The University of Delaware football team is spending this week preparing for their final nonconference opponent of the 2013 season, but they are also licking their wounds after falling for the first time in a 51-7 loss at Navy on Saturday. The Hens’ lopsided defeat came against an FBS foe, so in many regards it was understandable. You never want to lose and you certainly don’t want to be run off the field the way UD was by Navy last weekend, but at the same time, almost no one expected Delaware to beat Navy, so that setback can hardly be viewed as the end of the world.
However, what would feel like the end of the world would be a loss to Wagner this week. The Seahawks registered just 87 yards of total offense in a 54-0 drubbing at the hands of Syracuse last week. They also have a loss to Division II Merrimack on their resume this season. After graduating 27 seniors from last year’s Northeast Conference Championship team, Wagner enters Delaware Stadium on Saturday a decisive underdog.
One thing that has to concern the Hens though is the hangover that FCS teams often encounter the week after facing FBS competition. Delaware has to look no further than its own conference for three perfect examples from this season.
Villanova suffered a shocking loss to Fordham the week after coming up just short at Boston College. Meanwhile Richmond came even closer to winning at North Carolina State two weekends ago, losing on a walk-off field goal. The Spiders followed that performance up with a stunning loss to Gardener Webb on Saturday. James Madison also played poorly one week after facing an FBS opponent, needing to rally from a double-digit deficit in the second half to escape Lafayette’s upset bid.
These were all results that came completely out of left field, and they all came after losses to FBS programs.
Even some of the better teams Delaware has placed on the field in the last decade have struggled in the weeks following their shots at teams from the next level. In 2007, the Hens dropped two of their next three games after beating Navy 62-59, a stretch that nearly kept Joe Flacco and Omar Cuff out of the then-1-AA playoffs. All that team would go on to do was win two road playoff tilts and qualify for the National Championship Game. In 2004, the 6-1 Hens fell to Navy and then lost the next week at James Madison. That setback at the hands of the Dukes forced Delaware to go on the road in the quarterfinals of the 1-AA playoffs, where they would blow a 21-point fourth-quarter edge at William & Mary. Not even the 2003 national champs were immune to the FBS hangover. After upsetting Navy, the Hens slept-walked through three quarters against Maine, needing to rally from a 20-0 deficit to avoid an upset. They were not so fortunate a week later when they lost for the only time all season 24-14 at Northeastern.
Delaware is aware of how difficult it is to bounce back from these FBS affairs, but offensive lineman Brandon Heath knows why that is, and how the Hens can avoid falling into the same trap.
“I think a lot of people approach playing an FBS team differently as far as an emotional standpoint,” Heath astutely pointed out. “They get high on emotion and then the next week there is a letdown. For us, we treat every week like it’s the biggest game of the season. We view every Saturday like it’s a one-game season, so Wagner is the absolute focus right now and there won’t be any let down.”
Heath also said that he did not think his team was too beaten down physically from facing the bigger and, in many cases, slightly stronger Midshipmen.
“I feel the same after that game [physically] and I think everyone else is the same. Sure, there’s always going to be some dings here or there whether you’re in practice or in a game, but we came out healthy, which is a good thing.”
Healthy is a relative term however. Dave Brock revealed on Monday that defensive tackle Logan Shultz is out for the year, linebacker Kyle Gayle will miss the Wagner game, special teams contributor Kivar Thurman is also out this week, and veteran safety Jake Giusti will be a game-time decision for the Wagner contest. Add to that the absence of play-making linebacker Jeff Williams, who will miss three more games due to suspension, and the Hens are losing depth on the defensive end at an alarming rate.
Still, the Hens head coach said he thinks his coaching staff has laid down a solid foundation that will help safeguard from a letdown physically or mentally after facing Navy.
“We try to guard against all those things with our approach,” Brock said. “Whether it’s a big win or a tough loss, I think you have to move forward and have the same routine. I think consistency is critical to being successful. We’re going to handle everything the same way we have before each of the other games …. It’s just as important to turn the page when you lose as it is when you win.”