Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat here, Delaware is the real deal. Sure, they dropped their opener to Rhode Island, who has been a perennial step-over in the CAA in the past. However, Rhode Island currently sits at 2-1 and was close to upending an FBS school in UConn last weekend. There is no shame in that loss if you are the Blue Hens, although some have decided to write them off after that loss. Delaware has since mauled their last two opponents and are coming into the Fargodome with plenty of momentum.
One thing to watch is if the Bison look too far ahead into their future. With South Dakota State coming to Fargo on the September 29 and the prospect of College GameDay being here as well, it could be tantalizing to think ahead. This Delaware team is good enough to defeat North Dakota State if that occurs. Granted, the Bison have been notoriously good at sticking to the “day by day” mindset. Never the less, it is something to keep an eye on.
The Blue Hens have not made the FCS playoffs since 2010 where they lost to Eastern Washington in the national championship game. Bison fans will recall that Eastern Washington team as the one that edged out NDSU in the quarterfinals that season (the infamous Brock Jensen fumble game). Before that, Delaware had last made the playoffs in 2007, losing to Appalachian State in the championship as well. That 2007 team was led by future NFL quarterback and Super Bowl winner Joe Flacco. They were also coached by current Sam Houston State head coach K.C. Keeler
Since 2010, Delaware has gone a combined 40-42 in regular season competition. As they stand at 2-1 now, in a tough Colonial Athletic Association, it may be tough to break their playoff drought. However, they offer some weapons that could become problematic for the Bison.
On paper, Delaware’s size is what seems to be the most daunting. Their quarterback, Pat Kehoe, stands 6-foot-4 and weighs in at 240 pounds. To give you an estimation, that is roughly the exact same size as Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers. With that in mind, Kehoe is a true pocket passer and does not tend to escape outside of the pocket (only three rushes for 19 yards this year). On the flipside, he is a hard player to take down thanks to that size. Chris Klieman indicated in his weekly press conference that NDSU has to do a better job of tackling this week. That will surely be a point of emphasis considering how big Kehoe is.
Their leading running back, Kani Kane, is also rather larger, standing 6-feet tall and weighing 240 pounds too. To give you some perspective, Bruce Anderson, who is a large man in his own right, weighs only 211 pounds. Lastly, the Blue Hens feature a monstrous tight end in Charles Scarff. The redshirt senior stands 6-foot-6 and weighs in at a whopping 270 pounds. In three games, he has caught eight balls for 136 yards and two touchdowns. Needless to say, he is a viable red zone target for Pat Kehoe. Luckily, NDSU has only allowed one red zone trip to opponents this season.
With all of that in mind, it does not take a rocket scientist to understand that Delaware plays a similar brand of offense to NDSU’s. They want to establish the run in order to set up the pass. Have a look at their first scoring drive against Cornell last week.
Now, I’m tempted to reference Andy Bernard and Cornell before we dive into this. Fine, just one…
Anyway, I digress. That Delaware possession is nothing Bison fans have not seen from NDSU themselves. It’s a run attack that allows the quarterback to make plays through the air. Kehoe has made some stellar throws so far this season, one of those can be seen on that touchdown pass to Joe Walker. Walker is a former quarterback who was transitioned to wide receiver before this season. He is currently the team’s leading receiver with 12 catches for 236 yards and two touchdowns. Their other receiver, Vinny Papale, is the son of Mark Wahlberg, I mean, Vince Papale (of Invincible fame).
Regardless of the great offensive performances, the defenses Delaware has faced in their three games are sub-par at best. Have a look at their opposition’s defensive statistics so far in 2018.
- Rhode Island (Delaware’s Lone Loss): 425 yards per game surrendered. Opponent averaging 34 points per game.
- Lafayette: 449 yards per game surrendered.Opponent averaging 32 points per game.
- Cornell: 391 yards per game surrendered.Opponent averaging 27 points per game.
Are any of those defenses impressive? I think it’d take some convincing arguments to make that case. Keep in mind that the defense Delaware will face this weekend is only surrendering five points per game and 209 yards per game. That is stingy.
Not to say Delaware has not been impressive because they have, outside of the Rhode Island game. However, Lafayette and Cornell are both teams they should have beaten, so it comes as no surprise to this observer.
Lastly, in those three games, Pat Kehoe was barely touched by these opposing defenses. To this point, he has only been hurried once and sacked only three times. Give credit to his offensive line, of course, but let me offer you some perspective in that regard. NDSU hurried North Alabama’s quarterbacks six times last Saturday, making four sacks in that game as well. Against Cal Poly, they hurried the quarterback three more times and recorded five sacks. That puts their hurries and sacks mark at nine apiece. Kehoe has not seen hardly any pressure, but he is sure to feel it this Saturday.
Given the sample size, both Delaware and the Bison are relative equals in terms of defensive statistics. They also feature the same amount of veteran leadership and know-how. The Blue Hens trot out eight seniors in their starting defensive unit. What has ensued is Delaware only giving up 10 points and 226 yards per game. Again, the case can be made for poor offensive opponents as Lafayette and Cornell were both below average offensive teams. Yet, the same can be said for NDSU’s opponents offensively. While Cal Poly was relatively dormant, North Alabama had a few things to offer on offense. Never the less, with the exception of Rhode Island, Delaware has not faced off with a potent offense yet this season. Keep in mind that the Blue Hens lost their game to the Rams in week one.
Yes, things did go wrong for Delaware at points in that game against Rhode Island. However, you can make the case that they were outplayed offensively anyway. The Rams accumulated 330 yards of total offense (160 on the ground) and possessed the ball for almost three more minutes compared to the Blue Hens.
In that loss, one issue in Delaware’s defense is them letting the opposing quarterback outside of the pocket. Subsequently, the coverage downfield broke down, leading to the potential for a big play. See below.
We saw it last week against North Alabama, if Easton Stick is allowed outside of the pocket, he is bound to make a play. Sure, the two big pass plays to Dallas Freeman were results of busted coverages, but what happened in the above GIF? Essentially the same thing. That play above resulted in a touchdown, which ended up sealing the deal for Rhode Island.
Now, it’s worth noting that this game on Saturday will not be a carbon copy of Delaware’s game against Rhode Island. You can take some nuggets from each game to give an indication of how the game might play out, though. Ultimately, the Bison are playing a far better opponent on Saturday than they did the first two weeks. If they are not careful, they could end up letting the Blue Hens hang around longer then they’d like. With a daunting match-up with the Jackrabbits looming, Chris Klieman might not want a contested game preceding the monster South Dakota State bout.