Hens relinquish early chances to scare nationally-ranked Virginia Tech
ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR
BLACKSBURG, Va. — Playing against their highest-ranked opponent ever and before the largest crowd in school history, the Blue Hens were shut out by the No. 18-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies, 27-0, Saturday evening.
Falling to 1-1 on the season, the defeat marked the Hens’ eighth straight loss against FBS schools and their fourth loss to ACC opponents in the last four years.
Virginia Tech entered the game ranked No. 18 in the country after defeating the West Virginia Mountaineers in their season opener. Previously, Delaware’s highest ranked opponent was No. 20 Colgate in 1977. Their home, Lane Stadium, held a raucous 62,526-person sea of orange and maroon.
“I expected a little bit more here today,” head coach Danny Rocco said after the game. “I thought we would be a little bit more able to keep the game in reach. I was disappointed in that, but not discouraged.”
Despite the scoring disparity, Delaware held the advantage in time of possession and was only outgained by 80 total yards. Special teams and penalties, however, thwarted the Blue Hens chances of giving the Hokies a true challenge.
Virginia Tech opened the scoring late in the first quarter when Greg Stroman returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown. Rocco said after the game that Delaware had only 10 players on the field for the return.
“The biggest play of the game was the punt return for a touchdown,” Rocco said. “I have to own that. I could have called a timeout. That was in fact the biggest momentum play.”
After a career-long 50-yard field goal from Hokies kicker Joey Slye to extend the lead to 10-0, Joe Walker led a seven-play 64-yard drive down to the Virginia Tech two-yard line. After two consecutive runs by Kani Kane, Walker was sacked for a loss of nine, leading to a field goal attempt from 28 yards out from Frank Raggo. Raggo’s kick hit the right upright.
Delaware reached the red zone only once more on a drive that ended with a Joe Walker interception off a batted ball.
“The thing I was most disappointed with was inconsistency from possession to possession,” Rocco said. “It’s almost like I sent the first team out there for this series and the second team out there for the next series.”
Virginia Tech tacked on a touchdown with a pass to running back Trevon McMillan to take a 17-0 stranglehold entering the half. Within a minute and a half, the Blue Hens squandered a chance to trail by one possession at the halfway mark, instead trailing by three.
In Delaware’s first series of the second half, the team was backed up by three consecutive false-start penalties and four total on the drive. The series highlighted a performance in which Delaware committed 11 penalties and amounted 84 penalty yards. Virginia Tech had two penalties for 10 yards.
“We just melted down in some of those situations,” Rocco said. “I’ve never seen consecutive procedure calls like that in my entire life. Totally unacceptable.”
Crowd noise proved to be a factor for the Hens’ offense. Traditions like the “Enter Sandman” introduction, the lunch-pail and the Hokie stone, make Lane the toughest place to play in college football, according to Scouts.com. Virginia Tech fans pride themselves on making it as hard as possible on the opposition –– their scoreboard keeps a tally of opponent’s false starts throughout the season.
“This stadium is amazing,” senior center Brody Kern said. “It’s definitely something that we’ve never played in before. You just have to focus up and listen to my voice and block out anything else.”
Delaware’s defense allowed only two touchdowns and 81 rushing yards from the Hokies’ potent read-option attack. The Hens were often able to pressure redshirt-freshman quarterback Josh Jackson with just three down linemen.
When asked about how his team defended the Hokies’ running game, Rocco said, “we didn’t let them.”
Delaware will play Cornell next Saturday, Sept. 17, before beginning CAA play versus James Madison on Sept. 30. The benefits of an early-season test like Virginia Tech to prepare the Blue Hens for the road ahead are numerous.
“Playing a team that is on paper the better team, always shows you your weakest spots,” junior linebacker Troy Reeder said. “It shows you what you need to work on.”
Playing a major opponent also comes with a hefty payday for the visiting school. Delaware is believed to have received about $400,000 to play the Hokies.
Regardless, the team walks away with a game day experience they’ll always remember. Rocco said there is “no shame” in what happened to the team.
“[That game was] one of the best college football experiences that I’ve had in my life,” senior defensive lineman Bilal Nichols said. “I could’ve played there all night.”