Blue Hens Game Day Preview
Delaware (3-1) vs. James Madison (3-1)
Saturday, 7 p.m. on 94.7 WDSD
Four games into the Dave Brock era at the University of Delaware one thing has become abundantly clear. Against bad teams the Hens have employed a dynamic, big-play attacking brand of offense. Delaware blew Wagner out on Saturday thanks to an other-worldly day from wide receiver Michael Johnson. The junior was named CAA Offensive Player of the Week by catching six passes for an eye-popping 168 yards and three touchdowns in the first half of the Hens’ rout. He has been the best player on the field for UD so far this season, averaging over 21 yards per catch with 401 total receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Now the questions is whether Johnson and the rest of the Delaware passing attack can do similar things against a good defense.
Unfortunately for Johnson when he matched up against the only good team Delaware has faced in 2013 the receiver disappeared as did the rest of the Hens’ vertical air game. Johnson managed just one catch in UD’s 51-7 setback against the Midshipmen. As a team Delaware managed just one pass play that went for better than 18 yards, and that ended in a fumble. To put that number into context, the Hens had three such completions during the first two drives of the Wagner win.
The problem for Delaware is most of the defenses it will face the rest of the way are much closer to Navy’s talent level than Wagner’s. UD must prove it can throw down the field against talent. The Hens could not do that a season ago and not coincidentally, they dropped six of their last seven games against CAA competition.
That is what makes Saturday’s matchup with James Madison so intriguing. On one hand the Dukes’ defense is as fast as any Delaware will see in 2013, so simply running past them is not a viable option. At the same time, JMU features a pair of freshman starters at cornerback. If UD can’t find a way to get behind rookies, how are they going to get it done against more experienced secondaries like the ones at Towson, Villanova and Richmond? The simple answer is they won’t.
Saturday’s game is a litmus test for the Hens in so many different areas. Brock has admitted as much several times this week. Perhaps nothing is more important than whether or not Delaware can get the ball down the field against JMU. If they do it this team is a CAA title defender, if they don’t they’ll have a tough time getting the wins needed to make the playoffs.
Third Down And Red Zone Production Likely To Determine The Winner
Most football games are won or lost on third down and in the red zone. Success in these areas are bedrock principles in the pursuit of winning football. They are likely to hold even greater significance in Saturday’s matchup at Delaware Stadium.
Both the Hens and James Madison have excelled at converting inside the opponents’ 20-yardline and keeping their offense on the field. JMU leads the CAA in red zone offense, coming away with points on 94 percent of their red zone trips and with touchdowns 15 of the 16 times they have moved inside the 20. Meanwhile, Delaware has put the ball in the endzone 75 percent of the time it has reached the red zone this year.
The defensive red zone numbers indicate the different styles each team employs on that side of the ball. JMU ranks dead last, allowing opponents to score a touchdown 86 percent of the time they move inside the Dukes’ 20. Six of the seven red zone trips against James Madison in 2013 have resulted in touchdowns. While the percentage is poor, the sample size is low, which is a testament to how well the JMU defense has played this season. The Dukes simply do not allow many yards, which is why they have tied for the fewest opponents’ possessions inside the JMU 20 this year.
Delaware on the other hand ranks third in the CAA, holding opponents off the board entirely 31 percent of the time they reach the red zone. UD has allowed foes to move inside its 20 more than twice as often as the Dukes however. Its 16 red zone opportunities on defense are tied with Albany for the most in the league. Any sentence that includes the words, tied with Albany, is not a good sign for the Hens.
Third-down conversions have also been an area of strength for each offense, with the schools ranking second and third respectively in the CAA. JMU is earning a fresh set of downs after 49.2 percent of its third-down tries, while the Hens are successful 49.0 percent of the time in those spots. On the other side, Delaware’s defense has been horrible getting off the field after third downs, yielding successful conversions 47 percent of the time (10th in the 11-team CAA), while the Dukes have been mediocre, stopping opponents on 65 percent of its tries.
The team that has more success in those two categories will win the game. Not brain surgery obviously, because that rings true more often than it doesn’t. Since it is an area of strength for both schools however, it should be interesting to see which team will get the better end of those situations.
James Madison 34 Delaware 20