Sports Commentary: Quarterback position is still the weakest link
MANAGING SPORTS EDITOR
The most frustrating part about Saturday’s loss to No. 1 ranked James Madison was not the woeful 89 pass yards Delaware registered –– or the three turnovers by the Blue Hens, oor the sensational effort by the defense that was wasted by a failing offense, or the less-than-three-quarters-full Delaware Stadium for a game against the top team in the country –– but it was that the Blue Hens’ legitimate bid to upset their archrival was ultimately defined by offensive deficiency and instability.
Quarterback Joe Walker showed a few rare spurts of speed and agility –– as he often does –– but was once again doomed by a consistent stream of telegraphed passes and poor decisions in the pocket. His 15-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jamie Jarmon, when he used his speed to extend the play before throwing a dart to Jarmon in the endzone, provided a reminder of what Walker could be. Yet this version of Walker is only an illusion, a glimpse of what former Head Coach Dave Brock saw when he recruited Walker prior to the 2014 season.
The authentic version of Walker represents a frustrating reality. In his third year as the Hens starting quarterback, Walker’s progression on the field is slow and sporadic. After throwing for a total of 954 yards with three touchdowns and six interceptions last season –– in six games under Brock and five under interim coach Dennis Dottin-Carter following Brock’s firing –– Walker opened the 2017 season by throwing for a career high in passing in two of the first three games under Head Coach Danny Rocco.
He’s thrown four touchdowns in four games this season –– more than he had all of last season –– while collecting 557 yards in the air, over half of what he threw for all of last season.
Yet Walker’s performance so far this season will be remembered by what he did not do Saturday against James Madison, as opposed to what he did do against Delaware State, Virginia Tech and Cornell.
The redshirt junior struggled mightily against the JMU defense –– ranked No. 1 in the CAA –– throwing for 47 yards on 5-11 passing with a touchdown and two turnovers. And while Walker’s deficiencies are magnified by the exceptional effort of the Blue Hens’ defense –– which kept Delaware in the game, giving up only 13 points to what many consider the best offense in the country –– the harsh reality is that with Walker at the helm, Delaware’s chances to score a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to tie the game were marginally low.
The even harsher reality is that there appears to be no other QB on the roster who would have given Delaware a better shot. Rocco clearly recognizes this, which could explain in large part why Walker won the starting job over transfer J.P. Caruso in August.
But the stagnant and meager play by the Delaware offense Saturday afternoon earned Rocco’s disapproval, which reached a peak mid-way through the fourth quarter when he benched Walker for Caruso. Upon entering the game, Caruso appeared uncomfortable and awkward, completing two passes on seven attempts.
Monday afternoon, Rocco said that he expected “some element of breakthrough” from Walker on Saturday. Rather, Walker regressed, and Rocco did not specify who would start this Saturday against Stony Brook.
While the offense prepares for a critical game against CAA-leading Stony Brook, it finds itself operating as it did in August: with both quarterbacks splitting reps, unable to take charge of the Rocco offense. Another talented defense looms this weekend, and it’s now very clear: the quarterback position remains as the weakest link on the team.