback.
Villanova won nine times a year ago. In those games, the Wildcats averaged nearly 33 points. In the four losses, one of which was to Pittsburgh, they scored a total of two offensive touchdowns. The season ended in the second round of the FCS playoffs in a 10-7 loss at South Dakota State.
They had the top-ranked defense at their level. And that unit should be good again despite the loss of three starters, including second-round NFL draft pick Tanoh Kpassagnon. But it’s the offensive potential that has everyone feeling even better. The Wildcats have to replace two starters from a line that probably underperformed. Yet everyone else is back and healthier, especially at the skill positions. Which is a big reason why junior QB Zach Bednarczyk is looking forward to taking the next step in his journey.
When the offense struggled, it wasn’t only his fault. It rarely is. But that’s the first person people point to.
“No matter what team you talk about, or what level, the teams that win championships … the quarterback’s name usually comes up,” said Mark Ferrante, the program’s longtime assistant who is the now the head coach following Andy Talley’s retirement after 32 seasons. “If not first, pretty close to it. Zach has made great strides from two years ago, when he was forced into the starting role [by an injury], to what he accomplished last year. If he can make that same kind of improvement this year, he’ll be someone they’ll be talking about.
“Unfortunately, he’s in a league [Colonial Athletic Association] that has some real good ones. So his name might not be as recognized. Hopefully in the near future he’ll be known as much as they are.”
Villanova is ranked 10th. James Madison, the defending national champion, is No. 1. Richmond is eighth. JMU has Bryan Schor at QB and Richmond has Kyle Lauletta (Downingtown East High). The Wildcats lost to both in 2016.
They open Sept. 2 at Lehigh. They’re at JMU on Oct. 14 and host Richmond on Nov. 4.
“I feel way more comfortable,” Bednarczyk said Tuesday at Villanova Stadium. “I think I understand more what [offensive coordinator Sam Venuto] wants me to do in certain situations. We’ve been stressing consistency. The best teams have the best quarterbacks. We can have a great year.
“Playing quarterback takes some physical ability. But it’s a lot of mental things. You have to put in the work, not just on the field. … Obviously, you want to get some rings. I want to be one of those guys.”
Villanova has certainly had its share of them throughout the Talley era. Last season, Bednarczyk — the CAA’s co-offensive rookie of the year in 2015 — threw for 2,158 yards and 19 touchdowns (with 10 interceptions). He also rushed for 539. Sometimes, though, it’s not solely about the numbers.
“Against South Dakota State, we had the opportunity to go down the field and potentially win the game and we couldn’t do it,” Bednarczyk noted.
The tone of his voice suggested he didn’t want to let that happen again. Which sounds like an intangible worth following.
“The chemistry’s looking great out there [at practice],” he stressed. “I have options everywhere. So instead of maybe going one-two and looking to run, it just gives me more choices. That helps, a lot. The more confidence I have in them, the more they’ll have in me.
“We just have to be on the same page. We know what kind of team we can be. Now we have to do it.”
And it has to start in one spot.