IN THE LAST quarter-century under Andy Talley, Villanova has had more than its fair share of prolific quarterbacks.
Chris Whitney, a junior from St. Joseph's Prep, plays more like a linebacker sometimes. Yet the Wildcats set a program record for wins this season (13-1), and are playing in their first FCS national-title game, Friday night against Montana (14-0) in Chattanooga, Tenn. (8 o'clock on ESPN).
Score one for old-time football.
"It is ironic," Whitney said with a smile. "If you look at the past, all the great players they've had here putting up big numbers, you wonder, 'How did none of those teams ever go there?' We don't always look pretty. We're just a blue-collar, working-class group of guys who wanted to play Villanova football, do whatever it takes to get to our goal.
"You don't have to look pretty to win games. I think that's what our team is about."
Under Talley, the Wildcats were usually a throw-first team. That's changed. And now they have a defense, which hasn't always been the case. In other words, they're better equipped to succeed, especially in December. Still, it has to start somewhere. And as is often the case, it's with the guy getting the ball on most every snap.
"He's surrounded by probably the best team we've had," said Talley. "But he's a winner. He has the intangibles. And that's really what you measure a quarterback by. He's going to get it done."
By any which way possible.
"A lot of plays out there, he leaves on the drawing board," Talley said. "But then he has that uncanny ability to make something happen. It looks like he's getting knocked out of bounds, and somehow he'll sidestep a guy and get past the [first-down] marker. So you don't worry about him. He can drive you nuts, but you give him the benefit of the doubt. Because he's proven himself, in the toughest situations. Even when it looks like he's having a bad game.
"You never give up on him."
In last week's semifinal win over William & Mary, the other school that Whitney was considering, 'Nova trailed 10-0 at the half. And had all of two first downs. The 'Cats won, 14-13. Whitney scored the winning touchdown. The 'Cats also came back from 10-0 after two quarters in the opener against Temple, and from 20-14 down in the fourth period at No. 1 Richmond in early November.
"If you've never seen us before, that's just what we do," Whitney said. "We just stick together, all do our part and eventually it'll work out. It doesn't matter who's getting the ball. We depend on each other. It's how you finish that counts. We always stress that.
"We have so many people we can turn to, the offense doesn't shut down if one person's not having a good game. That makes my job easier. We're comfortable with what we're doing."
Whitney, who made first-team All-Colonial Athletic Association, has completed 149 of 234 passes for 1,794 yards and 17 touchdowns, with four interceptions. He's also the team's top rusher, with 885 yards and five scores on 187 attempts.
So he's not Chris Boden, or Brett Gordon. He is one win away from a ring.
This from someone who wasn't supposed to play as a freshman. Then Antwon Young went down with an injury. So Whitney started the final five games. In the first, the 'Cats lost at Top 5 Massachusetts in four overtimes. They won three of the next four, narrowly missing out on their first playoff trip since 2002.
Last season Whitney replaced Young in the third game, which the 'Cats won in OT at Penn. The next week they beat top-ranked Richmond at home. They've lost three times since, twice to the same No. 1 (James Madison) a year ago and at Top 5 New Hampshire in early October, each by four points.
Nothing ugly about that.
"I've been playing pretty much the same way since high school, where I played defense, too," Whitney said. "I was used to hitting people. That's still somewhat my mentality. I'm willing to put everything on the line, to get that extra yard. That's my way. If that means hitting some guy who's 30 pounds heavier than me head-on or finding an open man when things break down . . .
"I don't say a lot of inspirational stuff. I have to stay on an even keel out there. But if I see there's a lane and nobody's open, I'm going to tuck it and run. A lot of it's not planned. It's just me reacting to the play. If I have it in my head to get 5 yards, that's just instinct. And I'm not sliding. Coach yells at me to get down, but people know that's just how I am. I don't think I've ever slid. I'm just thinking get the first down and move on to the next play."