The University of Delaware football program is attempting to bounce back this week after suffering its worst loss in 17 years on Saturday at Navy. The Hens allowed 589 yards of total offense and managed just seven points themselves on their way to a 44-point margin of defeat.
Of course, the silver lining for UD was that the poor performance came against an FBS team and the toughest opponent Delaware will face all season. This week’s challenge promises to be much simpler for Dave Brock’s squad, as the struggling Wagner Seahawks visit Tubby Raymond Field on Saturday (6 p.m. on 94.7 WDSD).
The Seahawks are the defending Northeast Conference champions. They beat Colgate in the opening round of the FCS playoffs and then gave Eastern Washington a battle in the second round before finally succumbing 29-19. Unfortunately for 33rd-year head coach Walt Hameline, Wagner lost 27 seniors to graduation during the offseason. His team has struggled so far this season, starting 1-2 with a 42-41 loss to Division II Merrimack and an uncompetitive blowout at the hands of Syracuse on its resume.
“We’ve lost two in a row now, we’ve given up a lot of points in both and we’re young on defense,” Hameline said bluntly. “At the end of the day you want to get better each and every week, so we’re keeping it as simple as we can….I just think it’s going to be a little bit of a time deal on the defensive side.”
A season ago Wagner also started slow, but was able to recover. The Seahwaks dropped their first three games of 2012, but then won the next nine. Hameline does not sound too confident that a similar turnaround is possible for a team that graduated seven starters on defense and four more on offense.
“Last year was last year,” acknowledged Hameline. “We had a senior group of kids that understood what everything was about. They had the ability to really stay focused and get out there and practice hard every day no matter what was happening. Then things fell into place and once we got it going they just kept it going. With this team you always hope for that, but at the same time I’m a realist. If you don’t practice well it carries over to the football game.
“The thing we are preaching is one practice at a time and to deal with what you have control over. The only thing you have control of this week is the four days of practice and then going down to Delaware to play a heck of a football team, and teeing it up, playing like the dickens and trying to get a win.”
On offense Wagner is dealing with an inexperienced offensive line as well as trying to find their best option at quarterback. Both Matt Misley and Chris Andrews saw time in the loss to Syracuse. The duo combined to complete just 5-of-19 passes with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Some of the struggles can be blamed on the fact that neither man had any time to throw thanks to the inability of their blockers to slow down the Syracuse pass rush.
Still, Hameline sees positives in both signal callers.
“They’re both pretty good athletes. Matt brings more experience being a senior, while the other is a red-shirt freshman. To compare them athletically, I’d probably give Andrews a little bit of an edge. We’re running a spread offense with some read option and Chris grew up with that and played that in high school, so he’s probably got a little bit of a better feel. I think the difference though is that Misley’s been around for a long time and just has more experience.
Which one throws it better?
“It depends on the day,” Hameline said. “I would say maybe Misley throws it a little bit better [from the pocket] where Andrews, if you put him on the move a little bit, he probably throws it a little bit better than Misley.”
Andrews appears to be the Seahawks’ future, but he is prone to the trials and tribulations of inexperience, which is why Misley remains the starter for now.
“We feel good about Andrews,” Hameline said. “He played a little bit on Saturday. He did a couple good things and had a couple bonehead mistakes too. But at the end of the day we’re not afraid to use both of them going into this game.
Dominique Williams, who can block, catch the ball, and is as tough as they come according to his coaches, earned first-team All-NEC honors in 2012 by rushing for 1,328 yards. As a three-year captain Williams does whatever the Seahawks ask of him to be successful. Unfortunately, thanks to the struggles of his offensive line, he managed just 34 yards on 17 carries at Syracuse, and consequently Wagner was not successful.
“We couldn’t get him going,” Hameline said. “It wasn’t him, we just couldn’t block anybody. The key for him is we have to get him the ball and someone’s got to block for him. He’s a heck of a player. If we block for him, he can make some plays.”
Hameline knows that will be a challenge against Delaware. The coach acknowledged the Hens’ defensive front is an extraordinary group. He also conceded that the Seahawks’ strengths don’t necessarily match up with UD’s defensive weaknesses. The Hens have been vulnerable to the pass in 2013, but don’t expect the Seahawks to abandon Williams to try and exploit that.
“We haven’t thrown the ball great,” Hameline said. “Our m.o. hasn’t been throwing it. I think, just like anything, we have to do what we do. Now we’ve looked at the films and obviously they’ve given up yardage in the air and there’s obviously some holes or what may be there. But we’ve got to be able to run our offense still, and for us, I honestly believe to be successful we’ve got to be able to run the football. At the same time, we’ll mix it up and take our shots when they are there throwing the ball down the field. But we’ve got to be able to win that old clock issue a little bit. We are young on defense and the more we keep them off the football field, probably the more productive we have the ability to be.”