There will be many keys to victory for the University of Delaware football program during its CAA opener on Saturday against James Madison. The Dukes enter the contest at Tubby Raymond Field as the 14th-ranked team in the country, so UD will have to do an awful lot well in order to pull off the upset. Still, one word provides the easiest path to a Blue Hen victory: Turnovers.
JMU has been plagued by mistakes over the season’s first four weeks. Head coach Mickey Matthews’ team has nine giveaways in its last two games and has already lost more fumbles through the season’s initial month than it did all of last year (five).
“We are just having a devilish time with turnovers,” Matthews said. “It’s driving us crazy around here. It’s on an individual basis….We have to stop it though, because that’s really a huge problem. We haven’t been real good on offense around here, but the one thing we have never done since I’ve been the coach is turn the ball over like we’re doing right now. Of course we’re glad we won in spite of them, but it doesn’t make any difference. We’ve really put our football team in difficult situations because of the turnovers and we’ve got to stop it.”
One of the issues for the Dukes has been injuries. They came into the season feeling pretty good about their depth at running back, but that’s gone out the window during the opening-third of this campaign. The most significant and costly injury was to Jainard Lambert, whose dinged up thumb caused him to cough up the ball four times over the first three games.
“We had a problem with the Lambert kid and we’re not playing him now because he has a torn up hand.” Matthews said. “In fact, we probably shouldn’t even have been playing him [at all]. The problem is we have all our tailbacks hurt. We had to play a true freshman.”
The injury to Lambert forced Matthews to burn the redshirt of rookie Khalid Abdullah, who rushed for 61 yards on 13 carries. That was in support of starting tailback Dae’Quan Scott, who led the Dukes with 176 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the rout of Charlotte.
That yardage came on 35 rushes however. Scott has had to handle an incredibly high workload, carrying the ball 109 times over the first four contests. Consequently he has worn down a bit, and has put the ball on the ground a couple times himself,
“We would’ve taken Dae’Quan out of the game after the fumbles, but I don’t have anyone to play other than the freshman,” Matthews lamented. “That’s why he’s getting so many carries because everyone’s hurt. Almost without fail we’ve sat guys when they’ve turned the ball over. I don’t think I’m the only guy who does that, I’m sure everyone does it.”
Even more of a factor is that sitting Scott is such a risky proposition. According to Hens head coach Dave Brock, Scott is a tough guy for defenses to prepare for.
“I think he’s one of the elite players in the league,” Brock acknowledged. “He’s got a very, very rare combination of size, speed and power. He can hit homeruns and he can kill you with singles. When you talk about somebody who is going to be the all-time leading rusher in the history of that program -- and that’s a storied program with guys who have been great players at that position -- you know he’s a dynamic guy.
Still dynamic or not, Matthews and the Dukes know the quickest path to losing a game on the road is to give away the football on offense. As a result, the coach addressed it bluntly with his players on Sunday.
“It wasn’t a good team meeting with our offensive players,” Matthews said. “Of course you have Dae’Quan sitting there who’s a team captain and a great player, and he was responsible for two of [the turbovers]. He was just really sloppy the other night with the ball. He’s never been a fumbler, but he turned the ball over twice. Dae’Quan’s got to stop.”
The Hens have to make sure that does not happen this week. Through four games Brock’s defense has 10 takeaways. The one area where UD has struggled has been taking advantage when an opponent puts the ball on the ground. Delaware has recovered just four of the 11 fumbles its defense has had a shot at in 2013.
To win on Saturday those kinds of missed opportunities must not continue.