#19 Towson Tigers (4-4, 3-2) at #23 Delaware Blue Hens (5-3, 2-3)
Saturday 12 Noon on 94.7 WDSD
No Margin Left For Error
They should call this game the “Elimination Bowl” because the loser is most certainly out of contention for an FCS playoff berth. Who saw that coming in August? Before the season began, many pointed toward this game as a possible de facto CAA championship match. Unfortunately for both Towson and Delaware, neither school’s season has gone to plan.
The Tigers have been damaged by inconsistency and a brutal schedule, while the Hens’ downfall has been an overmatched offensive line and a rash of devastating injuries. To each coaching staff’s credit, both teams have had ample opportunities to quit and/or make excuses, and both have eschewed either option.
Saturday’s game promises to be an emotional affair, especially after what happened between the two squads at Towson last season. With Delaware’s 2011 season on the line, and the Tigers trying to prove their remarkable turnaround was no fluke, tensions ran extraordinarily high and things ended up going a tad too far twice.
The first boiling point came after the coin toss when both teams stood arm-to-arm with their teammates and marched out toward the middle of the field, finishing up just 10 yards apart screaming at each other for what seemed like a really long time. Then, after the gun sounded on the most physical game of the season, tempers flared again during the head coaches’ handshake when K.C. Keeler had words with Rob Ambrose.
Keeler said this week that Ambrose and he had moved past their hard feelings thanks in large part to a text Ambrose sent the Hens’ head coach after his father had passed away during the summer. Keeler said it was a classy personal touch from Ambrose and it made him leave their past behind him.
Still, in the heat of what is essentially an early-November playoff game, you can expect some of the ambers that stoked the animosity between the two programs to at least smolder under the glare of competition.
Emotion will not be enough to carry Delaware to a win though. The Hens were as keyed up to play last weekend’s game at Old Dominion as any time I have seen them since I started covering the team in 2005. They were flying around all over the place, hitting everybody not wearing royal blue, and taking some of the air out of ODU’s high-powered offense.
Yet it wasn’t enough. The Hens came up just a few plays short, and now find themselves with no leeway left in their bid to make the playoffs.
Delaware must execute better, particularly on defense. The Hens missed far too many tackles in space against the Monarchs, something that certainly did not go unnoticed by the Towson coaching staff. Expect them to try and mix their physical running attack with short passes that allow their athletic playmakers to try and force the Hens’ young linebackers and banged up secondary to make open-field tackles.
UD comes in with the better record, Towson owns the more impressive resume, but only one team will exit with anything left to play for in 2012, while the other will start preparations for 2013 far earlier than anyone would have ever dreamed possible before the season.
Yes, it is going to be a very interesting Saturday at Delaware Stadium.
Keys To A Delaware Victory
So much of what Delaware likes to do on offense revolves around Andrew Pierce. If the running back cannot go (which is my hunch) or if he is relegated to situational spot duty, offensive coordinator Jim Hofher will be forced to do an awful lot of tinkering. The good news for Delaware is that the coaching staff has known all week that Pierce won’t be at 100 percent. The bad news is that the Hens are trying to replace a back who accounted for 158 yards rushing and three touchdowns in last season’s game against Towson. He was personally responsible for 65% of Delaware’s total offense in its 35-30 upset of the Tigers. It will fall on the shoulders of quarterback Trent Hurley to make up for that production. The sophomore signal caller took a serious beating at ODU last week, so he must get rid of the football a little quicker to stay upright on the field for a full 60 minutes on Saturday.
When facing Towson, priority number one is always to make sure Terrance West does not take over the game. The running back has the ability to beat you with the big play or grind you down with his physical stature. If he gets going, the Hens lack of depth at linebacker could become painfully evident and the Tigers might well spend the entire afternoon in second and third and short as a result. So containing West is critical. Just as important though, is making open-field tackles. The Hens have been horribly inconsistent with that all season long. If Towson’s receivers rack up big RAC (run after the catch) numbers, it will be a long afternoon for UD.
If Andrew Pierce were playing and if I thought Paul Worrilow was at full strength, Delaware would be the pick. But that simply isn’t likely to be the case for either of UD’s captains. Unfortunately, I believe that means Delaware’s 2012 playoff hopes will die this weekend.
Towson 30 Delaware 24