Temple to kick off football season against Villanova

Temple is set to kick off its season against Villanova at home on Saturday.

Freshman safety Amir Gillis tackles freshman wide receiver Ronnie Stevenson during a scrimmage at Franklin Field on Aug. 18. | LUKE SMITH / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple University’s defense started the 2017 football season by allowing season-highs in rushing and passing yards in back-to-back weeks.

In Week 2 that year, Villanova gained 382 yards passing, but the Owls held on for a 16-13 victory in the first game between the two schools since 2012. The 2017 team had only five returning starters on offense and four returning starters on defense for coach Geoff Collins’ first year.

When Villanova and Temple play Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, the Owls will have a more experienced group on both sides of the ball.

“Last year, everything was new and different, so it was kind of hard for everybody,” junior cornerback Linwood Crump said. “Having a year under our belt to learn the defense more will help. Having a bunch of returning starters, it will be tough for Villanova to put that many yards on us.”

This year’s biggest difference will come from the quarterback position. The Wildcats are preparing to face graduate student Frank Nutile, who has a different skill set than Temple’s former starter for most of last season, Logan Marchi.

Villanova’s defensive game plan will stay true to its scheme, but Villanova coach Mark Ferrante will adjust to the difference between Nutile as a pocket passer and Marchi as a mobile quarterback. The Wildcats’ main goals are to stop the run and create turnovers regardless of who’s quarterback, Ferrante told The Temple News at the Wildcats’ media day on Aug. 20.

After Nutile’s first start against Army West Point on Oct. 21, 2017, the Owls’ offense never looked back. Last season, he completed 122 of 199 pass attempts, enough for a 61.3 completion percentage, while throwing 12 touchdowns to seven interceptions.

The Wildcats do not have to worry about former wideout Adonis Jennings, who caught three passes for 75 yards against them last season.

However, they have to watch graduate student Ventell Bryant, who received the No. 1 jersey on Monday. Bryant caught seven passes for 79 yards in the Owls’ meeting against Villanova last season.

On the other side of the ball, redshirt-junior linebacker Chapelle Russell made his presence known against Villanova with 10 tackles, including one for a loss.  Russell took first-team reps at weak-side linebacker last week and is expected to play on Saturday after suffering an ACL injury last November.

“We think [the Owls] are fast, we think they are physical,” Ferrante said. “We think they run to the ball extremely well. We think not just their defense, but the entire team plays that way. They are aggressive, they do a great job on special teams.”

Villanova earned a spot in the 2017 Football Championship Subdivision STATS Preseason Top 25 poll, but it finished with a 5-6 record after season-ending injuries to its starting quarterback, running back, tight end, wide receiver and No.1 safety. The Wildcats, despite finishing with a record below .500 in 2017, are No. 19 in the STATS FCS Top 25 poll.

The Wildcats’ offense is in the hands of fifth-year senior quarterback Zach Bednarczyk, a former Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year. Bednarczyk tore his ACL in the fifth game of the 2017 season against Towson University. Before the injury, Bednarczyk threw for 1,063 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.

“[Villanova’s] quarterback is very good, very accurate,” Collins said Monday. “They have two very good tight ends, a receiving core with speed and length. … Offensively they are very dangerous, they run a complex scheme that poses a problem for any defense.”

Villanova junior wide receiver Changa Hodge, who suffered a season-ending injury at Temple last year, will be a key returner to the Wildcats offense, Ferrante said. Hodge had four receptions for 100 receiving yards against the Owls last season.

The top defensive returnee for the Wildcats is preseason FCS All-American safety Rob Rolle, who tore his ACL in a loss to the University at Albany last season. Rolle had 63 tackles and seven interceptions during his first-team all-conference season in 2016.

Heading into Saturday’s season opener, Villanova has its sights on the FCS playoffs, while Temple’s are on back-to-back bowl appearances under Collins.

Villanova is the first test for the Owls before they host the University at Buffalo on Sept. 8 at the Linc.

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