Managing Sports Editor
The first person to be complimented by Delaware Head Football Coach Ryan Carty in his postgame press conference at Stony Brook University (SBU) Thursday night was not a player or fellow coach individually, though many were deserving after the Blue Hens’ 37-13 win. It was team bus driver “Mr. Webb,” who steered Delaware to SBU in three-and-a-half hours, Carty said while describing his team’s “really good intention this business trip.”
Thus, Delaware beat the traffic and beat the Seawolves, making the return to Newark a happy one early Friday morning.
Leading off The Review’s Monday morning 3 & Out series in the 2023 football season, here are three themes to take away from the Blue Hens’ 1-0 start overall and in Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) Football.
O’Connor emerges with majority of quarterback reps as offense spreads the love
Junior quarterback Ryan O’Connor started for Delaware and looked sharp on the whole, finishing 24-of-38 passing for 346 yards and one touchdown. O’Connor was sacked four times and threw two interceptions, however. One pick occurred on an overthrow of Chandler Harvin on the first play of the second quarter and the other came on 3rd-and-10 at the Stony Brook 45, where O’Connor was pressured by a blitz into a roll to his left before throwing toward the sideline, seeking wide receiver Joshua Youngblood but instead getting the pass jumped by SBU’s Nick Chimienti.
Those blips aside, which were livable given Delaware’s defensive dominance in the first half, O’Connor appeared poised and was productive in his first start. His 14-yard touchdown toss to Kym Wimberly opened the game’s scoring with 3:11 remaining in the first quarter.
Nine players had at least one reception for Delaware in the win.
“It makes your life a lot more easy as a quarterback when you have amazing playmakers on the outside like we have,” O’Connor said. “And I think that’s just what you guys are gonna kinda see all year.”
Carty sees the wide variety of Blue Hen pass-catchers involved at Stony Brook as the norm for his offense.
“In fairness, it usually is,” Carty said of the ball distribution. “That’s who we are. We spread the ball around because it’s not about throwing it to a person. It’s about scheme and it’s about what’s open and it’s about getting the ball to the people who can make plays.
“We have a lot of them, so we’re gonna keep getting the ball to all of them.”
Zach Marker also played at quarterback for Delaware, concluding 4-of-7 passing for 68 yards and one interception. Marker made his Blue Hens debut in the visitors’ fourth drive of the night, taking Delaware from its own 23 to the Stony Brook 17. The march set up Nate Reed’s 34-yard field goal that put the Hens up 10-3 with 7:31 to go in the first half. The series was keyed by Marker’s three straight completions to JoJo Bermudez (for nine yards), to Wimberly (20 yards) and to tight end Braden Brose (15 yards). Marker is expected to see action in Week 2 as well, though O’Connor’s showing presumably secured a second consecutive start.
Defense stifles Stony Brook, then responds to Seawolves’ third quarter “counterpunch”
Delaware’s defense was a storyline prior to the opener – it was poised to break in nine new starters on Long Island Thursday night. For all the newcomers, the Blue Hens enjoyed a rerun of their stiff 2022 defense in the first half against SBU. The Seawolves managed only three points in the opening half as they trailed Delaware 17-3 at the break.
Stony Brook answered the Hens’ highlight to begin the third quarter (a Marcus Yarns 53-yard touchdown rush) with an ensuing 10 points unanswered to make it 24-13 in favor of the Blue Hens. In the scoring run, Seawolves quarterback Casey Case got settled in his SBU debut, but the momentum was snuffed out in the fourth frame. Stony Brook finished with 163 passing yards as Case concluded 14-of-40 through the air. Delaware intercepted Case three times: Tyron Herring, Christian Pierce and Ty Davis (pick-six of 50 yards) each nabbed an INT.
“I think they did a decent job at halftime at Stony Brook coming back with a little counterpunch there,” Carty said of the Seawolves’ offensive alterations from the half and Delaware’s in-game adjustment in response. “Coach [Manny] Rojas and the boys dialed some stuff up the next drive, and I think there were three or four times we hung on to keep them to field goals. That’s just huge for us.”
Herring, the Dartmouth College grad transfer corner, led Delaware with his eight total tackles. Linebackers Jackson Taylor and Dillon Trainer, defensive back Steven Rose Jr. and defensive lineman Keyshawn Hunter each had at least five stops.
Stony Brook saw some success with a powerful running game versus the Blue Hens. The Seawolves averaged 5.5 yards per rush on 30 attempts. Johnny Martin’s 63 ground yards topped the SBU ledger and Roland Dempster added 50 yards rushing for the hosts.
“[Stony Brook] had a lot of new faces and they’re trying to get used to a new offense, so I’m sure there will be some times where we play a team that might make us pay for those things, so we have to continue to get better,” Carty said. “We can’t think that that was the best punch we’ll get all season, but it was a good punch.
“We took it, and we fought back and finished.”
Daunting task looming
Delaware’s victory over Stony Brook was all the more important in light of the following week’s intense challenge: The Blue Hens are tasked with venturing to Penn State, the Big Ten power that entered the season ranked No. 7 in the AP Top 25.
As a heavy underdog at PSU, Delaware would have been staring at a likely 0-2 start had it faltered at Stony Brook.
The Hens did beat their Football Bowl Subdivision opponent in 2022, knocking off Navy in the season opener. The Nittany Lions, though, are a behemoth even among their Power Five conference brethren. Penn State was the 2022 Rose Bowl Game champion with an 11-2 final record. The traditional titan in University Park, PA opened this fall with a 38-15 win over West Virginia.
Delaware last played a Big Ten foe in fall 2021, succumbing to Rutgers 45-13. In 2019, the Blue Hens threatened Power Five Pittsburgh (Atlantic Coast Conference) in a 17-14 loss. That day at Pitt, a young Jourdan Townsend, now an All-CAA receiver, took in two receptions for 13 yards, including a touchdown.
Penn State announced 110,747 in attendance for its triumph over WVU. The stage Delaware enters could hardly be grander.
“I have not played in an environment that big,” Carty said Monday morning. “We’re excited about it. It’s a great opportunity for us to go out there and showcase who we are and play against the best. There’s a lot of times that those things are really good for your football program, getting a chance to be in those kinds of environments.”
Carty foresees the Blue Hens taking their trials in Beaver Stadium, the extreme of FBS venues, with them as they wade into the road challenges within their Football Championship Subdivision.
“It won’t be the first time we’re there when we head into some bigger environments later on in the FCS world as well.”
91.3 FM WVUD will air Saturday’s Delaware football game at Penn State. Kickoff is set for noon with pregame programming starting no later than 11:45 a.m. Editor-in-Chief Konner Metz, Michael Boyer and Sanaa Mason will be on the call.