In 2014, Delaware made its first-ever trip to Pittsburgh to take on the FBS’ Pitt Panthers. Some dubbed the game “the Flacco Bowl” based on future Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco’s decision to transfer from Pitt to Delaware before his collegiate career took off.
While it can be said that the Blue Hens were the big winners in the “sweepstakes” for Flacco’s school-record-setting services, when they first met the Panthers on the field in the Steel City (without 2008 first-round draft pick Flacco), the outcome was far less favorable. Pitt, buoyed by future NFL standouts of its own in running back James Conner and wide receiver Tyler Boyd, dominated in a 62-0 thrashing.
The loss was UD’s worst in almost a century.
Five years later, the 2019 Hens prioritized winning as many one-on-one matchups as possible to keep things much more tight with Pitt in last Saturday’s “Flacco Bowl II.” This emphasis from head coach Danny Rocco and his staff yielded a highly competitive contest that saw Delaware take a 14-10 third-quarter lead on true freshman wide receiver Jourdan Townsend’s diving touchdown snag.
Townsend, a 5-foot-11 and 185-pound starting return specialist, quietly slipped uncovered into the corner of the end zone at Heinz Field. The Farrell High (Pennsylvania) product grew up under an hour away from the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers and recorded his first touchdown as a Blue Hen there when quarterback Nolan Henderson, scrambling to his right, found him for a score set up by CAA Football Defensive Player of the Week Drew Nickles’ forced fumble and recovery.
“He’s confident,” Rocco said of Townsend’s poise in playing in a personal homecoming as a freshman and on an ACC stage. “He’s comfortable in that element, being called upon and having to make a play. He’s really a versatile athlete and he’s got a really bright future.”
Delaware fans got a taste of that versatility in the season opener against Delaware State when Townsend, after muffing and turning over the ball in the first attempted punt return of his career, reeled off a 47-yard gallop well into DSU territory on the Hornets’ next punt.
As the calendar flips to October, the Blue Hens will need more of those field-position-flipping special teams plays from Townsend and can benefit from his continued progress as a pass-catcher behind starting receivers Gene Coleman II and Thyrick Pitts. Delaware has its bye week Saturday, which precedes an Oct. 12 showdown at Elon. The Phoenix, who received votes in the STATS FCS Top 25 this week, travel to New Hampshire before hosting the Hens.
The open date, Rocco said, comes at an opportune juncture in Delaware’s season.
“We reported to camp three weeks before we started the opening game and I think this team needs a little break right now. Had a lot of emotional games, a lot of close games,” the third-year coach recapped. “And we got a lot of guys banged up, so I do think that a little break here in the action is good for us and we can come back and finish our CAA schedule.”
While the bye has afforded Blue Hen players an additional opportunity to recover physically and mentally from consecutive close games (a 28-27 win over Penn and the 17-14 defeat at Pitt), UD coaches have been hard at work assessing their team’s progress and strategy at the approximate midpoint of the season, Rocco said.
“We dissected everything that we’ve been doing here this weekend and at the beginning of the week, looked at all of our efficiencies and everything that we’re doing well, what we’re not doing well, what we need to do better, what we need to stop doing. I think we’re making some good decisions. And then, ultimately, you get a little more time to work fundamentals with your student-athletes, and that’s pretty much what we did tonight [at Wednesday evening’s practice].”
After his hometown showing on the Three Rivers in a near-upset of Pitt, it is apparent that the all-around athlete Townsend, with even more experience and work on those fundamentals, can evolve into an X-factor for Delaware.