Holveck: Delaware has time to turn around season
FARGO, N.D. – Delaware fans knew it wouldn’t be easy. But they hoped the Blue Hens could keep it a little more interesting.
While the scenes of Fargo certainly did not disappoint for those who made the 1,400 mile trip cross-country, the play on the field did. The North Dakota State Bison rode a fast start to a dominant 38-10 win over Delaware — a demonstration of North Dakota State’s superior speed, athleticism and home crowd advantage. The final margin of victory reflected a game closer than this one was.
After North Dakota State orchestrated a methodical 75-yard scoring drive to open the game, Bison linebacker Jabril Cox intercepted Delaware quarterback Pat Kehoe’s first attempt and took it 36 yards to the house. In less than five minutes, trailing 14-0, it felt like Delaware’s chances were already wrought.
The vaunted Delaware defensive machine couldn’t stop the bleeding. Garbage time began before halftime.
The game not only represents Delaware’s second tally in the loss column, but the enormous gap the Blue Hens must still overcome to consider themselves among the FCS elite. Delaware has not made it to the FCS playoffs since 2010, and even if they are able to accomplish that feat this year they will be a far leap from the teams playing in January.
But while the early returns in Danny Rocco’s second season as Delaware head coach have been less than enthusing, it’s still way too early to write off these Blue Hens. The expectation this season was never for Delaware to knock off North Dakota State — the titan of the FCS — it was to remain competitive against teams of the Bison’s stature and handle business against those of Delaware’s caliber.
One could contend that Delaware should have never left the prime tier of FCS contenders, which includes North Dakota State and conference rival James Madison among others, and should never have needed to enter rebuilding mode. It’s a valid point, but the reality Rocco faced when he came to Delaware in 2016 and still faces now is that the Dave Brock era left the program run dry.
It’s up to Rocco to not only renovate the product on the field, but to reinvent Delaware’s culture.
As aggravating as that may be for Delaware fans, how long can you perseverate in the past before you must move forward?
In his post-game press conference, Rocco pointed out Delaware was also 2-2 a season ago. Midseason wins at Stony Brook and against Richmond in overtime returned Delaware to the FCS top 25 for the first time since 2014 and entered the Blue Hens into the playoff discussion.
Going into an open date, Delaware can now regroup, evaluate their flaws and make adjustments to prepare for a similar push, heading into seven consecutive CAA matchups. They get two weeks to prepare for a winnable Richmond matchup and a team Rocco is well-accustomed to.
They’ll have a chance to earn a “signature win” against No. 12 Elon at home the following week and then face two winnable games against the injury-depleted New Hampshire Wildcats and the Towson Tigers.
Winning all or three of these games will put Delaware back into the playoff discussion. The Blue Hens would then control their own fate down the stretch against Stony Brook and Villanova, two ranked teams. It’s all Delaware can ask for after their slow start.
The road won’t be easy, but there is still reason to believe Delaware can reach the lauded eight-win total (six wins in conference play) that almost assures CAA teams a spot in the postseason. Their dud against North Dakota State makes the case with seven wins a little harder to believe in, but it’s still a possibility.
In the first three weeks, Kehoe averaged 245 passing yards and did not give the ball away. He turned in the exact opposite type of performance against the Bison, where he threw for less than 100 yards, tossed three interceptions and lost a fumble.
He’ll obviously need to perform better against Delaware’s remaining CAA opponents, but his record-setting start over the first three weeks of the season still shows that he provides some level of stability to the Blue Hens at the most important position — the type of stability foreign to Delaware teams of the past few seasons.
The defense lacks playmakers up front, but still has an extremely strong back seven. Elevated play from NFL hopefuls Nasir Adderley and Troy Reeder and experienced senior standouts Charles Bell, Malcolm Brown and Ray Jones should still make the Delaware defense one of the most formidable challenges for CAA offenses.
So even though it’s easy to get up in arms over a crushing defeat like yesterday’s North Dakota State game and an inexcusable one like Delaware’s season-opening loss against Rhode Island, it’s far too early to write the book on this season.
The fun is just beginning. From here on out, every game, every snap and every moment counts.