Defense shines in loss; Rocco praises Walker
MANAGING SPORTS EDITOR
As the Delaware offense sputtered through the majority of Saturday’s game in Blacksburg, a consistent and dominant defensive effort earned the praise of head coach Danny Rocco Monday afternoon.
The Delaware defense, which allowed 224 total yards to a powerless Delaware State team on Aug. 31, once again established itself as the team’s most trusted unit, giving up 303 yards and two touchdowns to freshman quarterback Josh Jackson and the Hokies.
“You’ve got to be able to deal with and overcome adversity and that’s what our defense I thought did at a high level on Saturday, not that I didn’t think they could or would, I just didn’t know,” Rocco said.
The unit allowed only 17 points through three quarters, while the offense coughed up two golden opportunities to score in the second and third quarters –– one ending with a missed field goal and one with a Joe Walker interception, his second of the season.
In the first half, Walker rushed seven times for 34 yards while completing five of nine passes to four different receivers –– showing flashes of consistency that Delaware fans have come to expect infrequently from the redshirt junior quarterback. As the Blue Hens attempted to cut into the 17-0 deficit during the final two quarters, Walker went 3-8 with an interception while being sacked three times.
“Not discouraging at all, just some plays out there you get a little disappointed,” Walker said. “You see a couple of plays you wish you could’ve had back, could’ve made it a way better game than it was on paper. We had a lot of opportunities that we didn’t execute. It’s a little upsetting.”
The conservative nature in which Rocco approached Saturday’s game –– likely attributed to the hostile environment in Lane Stadium –– was represented by Rocco’s commitment to the ground game: 73 percent of Delaware’s offense plays came via the rushing attack. Walker contributed 26 of the team’s 107 yards on the ground.
Five of Delaware’s eight first half drives consisted of only rushing plays. When the Hens attempted to open their passing attack in the second half, they had limited success, reaching only 48 yards in the air –– all of which came on their first drive of the third quarter.
“We should’ve taken more shots [ourselves] down the field and we talked about that a little bit too late, but that would’ve given us a little better opportunity to maybe get those safeties out of the run game a little and maybe get one quick strike down the field,” Rocco said.
Yet Rocco remained complimentary of Walker’s performance, describing him as as an “extraordinary athlete” who he [Rocco] expects to improve under the new offense. The first-year Delaware head coach made clear his desire for increased decisiveness and improved timing for his starting quarterback.
Rocco praised defensive coordinator Chris Cosh for his work with the Delaware defense, which sits second in the CAA in three major categories through two weeks: scoring defense, rushing defense and total defense.
“I thought overall we were pretty physical and fundamentally sound for the most part,” senior linebacker Charles Bell said. “We still have some stuff to work on to get better to go into this week and hopefully dominate the game on all three sides of the ball and then during the bye week, like Coach said, reassess, kind of take a step back and go from there.”
Both Rocco and Bell were pleased with the effort from freshman cornerback Nijuel Hill, who started in place of senior cornerback Justin Watson, who is out for the season with a fractured leg. Wide receiver Vinny Papale, who caught one pass on Saturday prior to leaving the game with a bruised lung, is doubtful to play in this Saturday’s game versus Cornell, according to Rocco.
Cornell, hailing from the Ivy League, has yet to play a game this season. This will be the first ever matchup between the Big Red and the Blue Hens.
“You gotta live with it,” Rocco said of his team’s loss to Virginia Tech, moving them to 1-1 on the season. “You gotta live with the result until you have an opportunity to go out there and compete again so getting that win, getting to 2-1 and then getting into that open date — Sept. 23 — does allow us to be in a much different position or place than we would be if we did not secure a victory this weekend.”