There was good news and there was bad news for Blue Hen Nation on Saturday. The good news came in the form of a 47-24 rout of Rhode Island, which capped off a happy homecoming at the University of Delaware. The Hens erased the sting of a two-game losing streak by putting together their best overall offensive performance of the season. Andrew Pierce ran for a season-high 141 yards and Tim Donnelly completed 19 of his 27 pass attempts to six different receivers. From the midpoint of the opening period until halfway through the third quarter, UD scored 33 unanswered points.
The much-maligned offensive line was a big part of the turnaround. After allowing nine sacks in the loss to Maine, Rhode Island did not get to Donnelly in the backfield on Saturday a single time. Some of the credit for that has to go to the senior signal caller as well. Donnelly did a consistently solid job of getting rid of the football on time.
That’s a trend the Hens will need to continue, because after the game, head coach K.C. Keeler revealed that it is highly unlikely Trent Hurley will play again in 2012. The Liz Franc injury he has been dealing with for weeks, did not respond the way doctors had hoped to being placed in a hard cast for 10 days during the bye week.
Hurley was in full uniform for the Rhode Island game, but evidently that was for decoy purposes. He walked on the sideline with a noticeable limp. Considering one of the strongest assets of Hurley’s game is his elusiveness and his ability to extend plays by scrambling, even if he could have worked his way back onto the field near the end of the season, he would be nowhere near as productive.
So it sounds like Keeler and the coaching staff have decided to shut the sophomore down.
That means Donnelly will be the guy Delaware turns to, to run the incredibly difficult gauntlet that is the final four games of UD’s season.
There is a good chance that Keeler’s team will be the underdog in every game the rest of the way. The Hens have road trips to Old Dominion and Richmond and welcome Towson and Villanova to Delaware Stadium. Earning a split from those four contests would mean they played very good football, but in order to make the playoffs, Delaware needs to go 3-1 down the stretch.
And now they’ll have to do it with their backup quarterback running the reins.
Delaware can take solace in the knowledge that Donnelly has won eight of his 10 career starts. He also brings incredible confidence into the upcoming trip to ODU, thanks to his performance against the Monarchs last September. Donnelly enjoyed the best day of his career, completing 26-of-39 passes for 304 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against an FCS playoff defense. His play guided the Hens to a 27-17 victory over ODU.
Now the situation will be drastically different on Saturday. Instead of playing in front of 17,000 adoring fans at Delaware Stadium, Donnelly will have to produce with over 20,000 hostile haters trying to make things difficult in Norfolk, Virginia. The Monarch defense is also vastly improved from where it was last September.
Still, Donnelly knows he has won 80 percent of his starts at Delaware, knows he has beaten ODU before, and knows he is coming off a very solid performance in his first start of 2012. Considering the magnitude of the challenge, Donnelly is in as good a place mentally as could possibly be expected.
It’s obviously never ideal to lose your starting quarterback, but the Hens don’t have time to dwell on it. They did a solid job of playing to their new signal caller’s strengths on homecoming. Now the question is; can they do the same against elite competition? There will be plenty of opportunities to find out over the next four weeks.