Managing Sports Editor
The 2023 Delaware football team arrived at Beaver Stadium on Saturday morning relishing an opportunity no prior Blue Hens squad had encountered, as over 100,000 would be on hand to see the Hens try to hang with top-10-ranked Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) blueblood Penn State (PSU).
By the afternoon’s end, Delaware was left with little to savor.
Penn State’s suffocating defense and bruising offense ruled the day, culminating in the Nittany Lions’ 63-7 win. The blowout sent the Blue Hens to 1-1 overall while they remain 1-0 in CAA Football.
In the second edition of The Review’s 3 & Out series this football season, here are three primary impressions from Delaware’s mismatch in State College, Pennsylvania.
Defeat by a thousand cuts
Though Delaware yielded 63 points and permitted Penn State’s 541 yards of total offense at 5.9 yards per play, the Hens’ defense competed better on a play-to-play basis than the score alone would indicate. After all, the visiting ‘D’ spent 42:22 of game time on the field and was not helped by a Nittany Lion pick-six that made it 56-7 PSU late in the third.
Delaware seemed keen on defensive formations that limited Penn State’s quality of looks for deep passes over the top, and while that approach saw the hosts earn no such big play, it did not have an answer for long PSU marches that persisted all game. Penn State enjoyed five scoring drives of at least nine plays, all of which consumed between four and six minutes.
The Nittany Lions were plenty comfortable extending drives. They finished 8-of-14 on third down and converted all three of their fourth down attempts.
“When we got them into 3rd-and-longs, we couldn’t get them into 4th-and-longs, and then when we got them into 2nd-and-longs, we couldn’t keep them into 3rd-and-longs,” Delaware Head Football Coach Ryan Carty said postgame. “There were too many manageable ones where you could open up quarterback runs, you could open up that intermediate, quick game, quick screen operation.”
Delaware can take some comfort in knowing that Penn State had to grind out possessions for its points. Trouble was, they came in bunches.
“One positive is that I think we made them earn it on every play today,” senior linebacker Dillon Trainer said. “We weren’t really giving up any 90-yard bombs or anything like that, and I think that’s our standard. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, everybody’s gonna have to earn it against us.
“Again, we didn’t get the result we wanted and we didn’t play well enough to win, but there’s some satisfaction in the fact that they did have to march on every single drive that they had.”
Delaware’s defense can also hang its hat on numerous individual performances, as new signs of depth appeared Saturday. Linebacker Jackson Taylor’s 10 total tackles were the team high as he was the lone Blue Hen in double figures. Sophomore defensive lineman Dominick Brogna took advantage of extended minutes by snaring seven total tackles, including 0.5 for loss. Safety Nic Ware was often a last line of defense for the Hens with his nine stops. Tyron Herring, Mateo Vandamia and Keeno Arrington each had six tackles. Arrington was playing in front of his father, LaVar Arrington, the retired NFL player and Penn State alumnus.
Despite its frequent inability to get Penn State off the field when it earned late-down situations, Delaware’s defense, through two games, has shown it has multiple in-game personnel combinations with promise. That is not for nothing on a team that bid adieu to nine defensive starters after the 2022 season.
Despite dodging shutout, room for discouragement on offense
Delaware’s offense sabotaged its defense with its near no-show Saturday. Penn State was always going to be the most imposing defense to face the Blue Hens this year, but Delaware never seized any semblance of rhythm when it had the ball. Penn State scored its first 14 points before Delaware achieved a first down.
The Hens finished 6-of-17 passing for just 58 yards. Ryan O’Connor and Zach Marker were knotted at three completions apiece. In contrast to Penn State’s efficiency, Delaware staggered to 2-of-11 on third down.
For the second straight week, Marcus Yarns broke free for a touchdown run of over 50 yards, giving the Blue Hens their single highlight at PSU. Yarns’ dash was one of the Hens’ pair of third down conversions. The only downside of the 66-yard scamper (no fault of Yarns) was its quick return of the football to a Nittany Lion offense that possessed the ball for almost 75% of the game.
Of Delaware’s five first downs, two came via Penn State penalties. The lack of movement downfield ensured a long day of work for punter Ryan Kost, who booted his first seven punts as a Blue Hen at Penn State.
The five first downs were Delaware’s fewest in a game since it attained five at FBS Pittsburgh in 2014’s 62-0 beatdown. The Hens mustered six first downs on Oct. 31, 2015 at Towson in a 19-0 loss.
On Saturday, Yarns ensured avoidance of a shutout like those, but more pressingly, Delaware was utterly shut down by PSU. Daylight on Blue Hen runs was quickly snuffed out by swarming tacklers starting at the second level of the Nittany Lions’ defense.
Return of the Red Flash: A chance at redemption?
After living with Saturday’s poor numbers for a week, Delaware’s offense will seek to reestablish its competence when the Blue Hens kick off their home opener versus the Saint Francis University (SFU) Red Flash. Despite the qualifier of Delaware being a major underdog at Penn State, the degree of frustration that the Hens were caused by their Big Ten foe could do damage to confidence early in a season.
On paper, Delaware did not gain much in the way of assessing its quarterbacks, as O’Connor and Marker rarely had possession for sustained stretches. O’Connor got his second straight start, but with the bleak statistics across Delaware’s ledger, it is difficult to glean if he increased any grip on a potential full-time starting job.
One player who flashed for Delaware on offense was sophomore Cincinnati transfer wide receiver JoJo Bermudez, whose two catches for 32 yards paced the Blue Hens. Bermudez also chipped in on the ground with one rush for four yards.
“We’re fortunate that we do have some playmakers out there that do have Power Five speed,” Carty said when asked about Bermudez Monday. “He’s one of them. He’s as fast as there are, as there was on that field the other day, including Penn State. And so, he’s gonna flash a little bit more in those kinds of situations.”
Bermudez is just beginning to put his speed on display after returning to health. An injury sidelined him at Cincinnati, where he did not see game action as a freshman. He was a highly-sought recruit, garnering FBS offers from Syracuse, Rutgers, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, among others.
“He’s at a point now where he’s just getting going and just starting to learn the offense and feel confident in it,” Carty said. “When he plays as fast as he can, he’s certainly capable of being one of the more explosive people in our conference.”
Saint Francis enters its trip to Delaware with an 0-2 record after stumbling at Robert Morris University in a 31-21 decision Saturday. The Blue Hens will be favored to extend their two-game winning streak in the series against the Red Flash. Their 2021 regular season win and 2022 first-round Football Championship Subdivision playoff victory over SFU set the stage for a bounceback game, but the Hens know full well that they must prove that they are superior to the product displayed at Penn State.
“The leaders on this team have done a great job so far this season and this offseason at getting the ship steered in the right direction,” Carty said. “I think this is a big tell for us. I think a lot of times after tough losses and things were disappointment, I think that’s when teams kinda find out who they are. They get closer together, they practice better, they get tighter, and probably a little bit more focused on the details–if they’re a good team.
“So we’ll find out if we are.”