If the University of Delaware football program thought its loss to Richmond on Senior Day at Tubby Raymond Field was as tough a defeat as a team could take (like I and many fans did), it must have been completely blindsided by what happened against Villanova on Saturday at PPL Park. The Hens let a 22-point lead slip away to its biggest rival in the final 10 minutes of a season-ending 35-34 setback at the hands of the Wildcats.
Now in all honesty, even had UD held on to win, it probably would have been left out of the FCS playoff field that was announced on Sunday. That being said, a 7-4 New Hampshire team out of the CAA did earn an at-large bid, so had the Hens been victorious they would have at least had a chance. That opportunity vanished in the blink of an eye on the banks of the Delaware River. And it went away in devastating fashion.
Delaware's defense allowed the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in school history. UD surrendered three consecutive touchdown drives in less than two-thirds of a quarter, but that wasn't even the most painful part. UD stopped a two-point conversion that would have pulled the Cats even with less than 90 seconds remaining. That should have ended the game. All the Hens had to do was recover an onside kick to nail down a victory.
In the fourth quarter from Hell Dave Brock's team couldn't even accomplish that.
Nova got the football back and marched inside the Delaware redzone, making a chip-shot field goal with one second remaining to put the final nail in the coffin that contained UD's season.
It was tough to watch, especially considering it marked the second straight collapse by the Delaware defense, which had allowed Richmond to march 75 yards in only 46 seconds for the game-winning touchdown a week earlier.
Brock and the rest of the world now know the head coach has lot of work left in front of him to get this program back amongst the elite in the FCS.
If you look at what the Hens accomplished in 2013 there really is not much heft there. Delaware gave a ton of effort and represented the school with class off the field, but it had just one win over a team with fewer than six losses all season long. That victory came in miraculous fashion, during a game in which UD surrendered over 300 yards rushing to Towson and trailed by 14 points with less than a minute to play.
The Hens had a losing record on the road, got blown out by the CAA champions (trailing at one stage of the second half by 47 points) and finished in the middle of the pack in the conference in total offense and second-from-last in total defense.
Perhaps the most concerning part of the big picture was the lack of an identity on defense. Delaware could not stop teams consistently through the air or on the ground. There was nothing you could point to and say, 'the Hens do this really well.'
How does Brock change that? Well, it won't be easy.
He has to recruit, but in football that doesn't often lead to a quick result. True freshmen can play a role for a good football team, but it isn't something which happens often. That means it will take at least two seasons for most of Brock's first recruiting class to make an impact.
In the meantime, Brock and his staff have to coach up the players they have. Young guys have to take significant leaps and it has to happen fast.
UD gets safety Jake Giusti back from injury next year, which will help the pass defense, but they lose defensive tackle Zack Kerr, which is a huge blow to the run defense. Brock has said many times that the way to build a program is by bringing in talented high school athletes, so don't anticipate him to bring in more than one maybe two transfers at the absolute most to plug any holes.
He is looking to build for the long term, which is what you want from a new head coach. The hope is his patience will be bountifully rewarded, but until then there might be a couple more afternoons like the ones Delaware fans endured the last two weeks. Hopefully not too many more though, because those hurt pretty bad.
There was a time not too long ago that eight wins by a CAA program not only would have guaranteed that school a bid to the FCS playoffs, but also would have made them a strong contender to win the national championship. For Delaware fans looking for proof of that, they need to search no further than the 2007 Blue Hens, who went 8-3, hosted a first-round playoff contest and marched all the way to the title game against Appalachian State. That was back when the FCS postseason field consisted of only 16 teams. But the playoffs have swelled to 24 since, meaning a Delaware win on Saturday against Villanova would make them a lock to receive an at-large invitation to the tournament, right?
As Lee Corso would say: “Not so fast, my friend.”
With one week remaining in the 2013 season the 7-4 Hens have an incredibly steep road to the postseason. Their 46-43 loss to Richmond last week may prove fatal to their postseason aspirations. Delaware fell out of the top 25 national rankings with the setback, and while rankings do not determine the playoff field, every other measurable that does seems to work against UD’s cause.
Delaware has just one win all season against a foe with fewer than five losses. Dave Brock’s team played a weak non-conference slate, has just two victories on the road, was routed by their conference’s champion, was defeated by an opponent with six losses and could not score an offensive touchdown against another four-loss CAA team competing with them for one of the precious at-large bids. That is an awful lot to overcome when the committee sits down to decide Delaware’s fate on Sunday morning.
Still, the cause is not lost. The Hens certainly do not control their own destiny on Saturday, but a win coupled with a lot of help gets UD into the playoffs.
Below is a breakdown of the battle to get into the FCS postseason.
34 Teams Remaining Alive For 24 Spots
7 Teams Have Clinched a Bid
Eastern Washington (Big Sky), Maine (CAA), North Dakota State (Missouri Valley), Sacred Heart (Northeast Conference), Eastern Illinois (Ohio Valley), Butler (Pioneer Conference) and Southeastern Louisiana (Southland Conference)
8 More Teams Are In No Matter What
Northern Arizona, Montana, Towson, McNeese State, and then either Lehigh or Lafayette (Patriot Champ), Bethune Cookman or South Carolina State (MEAC Champion), Coastal Carolina or Charleston Southern (Big South Champion) and Chattanooga or Samford or Furman (Southern Champion)
4 More Teams Are Almost Assuredly In
Youngstown State, Tennessee State, Fordham, Sam Houston State
That leaves 15 teams battling for the final five spots (Lafayette can only get in if they beat Lehigh on Saturday and Furman can only get in if it wins the tiebreaker in the Southern Conference, so they do not make this list).
The Mocs play Alabama this week, so are unlikely to do anything else to improve their case for the committee. That’s okay though, because Chattanooga has likely done enough to get in, and still has a shot to win the Southern Conference’s automatic bid with a Furman loss.
Bethune Cookman 9-2
Bethune Cookman controls its own destiny. With a win it claims the MEAC’s automatic bid. Shouldn’t a loss to 3-8 Florida A&M disqualify it from at-large consideration? I say yes, but the Wildcats do have a strong non-conference victory over Tennessee State keeping their hopes afloat even with a loss. This will be an interesting decision, if one has to be made, and Delaware fans should be hopeful it does not come to that. Getting Bethune Cookman out of the at-large selection pool helps the Hens.
Southern Utah 8-3
The Thunderbirds have a Division II win hampering their resume, but they also have an FBS win over South Alabama. Besides that, they lack big wins, but they did play two FBS games (also losing to Washington State), which helps buoy their strength of schedule. A win over Northern Arizona makes them a lock, but they certainly sit in front of Delaware in the pecking order either way.
William & Mary 7-4
The Tribe are in with a win. They played West Virginia tough, and lost heartbreakers to Towson and Villanova. Theirs is a postseason-worthy resume, as long as it has eight wins. A victory over Richmond gets William & Mary to that number and into the playoffs.
Montana State 7-4
A loss to in-state rival Montana on Saturday would knock the Bobcats from postseason contention. A victory gives them two wins over top-15 teams, plus a narrow one-point loss to an FBS foe (SMU). That should be enough to overcome a Division II win on the resume.
Charleston Southern 10-2
If it beats Liberty on Saturday, Charleston Southern gets the Big South’s automatic bid. A loss, however, would drop them to 10-3 with two Division II wins on their ledger. If the argument against Delaware is a lack of quality wins and a poor strength of schedule, the same has to be made against the Buccaneers. According to the committee, only Division I wins count (the reason why the Hens were excluded in 2011), so to me a Charleston Southern loss coupled with a Hens win should move Delaware ahead of CSU in the postseason hierarchy for an at-large berth.
South Carolina State 8-3
The Bulldogs have played three good teams all season and have lost all three games. On top of that, they have a Division II win on their ledger. There is no way South Carolina State should get in without Bethune Cookman coughing up the MEAC’s automatic bid.
Jacksonville State 8-3
The Gamecocks have an overtime win over Georgia State on their resume and nothing else that is all that impressive. Yet in an expanded field, 9-3 might be enough to get in. That 9-3 has an asterisk next to it, however, as it includes a Division II win over North Alabama. Still, if it comes down to Jacksonville State or the Hens, I think JSU’s one less loss would give it the edge.
The Bulldogs are in the playoffs with a win over lowly Elon and a Furman loss because they would win the Southern Conference’s automatic bid. Their at-large candidacy is murky. They have an FBS win, but it came over Georgia State, who would barely win four games if they were still in the CAA. Samford also owns an FBS loss to Arkansas. Their resume and Delaware’s are very similar. If the two teams find each other neck-and-neck in front of the committee, the decision would be difficult.
You have to put the Mountain Hawks on this list because how could the committee let a 7-4 New Hampshire team into the field, but keep an 8-3 Lehigh on the outside looking in? That would be especially cruel after keeping a 10-win Lehigh squad out of the postseason last year. Still, Lehigh controls its own destiny this weekend, and a loss to Lafayette has to be punished. The playoffs start Saturday for the Mountain Hawks.
New Hampshire 6-4
The Wildcats only play 11 games this year, so the best they can finish with is seven wins. Yet to get that seventh victory, UNH will have to beat CAA champion Maine in the season finale. That, coupled with a near-upset of FBS Central Michigan and a good non-conference strength of schedule will get New Hampshire in provided things break its way on Saturday. One thing is probable, however: they appear in front of UD in the postseason pecking order.
Northern Iowa 6-5
The Panthers own the most intriguing at-large resume of the teams left in postseason contention. Northern Iowa has five losses, which should eliminate it from consideration, yet three of the setbacks came in overtime and one other was suffered at top-ranked North Dakota State by just a single point. The Panthers also own a win over a BCS conference foe in Iowa State. If any team ever deserves to get in with five losses, it is UNI. Still, two of the five losses came to teams with losing records, and two more to foes that appear likely to miss the playoffs. To me that should leave the Panthers on the wrong side of the bubble, but they cannot be ruled out.
So to recap: all of these things must happen for Delaware to sneak into the postseason:
Delaware beats Villanova
Youngstown State beats South Dakota State
Richmond beats William & Mary
Eastern Illinois beats Tennessee Martin
Montana beats Montana State
Maine beats New Hampshire
Bethune Cookman beats Florida A&M
And then one of these three things likely also has to happen:
Either Liberty beats Charleston Southern; or
Wofford beats Furman; or
Elon beats Samford
It is the equivalent of drawing to an inside straight, but here, almost all of those prerequisites are expected to happen, so the Hens actually do have a pulse entering the regular season’s final day. The position is a far cry from where UD stood three weeks ago, but at least there’s a chance, which beats the alternative.
All things considered it is going pretty well for the University of Delaware basketball programs right now. Both the men’s and women’s teams have had to overcome a great deal in the early stages of the 2013-14 season, but somehow both squads are getting it done. The men went on the road to beat Army decisively on Tuesday while the women topped Monmouth, 72-58, at the Carpenter Center in Newark. The teams are a combined 5-3, which almost no one anticipated as recently as a month ago.
The adversity facing Tina Martin’s team coming into the campaign was well documented. Delaware had to replace over 6,500 points, 3,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists that were lost to graduation from last season’s Sweet 16 team. Of course no void was greater than the one left by All American Elena Delle Donne. Four of Martin’s starters were also gone and six of her top seven in the rotation had exhausted their eligibility. Consequently Martin came into the season with holes at point guard and a huge question mark inside.
Yet through four games those queries have turned into positive answers thanks to freshmen guards Erica Brown and Jodi Salyer and senior center Kelsey Buchanan. Brown and Salyer were such unknown quantities coming into the season that Martin and her staff elected to shift senior Akeema Richards to point guard for the opener at Rhode Island. The coaches quickly realized that was not a long-term solution and decided to sink or swim with a pair of rookies running their offense.
So far so good.
Brown has scored in double figures in consecutive wins over Wake Forest and Monmouth while Salyer played the most consistent game of her young career in Tuesday’s win. The duo was so impressive in the Monmouth contest that Martin elected to put both on the floor for extended stretches in the second half. Perhaps the greatest strength of both Brown and Salyer is the ability to get the ball to Buchanan in a position to score.
The senior has done plenty of that so far this season, posting double-figures in points during each of the first four games, and leading the squad at 15.5 points per game. During her first three years in Newark Buchanan was relegated to a supporting role. She would come off the bench and play five-to-10 minutes per game, hoping to provide strength on the glass and the occasional bucket. Now she is being counted on to carry UD’s scoring load and has adjusted remarkably well to her new role.
Speaking of new roles, every men’s player saw their responsibilities altered without warning last week. After a disappointing 0-2 start to the campaign Delaware learned it would lose All-Conference guard Devon Saddler to suspension for a month. Many (myself included) wondered how the Hens could survive. They were already struggling and now their best all-around player and unquestioned leader was gone. If ever there was a recipe for disaster, this was it.
To the credit of Monte Ross and his staff however, UD has bounced back with consecutive victories over Hampton and Army. Even more impressive was the fact that both came on the road. Things are only going to get tougher for Delaware with trips to Villanova, Notre Dame and Ohio State looming over the next month. Still, the Hens look like they have a real chance to survive Saddler’s absence and then perhaps prosper upon his return.
Jarvis Threatt has played phenomenally during the brief winning streak. The junior posted eight assists in each contest and averaged 24 points per game. He broke down each defense at will off the bounce, which is not new, but did not always look to finish himself at the rim, which isn’t. His unselfish play helped get 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting from Kyle Anderson at Hampton on Sunday and led to four teammates scoring in double figures on Tuesday against Army.
Threatt was hard enough to guard under normal circumstances, but the new point of emphasis to take hand-checking out of the game has turned the junior guard into a lethal threat. No one has been able to stay in front of him so far. If he continues to make good decisions off his other-worldly dribble penetration, UD will continue to score.
The most pressing remaining concern for Delaware comes at the defensive end. The Hens are allowing 80 points per game and have not held an opponent to less than 70 yet this year. If that continues UD will have a hard time in conference play, but considering that the Hens have lost two heartbreakers and have earned two wins without their best player, Ross has to be pretty pleased with where his team stands currently.
Expectations were not too high for either team coming into the season, but both Martin and Ross are hoping to keep surprising people. That would be just fine for Delaware fans.