Every year, K.C. Keeler refers to his team’s scheduled Saturday off as its get better week. The idea is for the Blue Hens to use the 14 days they have between games to get healthy. After the performances Delaware turned in each of the last two weeks, however, this season’s get better week takes on a whole new meaning. UD literally needs to get better play from multiple positions before they take Tubby Raymond Field again in two weeks, or else it is going to be a long and winding road home for the Hens in 2012.
Delaware has been outscored 60-10 over its last six quarters. After falling apart on defense in the second half at New Hampshire, it was the offense that imploded at home on Saturday. Specifically, the offensive line is the great cause for consternation in Newark currently.
Entering Saturday afternoon, Maine had managed just five sacks through four games. At Delaware Stadium, the Black Bears sacked Hen signal caller Trent Hurley nine times. Every single time Hurley tried to throw he had to elude some sort of pressure.
Of course the absence of Andrew Pierce, who saw incredibly limited action thanks to an ailing hamstring, did not make matters any easier for Keeler’s offense. Without Pierce and regular backup David Hayes, who was lost for the season with a foot injury suffered at UNH, Delaware was forced to turn to third-string tailback Julian Laing.
The result was just 47 yards on the ground for the Hens as a team. Having to throw far more often than Keeler would’ve preferred, Hurley was stuck trying to dodge a constant barrage of Black Bears in the backfield on a bum foot. He stood in valiantly, but had no shot at success.
Perhaps the most alarming part of it all was how much pressure Maine got without blitzing. The Black Bears brought extra pass rushers much more often than you normally see from a Jack Cosgrove-coached team, but it was hardly like they got off the bus blitzing. Even when Maine sent only four at Hurley, the quarterback was either forced to escape the pocket or pull the trigger on a throw far faster than he intended to.
If things continue as they have the last two weeks, Delaware will struggle to finish the season with an overall record above .500.
That’s how significant this get better week will be for the Hens. Keeler, who normally does a pretty good job of pushing the right buttons with his team, is going to have his hands full over the next several days.
He will need to figure out a way to mend the offensive line. I’m not sure whether they are fully fixable at this point, but he and assistant Greg Perry need to at least get the unit to provide some resistance to opposing pass rushers. That would be a monumental improvement over what happened on Saturday.
The head coach will also have to spend a good chunk of his time trying to figure out how to keep his key players healthy. Delaware has been hit by a rash of costly injuries, and are starting to run out of capable understudies in the wings ready to step up and fill in. There are already too many underclassmen playing critical roles before they’re ready. If anymore are pressed into action, it will be more than UD can overcome.
Lastly, Keeler will need to nurse his team’s psyche. His players’ confidence has visibly dropped after the last two weeks. That’s what happens when a football team which did not face a single deficit over the season’s first 280 minutes of game action, trails for 75 of the next 80. Keeler will have to don his Dr. Phil outfit and convince his young squad that adversity is a part of every season. It is a message the coach has already tried to deliver, but one he must hammer home before Rhode Island comes to town in two weeks.
Delaware’s season is far from a lost cause, but it’s in danger of drifting in that direction. If the Hens can’t get things figured out with the time the schedule has provided them over the next two weeks, this campaign that was once filled with great promise, will shift into rebuilding mode.