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Know Your Enemy: Q&A with Villanova Blog VU Hoops

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

We won't be doing these every week, but the fine folks running VU Hoops, SB Nation's Villanova blog, reached out for a Q&A and we swapped questions and answers. Be sure to head on over there for my thoughts on their questions.

Brian Ewart, their Editor, answered my questions about Villanova heading into this weekend's game.

Obligatory basketball question first - reasonable expectations for this year's team fresh off a National Championship? I mean, does anyone even care what they do after last year's incredible run?
Good question. If they were completely miserably awful in 2016-17, I do think most fans would be very upset. The expectation is that they should be able to have another very good season with a lot of key players returning -- some people are even talking about repeating.

Basketball is the biggest big-time Villanova gets in sports, so you're definitely going to have plenty of folks who will be following intently after last year's run, and they're expecting to at least see very good basketball again this year.
After Pitt jumped ship to the ACC, expansion has sort of been on the back burner for me. So, where are we on the whole Villanova football to the FBS movement? Is it dead, alive, on hold ... what?
At this point, after winning it all, I'm sure that President Fr. Donohue has patted himself on the back quite thoroughly about how Villanova handled realignment. When the Big East started to break apart with the departure of Pitt and Syracuse, he was able to effectively put the brakes on the football train that had previously been chugging along full-speed. In fact, I've been told that the game against Pitt was originally scheduled (before it was rescheduled) as part of a series (which included recent contests with UConn and Syracuse) to get the feel of things against Big East opponents.

Barring something crazy happening (and something crazy is never out of the picture, I guess), I don't think the FBS movement is really on the radar. New AD Mark Jackson is definitely a football guy, and things are moving along for the program (they'll open a new football ops building this Fall, for example), but I don't think they were in a hurry to dial up the Big 12 like so many other schools.
Tell us a little about sophomore quarterback Zach Bednarczyk. Seems like he was kind of thrust into the mix last year a bit unexpectedly after some injuries and performed pretty well all things considered.
Nobody really expected Bednarczyk to play a major role last Fall. He was supposed to be the back-up who came in for a few snaps of mop-up duty after John Robertson steamrolled teams into submission. He was definitely a surprise to end up starting throughout the season.

He came in as the heir apparent -- and unless he struggles mightily, the job is his to keep for now. He's got some decent running ability (though not even close to his predecessor) and a great arm and played well despite his surprise promotion. He made a couple of really devastating mistakes that cost the team dearly as a freshman, however, and he will need to cut down on those issues this season.

If he struggles, fellow sophomore Adeyemi DaSilva could step up into that role, similar to how John Robertson replaced Chris Polony, who also started as a freshman the year prior. DaSilva is another dual-threat guy with a strong arm and good running speed.
Villanova's defense was pretty good last season, ranking in the top 20 in both scoring defense and total defense in terms of yardage given up. What's changed from last year? Are they expected to be better/worse?

There's always some turnover from year to year, but the most obvious loss is going to be linebacker Don Cherry, who has been one the 'Cats best defensive players for the past couple years. He was a guy with great instincts who made all of the right reads, and enough ability to get to the ball regularly.

They'll look to Austin Calitro to step up at linebacker this season, and have one of the better defensive linemen in FCS in Tanoh Kpassagnon. Calitro is a versatile player who has also filled in at defensive end in the 'Cats 3-3-5 defense. Kpassagnon is an extremely athletic kid who came to Nova to play tight end, but wound up finding his calling rushing the passer.

They should be pretty good again this year if they can keep some of those key guys healthy.
Aside from Bednarczyk, who are the offensive guys to watch this weekend?
All-around, Jarrett McClenton might be the top offensive player for the Wildcats. He's a former high school running back who found himself playing slot receiver last season, and the 'Cats seem to like him there. He's one of the more dangerous offensive options for the team, and in addition to creating some mismatches in the middle of the field, he may sneak into the backfield to carry the ball a few times as well.

You'll probably see a few guys get touches at tailback, especially with Matt Gudzak sidelined this season. Senior Javon White is a speedy runner who is likely to get a lot of work in, and sophomore Aaron Forbes also returns after working his way into the rotation as a freshman.
Legendary head coach Andy Talley is stepping down this season after a great career at Villanova. Was naming assistant Mark Ferrante the right call or was there hope that they would look outside the program?
I think most people who have followed the program closely have expected Ferrante to get the job when Talley hung them up. The top assistant coach has been at Villanova almost as long as his boss and probably could have walked into a head coaching role elsewhere already if he had wanted to.

There are some good benefits to the move. Ferrante has been very integral in running the program at Villanova in recent years. He's learned a lot from working with Coach Talley and is probably better positioned than anyone from outside to continue building a winning program at the school. The easy transition is definitely helping with recruiting for next year's class, and Villanova expects that much of the rest of the staff will stay in place after the season as well.
Villanova played FBS foe UConn pretty well last year, even holding a halftime lead before losing by five on the road. Based on that performance and some of Pitt's early non-conference struggles over the years, do you get the sense that fans are optimistic for Saturday?
No. Had this game been played a few years ago with a veteran John Robertson under center, I would probably answer in the affirmative, but the Wildcats are entering this season with high hopes and a lot of question-marks.

I think fans are hoping to see a battle and praying that the team emerges without any significant injuries. It would be a huge shock for most though if this team walked away with a win -- and maybe that's a good thing?
What type of scenario do you see Villanova needing to pull off an upset on Saturday? Also, give us your pick for this weekend's game.
They'll go for a couple of risky plays, maybe a trick play or two, and if those go right and 'Nova can get some momentum from it, they'll try to hang with Pitt. Talley knows that these games are usually not going to be a blowout in favor of the FCS school, so the path to victory is usually to try and keep the score close into the fourth quarter and then see if you can out-strategize the FBS team.

If you saw the Syracuse game a couple years ago, the 'Cats were looking at maybe yet-another-overtime, when Talley opted to go for it; win or go home, instead of kicking and playing another. He won't risk burning his players out or injuring them for the sake of a win.

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