Delaware got another crack at No. 1 North Dakota State last Saturday at Delaware Stadium, and while the Fightin’ Blue Hens seized early momentum on a punt blocked out of the back of the end zone for a safety and the game’s first score, the Bison didn’t flinch. NDSU, which throttled UD 38-10 at the Fargodome in 2018, took control in Newark with a decisive 17-0 second-quarter run that provided a 27-5 halftime advantage.
The Bison’s 47-22 victory extended their winning streak to 24 and gave the 2-1 Blue Hens plenty to work on and polish ahead of their upcoming visit from the Pennsylvania Quakers, which Delaware coach Danny Rocco indicates can’t come soon enough.
“I think that this team needs to play as soon as we possibly can and if they’d [Penn would] be willing to come down here mid-week, we’d play at mid-week because that’s what we need right now,” Rocco said after practice Wednesday evening. “We need to get back out there on the field.”
In assessing his team’s showing against NDSU, Rocco summarized, “We did some things in the second half offensively that I thought were really positive. We actually did some things in the first half defensively that I thought were really positive. I’d just like to be able to go out here and maybe put it all together.”
Sophomore Kedrick Whitehead and redshirt freshman Noah Plack led the Hens in total tackles with a 10 apiece against the Bison. Each also had a pass break-up and figures to play a substantial role as No. 20 Delaware regroups and shifts its focus to Penn, which is playing its season opener Saturday due to Ivy League scheduling procedures for 2019’s 13-week regular season period.
“Kedrick got a little bit of experience last year, Noah not so much,” Rocco said. “But they’re really both talented and [defensive coordinator] Chris Cosh is doing a great job just mentoring them and kinda holding them to a high standard and a high expectation.”
Both Whitehead and Plack have undergone a position change to safety in UD’s new-look defense. Whitehead spent his true-freshman campaign as the backup to longtime starter Ray “Buck” Jones at the fluid outside linebacker “bandit” position in Delaware’s defense.
Plack, a career linebacker in high school at South Fayette (Pennsylvania), developed as a safety his freshman year at Delaware, learning behind second-round NFL draftee Nasir Adderley, among other all-conference-caliber talents and multiple-year starters.
“Learning from [Adderley and company] and learning how to read receivers, learning how to fill gaps … was really helpful for me to become a better football player and adapt to my new position,” Plack remarked as a guest on Wednesday night’s Blue Hen Football Coach’s Show. “It was a real different feel for me being 10 yards off the ball instead of five yards off the ball,” he observed in comparing his high school position to his placement in the Blue Hen defense.
While Whitehead’s pursuit to the ball and versatility made him a strong candidate for the “bandit” spot and is expected to serve him well in his efforts at safety, Plack has already become known for his big hits. It seems safe to say that he still hits like a linebacker.
“Growing up, that was probably one of my favorite things to do, just hit people…That’s what started it,” Plack recalled. “So, being able to do that now (after appearing in only two games in 2018) … It’s just finally showing people where I come from and what made me love the game of football.”
“He’s a big, strong, physical, fast football player,” Rocco said of Plack, emphasizing that the more comfortable he becomes with Delaware’s defensive system, the more he’ll rely on his instincts, “trust his keys” and “trigger quicker.”
“And what you’ve seen here, you’ve seen him triggering a lot in the run game. We gotta start triggering in the pass game a little bit more and anticipate,” Rocco explained, referencing one pass in particular that came Plack’s way in UD’s CAA opener.
“They threw a ball down the middle against him at Rhode Island late in the game that nine times out of ten, that’s a ball he’s gotta be able to intercept for us. So he’s triggering the run game really well. He’s gotta trigger a little bit better in the pass game.”
Just about the same goes for the promising Whitehead, according to Rocco.
Speaking about the pair, he said, “They’re great kids, man. They love to compete. We do a lot with them, we ask an awful lot of them, and then I think the next thing that they’re going to have to start doing is intercepting some balls. They’ve been around the football in the run game a lot; they’ve been around the football a lot in the pass game. They gotta start making some plays on the ball in the air. That’s the next step in their progression.”