Delaware’s regrouping effort after a startlingly lopsided 42-7 loss at Elon on Oct. 12 simply could not wait. Blue Hens head coach Danny Rocco initiated conversations with his staff on the flight home that weekend. One of the primary discussions, he said this week, was with offensive coordinator Jared Ambrose in regards to an emphasis on “getting big” as part of a renewed commitment to running the ball.
This old-school approach was evident last Saturday in Delaware’s scrappy 16-10 win over then-No. 22 New Hampshire, which had taken all three of its prior CAA contests and entered with a four-game winning streak.
UD weathered a pair of second-quarter interceptions by Wildcats cornerback Prince Smith, Jr. that turned into UNH’s only points of the day and took control of the time of possession battle with an 11-play, 5:24 third-quarter drive concluding with a 33-yard field goal by Jake Roth. That kick, Roth’s second of three successful tries on the afternoon, gave Delaware a 13-10 edge with 5:42 remaining in the third quarter.
The Hens had a chance to put the game away after grad-student defensive lineman Cam Kitchen strip-sacked New Hampshire true-freshman quarterback Mas Brosmer and recovered the fumble with 4:56 to play at the UNH 15. However, after netting only three yards on three running plays, UD would elect to settle for another field goal from Roth to extend its lead to 16-10 with 2:46 remaining.
Delaware’s defense completed its second-half shutout by withstanding New Hampshire’s ensuing drive, which advanced to the UD 22 before Brosmer’s last-second pass intended for Charles Briscoe sailed incomplete out of the back corner of the end zone as time expired.
While Rocco naturally approved of his team’s stand in the final seconds to secure the win at “deafening” Delaware Stadium, where a capacity Parents Day crowd was on its feet for the final drive, he acknowledged that failing to extend the lead to two possessions after Kitchen’s fumble recovery could have been a fatal flaw.
“I thought we had a couple opportunities to put more points on the board, and that really could have changed the game,” Rocco said following the game.
“(We) had a chance to go up two scores and had to settle for a field goal. That in and of itself could have been the nail in the coffin right there. This team needs to play better. This team is capable of playing better. And I think we can build on what we did today kinda as a staple of being a tough, physical football team.”
Six-foot-1, 280-pound redshirt junior defensive lineman Brandon Nixon, who lined up at fullback for Delaware, headlined the Blue Hens’ addition of size to the offensive front to pave the way for running backs DeJoun Lee and Will Knight. Both surpassed 100 yards rushing against a New Hampshire defense that, going into Saturday’s contest, ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense at 16.2 points allowed per game.
The number of packages including a fullback or additional linemen in the form of utilitymen M.J. Kehoe and Braden Brose could have thrown UNH off somewhat, Rocco surmised after Tuesday’s practice, because Delaware had yet to show looks of that sort on film.
“They [New Hampshire] did not see it on film and I would think that they probably were a little bit caught off guard with the amount and the volume of runs and rushing attempts and with the big-bodied personnel groupings,” said Rocco. “I think the thing that happens is as you prepare for a game, you have to prepare your team to do the things, defend the things that you watch on tape. So, they’re spending a lot of time doing a lot of different things, and then all of a sudden in the game, we did some things a little bit differently, and I think it helped our cause.”
The Richmond Spiders, who are set to return to Newark for the second time since Rocco’s December 2016 departure from their program for UD, are unlikely to be as surprised by Delaware’s goal to impose its will on the ground with run-heavy sets.
“Delaware is physical; they want to pound you, they want to establish the run. They’ve got excellent backs. They’re huge up front. They just leaned on New Hampshire,” Richmond coach Russ Huesman commented on Monday’s CAA coaches media teleconference.
The Spiders sit at 3-4 overall and 2-1 in the CAA after absorbing a crushing 28-27 home defeat to Yale last week. UR enjoyed a 27-14 fourth-quarter lead before a late collapse that saw two Yale touchdown drives extended via conversions on 4th-and-13 and 4th-and-12. The pair of scoring drives sandwiched a successful onside kick. All in all, Yale surged ahead with 14 points behind the arm of Kurt Rawlings in a matter of 1:14 of game time.
While a handful of student-athletes recruited and coached by Rocco during his stint at Richmond remain on the Spiders’ roster, making Saturday’s UD Homecoming matchup another emotional one in the series, UR’s sense of urgency largely comes from its positioning in the playoff hunt. To keep pace in the CAA race, it is imperative that Richmond climb back to .500 overall at Delaware because consecutive showdowns with Stony Brook, Villanova, and James Madison loom in November.
Spiders redshirt junior quarterback Joe Mancuso, who made his first career start against Delaware in 2018 and set a school record with a whopping 560 yards of total offense, went 15-31 for 227 yards passing versus Yale and led his squad in rushing with 117 yards on 13 carries. The Blue Hens, who ranked dead last in all of NCAA football in tackles-for-loss before victimizing UNH’s Brosmer with three sacks, will need to continue to get after the quarterback with the increasingly dual-threat Mancuso coming to town.
On defense, Richmond is anchored by 6-3, 279-pound CAA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year defensive lineman Maurice Jackson.
Jackson, who terrorized CAA quarterbacks in 2018 with 10 total sacks before earning Third Team Associated Press All-America and First Team All-ECAC honors, will have to be monitored closely by the Delaware offense, Rocco explained.
Of the keys to slowing down Jackson’s backfield havoc, he said, “The first thing is an awareness. It’s just like anything else; you gotta be aware as to where he is and what they’re doing with him. So by having an awareness as to where he is and where he’s aligned, you have a little more attention, a little more eyes on him. And then you gotta really trust your technique because he’s a really good, dominant pass-rusher.”
As Jackson, Mancuso and the rest of the Spiders take another whirl at No. 19 Delaware (4-3, 2-1 CAA), the stakes are high. The Blue Hens look to close out October with continued momentum and a Top 25 ranking, while Richmond is hungry to knock off its former leader in his school’s Homecoming game and to reinsert itself into the national conversation as the calendar flips to November.
On paper, the teams are remarkably similar in scoring offense, among other statistical categories. Delaware’s 23.1 points per game and Richmond’s 23.0 points per game rank ninth and tenth in the CAA, respectively. The margin of a tenth of a point is the closest in the conference, excluding ties. UR and UD are also neck-and-neck in scoring defense, with the Hens allowing 27.4 points per game to the Spiders’ 27.7.