Blue Hens Game Day Preview
Delaware (4-2) vs. Albany (1-5)
Saturday, 12 Noon on 94.7 WDSD
Almost nothing went right for the University of Delaware last week in Maine. The Hens were down 27-2 less than 11 minutes into the game and trailed in the third quarter by as many as 47 points. When a team experiences a day like that they start searching for answers. According to head coach Dave Brock however, the solution is not difficult to figure out.
“We need to be more consistent,” Brock said about why his team struggled the way it did against the Black Bears. “We had some opportunities, some looks. We missed a couple throws, we dropped a couple balls and it all adds up to not playing anywhere near well enough to be competitive. That’s disappointing for our fans and certainly is disappointing for the people in the program.”
Fortunately the Hens get their shot at redemption on Saturday when they welcome the University at Albany to Delaware Stadium for a 12 noon kick. UD is chomping at the bit to get back on the field. Brock’s team has a bye coming up after this week, but considers itself lucky to get the chance to erase the bitter taste of the Maine trip from their memory banks.
“I think everybody as a team just wants to get back on the field and show that [the Maine game] wasn’t [what] we wanted to put on film with those kinds of turnovers and mistakes,” said senior running back and team captain Andrew Pierce. “It definitely is a chance to get back and show the fans and everybody what type of team we are and we can definitely compete in this league and win a championship. So I definitely think it would be a big start for us to just get back on the field and win a game.”
Pierce also said the UD veterans are making sure the underclassmen don’t get too down on themselves.
“It’s hard for the young guys to probably realize it, but as seniors we need to help them understand that the season is a process,” Pierce said resolutely. “If we just right the ship and get back on track by practicing harder and taking care of the little things we will be fine. There’s nothing we can do now about last week except to learn from it and not let it happen again.”
Albany head coach Bob Ford knows it can be dangerous reading too much into one game, particularly with the way his team has been struggling this year.
“I think you look at the film and walk away thinking, ‘gee Delaware isn’t that good,’” Ford said. “But we have to put it into perspective and say the week before that they beat James Madison, who just put 40 on the scoreboard against us.
The Great Danes lost to the Dukes on Saturday 40-13. They have dropped five of their first six contests overall and are winless in two CAA games during their initial season in the league.
“I guess the CAA is everything we expected it to be,” Ford said. “It is week after week of pretty good football teams who are well coached with kids who come to play.”
Ford is an old-school coach who has spent his professional life building Albany’s football program from a non-varsity club team to the Division One level. He is in his 44th season with the Great Danes, and all that experience has led to a unique outlook. He is a modern-day John McKay, the former USC coach who was known as “The Quipper” for his ability to come up with funny one-liners. Once when asked after a loss about his team’s execution McKay replied, “I’m all for it.” He also uttered the phrase, “We didn’t block anybody, but we made up for it by not tackling anyone.”
Ford’s tongue may not be quite as acid-laced as McKay’s, but he certainly does not get cheated in the category of turning a clever phrase.
“This is going to be a great challenge,” he said about his team’s journey to Delaware. “Again we’re a homecoming game for them. We’re probably going to be homecoming a lot the rest of the season I would think.”
When it came to his struggling defense Ford offered simple math to explain what ails the Great Danes.
“On the one [long] run James Madison had last week we missed five tackles,” Ford said. “There’s a saying in football if you miss more than seven [tackles in a whole game] it’s difficult to win, well hell we missed five on one play. So we’re still not doing a good enough job in the secondary of tackling as we should nor are we doing as good enough job of playing the pass as we probably need to, which is obviously a problem.”
His wisdom isn’t complicated, but it always seems to ring true.
“I think it always comes down to finishing and we’re guilty of not finishing on both sides of the ball,” Ford said. “There’s a cliché that says missed assignments and missed alignments will hurt you a lot more than mismatches will. And we’re still being guilty of not always getting lined up correctly and carrying out the assignments that we should be executing. I think that contributes to beating yourself and I would say with the teams we’re playing we really don’t have to give them any hand. They can take care of things all by themselves.”
Delaware is hoping to take care of itself this weekend, so the Hens can get into the bye feeling a little better about themselves than at the current moment.
They Said It
Neither head coach comes into Saturday’s game particularly pleased with how his team is playing. Brock said all season that he would have a much better handle on his football team after its sixth game. That point arrived with the loss to Maine and the answer was not the one Brock was hoping for.
“I think you see both ends of the spectrum unfortunately,” Brock said. “I think you saw a team that could battle and play really, really well to win a big game at home against James Madison. And then you saw a team that went on the road and didn’t perform anywhere close to where our expectation level is or our performance level is. So I think we’re a work in progress and this game will go a long way in telling you how we’ll handle adversity. So far we’ve bounced back and competed and I have full confidence that the players will play a really, really clean game, play hard and give the fans what they deserve.”
Meanwhile Ford is just trying to get his kids to keep competing.
“Gradually we have experienced the pain of playing teams who are better,” Ford conceded. “You always have two choices when those things happen: you can quit or you can continue to battle. I hope that we have surrounded the program with the type of coaches who feel they want to continue to battle. I know I do. And I hope that we have surrounded the program with kids who have some fighting spirit in them. If we did we will continue to play hard.”
Pierce’s Role Not What Anyone Expected
Coming into the season, conventional wisdom suggested that Delaware would go only as far as running back Andrew Pierce would take them. The four-year starter was closing in on the school-rushing record and had already helped lead the Hens to a national championship game appearance earlier in his career. Now he had a new head coach in Dave Brock that told anyone willing to listen his top priority was to run the football successfully. It only made sense that Pierce was poised to have a monster senior season.
So far that has not materialized. Pierce has just 404 yards through six games. He is sixth on the team in average yards per rush at 4.4 per carry. He is also getting just 15 handoffs per game, which is the lowest total of his tenure at UD.
Pierce is the ultimate team-player, so he is not complaining, but he does admit if the decision was in his hands his workload would increase.
“It’s all up to the coaches,” Pierce said. “For me I would love to have the ball in my hands a lot more, but that’s the coaching and I’m with it. We’re team oriented and I am team oriented.”
Two things have kept Pierce’s workload lower than anticipated coming into the season. First has been the faster than expected development of redshirt freshman Jalen Randolph. The Ridley Park, PA native is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and has already scored three touchdowns in his first six collegiate games. That production, coupled with the impact of fellow understudy running back Julian Laing (three touchdowns, 6.6 yards per rush in four games) has allowed the Hens to spell Pierce far more than they ever have before.
The second factor revolves around circumstance. Delaware has been out-scored by a wide margin during the first quarter of its encounters with Jacksonville, Navy, James Madison and Maine. That has led to the Hens having to throw more than they anticipated in two-thirds of their games so far this season.
“With the situations that we’ve been in we’ve had to pass the ball and we’ve got great receivers so it’s more of an open offense rather than me having to carry the ball 25 times,” Pierce said. “I feel as though we have an open offense and we are explosive so we can do different things and that the running game will come. We’ll get better as the season goes on and have some big games coming up here.”
Delaware 49 Albany 13