Struggling Jacksonville struggles past struggling Delaware in our opener, 20-14
Newark, Delaware (Sept. 4) – In the opening game of the Collegefootballfan.com season, we watched two FCS teams struggle throughout the game to put together a sustained offense relying primarily on both punters to keep their opponents out of scoring position and their defenses and their own ineptitude to keep them just as far. Late long field goals by Brandon Behr and turnovers by both teams gave the Dolphins the final margin in their 20-14 victory. It was not a well-played, exciting game, but the final score was not settled until late in the final period. At game’s end, Delaware totaled only 163 yards in total offense. Jacksonville fared better with only 70 on the ground, but Dolphin QB Kade Bell threw for 269 yards through the air. However, after the initial drive of the game, his passes could not get the Dolphins anywhere near the end zone.
The much more experienced Dolphins with 20 seniors and a penchant for revenge after falling to UD two seasons ago here clicked right away driving 85 yards on its first possession for a 22-yard scoring pass from Bell to WR Andy Jones (9 catches for 118 yards and 1 TD) for a quick 7-0 lead. With QB Junior Blake Rankin (transfer from Rutgers) and Junior RB Jalen Randolph starting, the Blue Hens failed to sustain any scoring drives midway through the second period.
Early in the second, a fumble by Delaware RB Wes Hills gave Jacksonville the ball at their own 13, but like UD, the Fins could not effectively move the ball. UD HC Stan Brock replaced his two prime starters with red-shirt Freshmen QB Joe Walker and RB Thomas Jefferson (Passaic Tech, NJ). The combo moved the ball to the JU 21. With 1:20 left in the half, Walker lateraled wide left to split end Diante Cherry who fired the ball into the end zone to Randolph who was back in the game to finally put the Hens on the board to tie the score going into half time.
Despite the return of 20 experienced players returning from Jacksonville, they struggled throughout executing their offensive game plan as much as did the Blue Hens with many freshman and redshirts playing in their first collegiate game of their careers. The Fins are hoping to get into this year’s playoffs as an at-large team as they are now not eligible to win the Pioneer Conference based on a self-imposed suspension. It turns out that as the only remaining non-scholarship conference with an automatic FCS bid, they found that 30 players had received Academic Freedom Scholarships, evidently very questionable for a team in a non-scholarship conference. Since punishment was self-imposed and accepted by the NCAA, they are still eligible for playoffs the “harder “way.
Neither team gained a first down on the first three possessions of the second half. When Jacksonville did, they gained 34 yards to get to UD’s 25. From there, Brandon Behr booted a 42-yard FG to give Jax the lead once again, 10-7. In the final period, Walker replaced Rankin again to get thing going, but the Hens still stalled out after a 39-yard run by Hills before being forced to punt after Walker was sacked by Malik Slater at his 39. Terrence Bryant returned the punt better than expected for a 34-yard run to UD’s 46. Bell could not get his team close enough once again, and Behr came in once again to settle for a 41-yarder through the uprights to lead, 13-7. Hills returned the ensuing kick to the 34 to seemingly provide some spark for the Blue Hens, but it fizzled resulting in another Eric Enderson punt (8 for 43.1 avg. and 2 inside the 20). It was still either team’s game to be won despite their struggles.
Either way, either team would need a big play or two. Even with Jacksonville’s next series starting at the Delaware 48, they could not capitalize as UD DB Ray Torsza made a diving INT in front of Bell’s intended receiver going out at his own three-yard line. Despite his effort, with 2:47 left and two time-outs left for the Blue Hens, they immediately squandered the comeback opportunity. On second down, DL T.J. Jenkins sacked Walker knocking the ball loose in the end zone where LB Justin Horton recovered it for a touchdown. Behr’s conversion gave the Fins a 20-7 advantage with 2:09 to go. An unsportsmanlike penalty after the score forced Jacksonville back 15 on the following kickoff. Delaware’s Ray Jones returned it to the JU 46. On a second and eleven at the 32, Walker (combined with Rankin they completed 9 of 19 for 112 passing yards) connected with TE Ryley Angeline on a 31-yard pass to the one-yard line. Randolph took it on the next play with 1:20 remaining to cut the lead, 20-14. The ensuing onsides attempt was touched before going ten yards, and Jacksonville ran out the clock to prevail in the first game for both teams where the score stood.
It was a sloppy, ineffective and somewhat dull game as pointed out by my guest game analysts pictured below. Most of them are 2015 Delaware grads.
Both teams will try to gain from the experience of their first game to move on and make adjustments for improvement. It’s probably the toughest learning experience for them and their coaching staffs. I always say that unlike the pros, the college teams don’t get the benefit of an exhibition season (thank the Lord) and have to develop from that first game experience. Happens every year. With that, the Hens host Lafayette (0-1) who fell hard to William and Mary, 34-7, in their opener. JU travels to D2 Newberry (1-0) (I found I was incorrect in my game preview. Pioneer teams now play three non-conference games each year. I assume the coast to coast nature of this conference puts a big strain on their travel budgets. Campuses range from New York to Florida to California to Iowa). We stayed over in Newark on our way back from a restful, fun, and needed vacation in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. It worked well for us before heading up to Philadelphia the next day where we would see Penn State play at Temple for our second game of Game 500 season.
Extra points: Despite the son of a former NFL and Florida Gator QB Kerwin ( also his HC), Kade Bell did not impress with his arm strength. He short-arms his passes. He gets the ball to his receivers, but they are mostly wide open. His stats from last year (3,181 yards and 31 TDs) are impressive, but his arm wasn’t.
JU Punter Ryan Giaratano outshone UD’s Ednerson this evening with seven punte averaging 47.6 yards ( one misplayed for 62 yards) but more effectively five finishing inside the 20.
Teams of the Colonial Athletic Conference, known as one of the toughest in the FCS, went 2-11 in their first weekend of play. Stony Brook did not play. Of the 11 losses, eight were to FBS teams. Top contenders Villanova and New Hampshire lost to UConn (20-15) and San Jose (43-13) respectively. Only James Madison and William and Mary won versus Morehead State and Lafayette respectively.
If UD HC Stan Brock does not see some significant improvement over the course of this season, if he’s not on the hot seat by then, he will be by next season. UD is not a program that can tolerate losing for long. Dave Nelson coached there from 1951-1965 to an 84-44-2 record. Legendary Harold “Tubby” Raymond had a 300-119-3 career record from 1965 to 2001. It included a D2 national championship in 1979 and many playoff bound seasons. His former LB on that championship team, K.C Keeler, took over in 2002 and led the Blue Hens to the FCS championship in 2003. That and an 86-52 mark over ten season weren’t good enough to keep him there. It’s been four years since the Blue Hens made the playoffs. The announced crowd of 17,472 had to include no-shows from what we saw. I’ve attended openers on weekday nights and playoff games on cold November days at Delaware Stadium where just about every seat was filled. The young alum who attended with me today couldn’t fathom that as they started school in 2010 after the last UD playoff team graduated. Despite being dedicated Frisbee Club team players, school is always memorable when you unite with the entire student body to root for your competitive football team.
Our niece Kassie graduated this past spring from UD and tailgated with us is now living and working in the area close to her alma mater. Her connection to the Delaware football program is truly memorable for her. She and one of her close friends were in a required freshman workshop and teamed arbitrarily with a third student to do a project. The other student was former UD tight end Nick Boyle (Sussex, High Point HS, NJ). Nick earned honors at Delaware as co-captain his senior year along with All-American Honors. He was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens and will be playing in the NFL this season.