Villanova's Robertson finding his stride

Villanova QB John Robertson gets the pass off before being hit by William and Mary's Ivan Tagoe. Robertson scored the game-winning TD on a 1-yard run.
Villanova QB John Robertson gets the pass off before being hit by William and Mary's Ivan Tagoe. Robertson scored the game-winning TD on a 1-yard run. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff)
Posted: October 07, 2013

After John Robertson started off the season struggling, out of rhythm, Villanova's coaches sat down with the quarterback.

This guy had been the FCS national freshman of the year. Villanova's offense revolves around him. Where were these interceptions coming from?

Wildcats coach Andy Talley remembers saying to Robertson, "What do you think?"

"I want to run the ball more," Robertson told his coaches. "That's my game. I get comfortable if I run the ball."

This was no amazing revelation. Robertson had run for over 1,000 yards last season. He had run for 400 yards in his last regular-season high school game in Paramus, N.J. His first run in this season's opener at Boston College went for 37 yards.

Villanova's coaches also wanted to be careful, though. Getting Robertson through the season is kind of important. They just appreciated the input, and they want more of it. They told him that, too. Robertson is a "Yes, sir. . . . No, sir" type. If a play is called - whatever it is - he is committed to it 100 percent, he said.

"That really makes my job easier," Villanova offensive coordinator Sam Venuto said Saturday of knowing Robertson wants the run calls. "I can feel good about calling the right plays for him, knowing he wants to do it."

All this helps explain how Villanova won a game in which the Wildcats led for just 28 seconds. Robertson hadn't been having a big day against William and Mary. A costly first-half interception was the result of a bad read and poor execution.

"I just think at times he was indecisive," Venuto said. "When you get indecisive, you hold the ball too long, you don't make the right read, you put yourself in harm's way."

William and Mary, good enough defensively to have led West Virginia into the fourth quarter, had gone ahead by 16-13 with just over six minutes left.

The first call was a Robertson run - 10 yards. Three plays later, on third and 2, Robertson ran 8 yards. He completed passes for two more third-down conversions.

By the time Robertson snuck into the end zone with 28 ticks left, he had run for 37 yards on the drive, more than half his game total, and completed 5 of his 6 passes.

"John is really gritty, really competitive," Venuto said. "I think that's what you need in those situations. . . . That was a gut check there. He stepped up to it."

He's also as elusive as most running backs in tight space.

"It just looked like we were grabbing at it, and not using our bodies," William and Mary coach Jimmye Laycock said of his team's late attempts to bring Robertson down. "We had been a really good tackling team. That's one of our trademarks. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe we were tired. Maybe it was because their quarterback is pretty good."

One of Villanova's trademarks over the years is that the Wildcats have been successful using different kinds of weapons, different flavors of quarterbacks.

So a 20-16 victory over 3-1 W&M goes down as a pivot point in a season in which Villanova believes it can be a national contender. A loss Saturday would have made the climb a steep one, starting with next week's game at Towson, the other preseason Colonial Athletic Association favorite.

This wasn't a solo production at Villanova Stadium. Robertson realized W&M stopped using a spy on him after tailback Kevin Monangai broke some big runs. (The spy was practically following him to the sidelines during breaks.)

Robertson began his football life as a running back. By seventh grade, he played for a coach running a traditional wing-T, and Robertson was the QB, mostly handing off. But a new coach got to his school just as Robertson got to high school, bringing a spread offense.

He was about 115 pounds as a high school freshman, he said, but lived in the weight room.

"I think it's awesome waking up at 6 o'clock to work out," Robertson said. "I put on 20 pounds every year."

The weight gain isn't necessary anymore. Robertson has 215 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame. This year's offseason, he said, was all about "really trying to get my body right so I could make it through a whole season."

And the feeling on that last drive?

"It's a great feeling - it's a chance for me to right my wrongs," Robertson said, specifically referencing the first-half interception.

Later, Talley said that sentence speaks to what Villanova has at quarterback right now. A guy who can get into a comfort zone late but not too late. A leader who doesn't believe life revolves around him.

Robertson did mention, "I'm really comfortable being a leader. It comes with the territory."


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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