The month of November has not gone as planned for Stony Brook or Delaware, two of the CAA’s six FCS playoff-qualifying teams a year ago. The Seawolves have lost two straight since knocking off Villanova 36-35 in thrilling fashion on the road to close October and have dropped four of their last five games overall. The Blue Hens have not fared much better of late, also falling in four of their last five games and losing three in a row.
Delaware is “probably going through some of the same things we are,” Stony Brook 14th-year head coach Chuck Priore commented on Monday’s CAA coaches media teleconference. “You think you’re going to be a little bit better [on the field] than your record shows.”
Stony Brook is in jeopardy of having its two-season streak of FCS playoff appearances snapped in 2019. Sitting at 5-5 overall, the Seawolves must emerge victorious in Saturday’s 1 p.m. eastern collision at Delaware and in the following week’s Battle for the Golden Apple against rival Albany to stay in the postseason conversation.
UD, on the other hand, finds itself fighting to climb back to .500 overall before season’s end with a current 4-6 record, starting with the matchup with Stony Brook. The Battle of the Blue at archrival Villanova looms the week after.
“Our days here this season are numbered,” Delaware head coach Danny Rocco acknowledged Wednesday night while emphasizing that Saturday represents a valuable opportunity to “change the narrative” of the Hens’ season in its home stretch.
The Hens seek to maximize what time they have left, Rocco explained. The third-year UD coach has highlighted all season long just how much his young team “cares” about the health of the program, and thus has no concerns about its mentality or attitude as the season approaches the finish line. What’s more, Saturday is Senior Day at Delaware Stadium, adding motivation to play for the 19-member class of 2019.
This is, however, uncharted territory for Delaware under Rocco. In 2017, Rocco’s first year at UD, the 7-4 Blue Hens were revealed on Selection Sunday to be one of the top schools on the outside of the bracket looking in. Last year saw the satisfying end of a seven-year FCS playoff drought, which means that this season marks Delaware’s first with Rocco in which it is out of playoff contention prior to the conclusion of the regular season. The Hens need to defeat both Stony Brook and Villanova to prevent Rocco from suffering his first-ever losing season as an FCS head coach. In prior stops at then-FCS Liberty and Richmond, Rocco’s worst outcome came in 2013 with the 6-6 Spiders, whom he led to the playoffs the following year.
Delaware’s effort to finish strong commences with no easy task in the form of Stony Brook. The Seawolves are quarterbacked by 6-2, 195-pound redshirt junior Tyquell Fields, who has sent waves through the CAA this season with heart-stopping, game-winning drives at Rhode Island and Villanova. The mobile Fields enjoyed an especially strong connection with redshirt senior wideout Nick Anderson in last Saturday’s 31-14 loss to Towson on Long Island. Anderson racked up 205 receiving yards and recorded two touchdown receptions to stuff the stat sheet and easily set a career-high for yards receiving in a game.
Stony Brook is traditionally hard-nosed on defense and has complemented Fields’ offensive leadership on the opposite side of the ball with a stingy rushing defense that ranks third in the CAA (139.2 yards allowed per game). The Seawolves’ pass defense, however, is last in the conference at 258.7 yards allowed per game.
Delaware quarterback Nolan Henderson, who is similar to Fields in escape ability, will look to capitalize on Stony Brook’s susceptibility aerially but can be expected to continue to lean on running backs Will Knight and DeJoun Lee for offensive balance. Knight has ascended the CAA rushing leader board as his workload has incrementally expanded. His 7.3 yards per carry are best in the CAA and rank fourth nationally. Meanwhile, Lee’s 112 all-purpose yards per game are good for sixth in the league.
While those statistical feats are nice to point to for any offense, UD needs to convert its deep red-zone opportunities against Stony Brook to keep pace with a Seawolves squad aiming to recapture its early-season magic. Delaware came away with only three points in a pair of trips to the Albany 1-yard-line last week. The Blue Hens had to settle for Jake Roth’s 21-yard field goal as time in the first half expired after driving as far as the Albany 1 and coughed the ball up at the Albany 1 in the third quarter: Thyrick Pitts, statistically UD’s top wide receiver in 2019, had his 19-yard catch dislodged by the Great Danes’ Josh Wynn and Kareem Gibson made the clutch recovery.
Delaware’s inability to expand its 17-14 halftime lead to two possessions spelled the difference when red-hot Albany signal-caller Jeff Undercuffler found Jerah Reeves for a 13-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that would be the game-winning score.