Blue Hens get ready for Power Five showdown against the Pitt Panthers
Managing Sports Editor
Emotions will run high for the Blue Hen on Saturday as they travel to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh to take on Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) foe, University of Pittsburgh.
“Everyone in our locker room probably feels like ‘Oh I should have been in a Power Five School,’ so it’s always nice that we get a chance to prove ‘Ok… I’ll show you that I could have played here,’ so it’s exciting for a lot of guys,” redshirt senior tight end Owen Tyler said.
The Blue Hens will be looking for some payback. Last time they played Pitt in 2014, they were demolished in a 62-0 throbbing loss . In 2018, Pitt won the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Coastal Division Championship and made an appearance in the ACC Championship game. Pitt comes into the Delaware game on a high note, after they upset then No. 15 Central Florida 35-34.
The team is excited at the opportunity in front of them.
“It just amps everything up,” sophomore linebacker Drew Nickles said of playing Pitt. “You’re excited because they’re FBS and they’re really good FBS. They beat UCF last week, [and] they played Penn State really well [in a close 17-10 loss.] They’ve been playing really good football, and I think for us, playing competition like that, it’s gonna really up our standards and let us know where we’re at as a football team.”
Delaware Head Coach Danny Rocco is 2-9 all-time against FBS opponents during his time as an FCS head coach. Rocco’s most notable games include a 37-20 victory against Virginia in 2016 and a narrow 23-21 loss at North Carolina State University (NC State) in 2013 while head coach at Richmond. The other FBS victory came when he was coaching at Liberty against Ball State in 2012 and won 27-23.
Rocco sees this game and future FBS games that Delaware has on it’s schedule as a great recruiting tool. Delaware will play North Carolina State next season, Rutgers in 2021, Navy in 2022 and Penn State in 2023 and 2027.
“I’m annually one of the last coaches to bring in recruits and offer scholarships,” Rocco said. “One of the reasons is because I want to recruit kids that want to go to Pitt, and want to go to Penn State, and want to go to Maryland and wanna go to Rutgers. I want kids that see themselves playing at that level, and when you go too early in the process, at this level, you’re basically taking guys that don’t see themselves as being that level of a player.”
This game gives Delaware a chance to play against the best competition in the country, meaning they will have to have their best game of the season if they want any chance to win.
“The opportunity to go out and recruit, telling student-athletes that we’re going to have an opportunity to go play against a Pitt, North Carolina State, Rutgers, Navy or Penn State,” Rocco said. “These are things that I really think motivate young people and our student-athletes. I talk a lot about being at your best when your best is required, and that’s when you’re being challenged. Just the essence of our opponent challenges all of us, so the ability to be at your best is something that I think you can take with you after this game.”
Rocco acknowledges some of the potential consequences that playing against a team like Pitt can bring.
“I think there are potential consequences in playing a game like this that could take away from your momentum within your season so that is a real thing that takes place sometimes in these games,” Rocco said. “I’ve been in quite a few of them, haven’t won very many of them and they’re hard, and they’re taxing a little bit.”
Even with the daunting task ahead of them, the team remains fearless and ready for the challenge.
“I think everyone on the team is on the same page,” Tyler said. “We don’t fear anyone. Anyone can be beaten.”
“I don’t think anyone on our team is intimidated, more so excited by the opportunity to play them,” Nickles said.
Rocco also sees this game as an opportunity for his team to learn a lot.
When you do go against these teams, you do walk away learning a lot about yourselves and a lot about your program and your kids and your makeup,” Rocco said. “Obviously you want to compete really well, obviously you want to be in it at the end, obviously you want to win, yet still, it’s an opportunity to learn a lot.
As of Sept. 24, ESPN gave Delaware a 3.5% chance to win. While those odds may not be in their favor, the Blue Hens will still have a chance.
Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. on Saturday Sept. 28 at Heinz Field.