Most teams in FCS, especially ones that call the toughest conference in the country home, would be quite satisfied with a 4-2 start after six games. That kind of record would put many schools in prime position to make the playoffs and would be a clear sign that they are playing a high level of football. Unfortunately for many fans in this area, the University of Delaware is facing an entirely different reality at 4-2.
The Hens enter their bye this weekend mired in the midst of an ugly two-game losing streak. Delaware has been out-scored 60-10 over its last six quarters of action. The team’s confidence seems shaken and its prospects are looking far from bright.
Unlike other FCS teams, and every other CAA squad, Delaware will need to win eight games to get to the postseason. The Hens’ opening night contest with West Chester (a Division II foe) will not be acknowledged by the NCAA tournament committee at season’s end. That means UD can only afford three losses to get back into the playoffs.
With contests remaining against Old Dominion, Towson and a much-improved Villanova team, Delaware’s playoff path is an uphill one to say the least.
But even in spite of all these issues, Delaware’s biggest problems aren’t math, schedule-strength or even fragile confidence. The Hens’ most significant hurdles to overcome in the second half of the season are attrition and inexperience.
All football teams have to deal with injury concerns; it’s simply the nature of a physical sport. But K.C. Keeler’s 2012 group has had to overcome a rash of injuries at a number of key positions.
“The problem has been our deepest positions have gotten the most injuries,” Keeler says. “We think we’re really deep at linebacker and we lose four of our top six (on the depth chart at linebacker). We think we’re really deep at defensive line and we lose two of our four starters. We think we’re really deep at wide receiver, we lose two of our top four. We think we’re really deep at tailback and we lose our top three. I mean it’s been crazy the number of kids we’ve lost.”
Not all of those injuries have been season-ending, but they have all cost valuable players at least a game. Add to that list the fact that quarterback Trent Hurley has been limping around on a bad foot the last two weeks, and that center Jake Geiser will move to guard thanks to a hand injury, and you can see how much damage has been done to Delaware’s depth.
This adversity has had two major effects. First, Keeler has been forced to play many more freshmen than he ever anticipated this season.
“It’s been a weird year because we’re playing without a quarter of our scholarship players,” Keeler says. “We’ve now been forced to play three true freshmen on the defensive line. They’re really good players, but the number of mistakes they make they’re going to because they’re so young.”
“You’re asked to have redshirt freshman linebacker Jeff Williams play a lot more snaps than he ever would have otherwise. He probably would’ve been special teams and maybe some special situation type things, and now you can’t get him off the field because we don’t have any depth.”
With that much inexperience out on the field, there are bound to be mistakes. Keeler knows the key to getting where he wants to go is maturing those freshmen and limiting their mental miscues.
That brings us to problem number two. Since the Hens have lost so many players to injury, Keeler is worried he is starting to run out of players to use at practice.
“We’ve always scrimmaged this time of year, but right now we don’t have enough bodies to scrimmage,” Keeler said. “We’re afraid to scrimmage because if we even get some of the guys who aren’t playing hurt, we aren’t going to be able to practice.”
“We’ve lost so many bodies that it’s really hurt us in practice and it makes me come back and wonder, are the kids burning out a little bit in practice because we don’t have enough bodies and they’re going every single rep. Every situation you have to manage and now I really need to manage what we’re doing in practice.”
How Keeler handles it, and how healthy Delaware is after this bye will determine its fate moving forward. The Hens’ season is at a crossroads and, unfortunately for Delaware, its margin for error is virtually gone. The stretch drive of 2012 should be awful interesting.