Blue Hen notebook: Henderson’s status up in the air after hard hit

If Nolan Henderson (right) isn’t cleared to play by Saturday then senior Pat Kehoe (left) will start against New Hampshire. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — The whole thing happened right in front of DeJoun Lee.

The Delaware running back was standing on the sidelines when quarterback Nolan Henderson took a hard hit to the head as he ran the ball at Elon on Saturday.

“I saw him running,” said Lee. “And then I saw him try to go down. He was in between almost a slide but trying to get down at the same time. He got caught in an awkward position and the guy just nailed him at a point where he was defenseless.

“My first concern wasn’t about the game, it was about his health. That’s what matters at the end of the day.”

The good news is that, generally speaking, Henderson is expected to be OK after the frightening hit to his head in the Blue Hens’ 42-7 loss to the Phoenix. Right now the question is when the former Smyrna High standout will be able to play again.

As of Monday, senior Pat Kehoe is expected to start at QB when No. 24 Delaware (1-1 CAA, 3-3 overall) hosts No. 22 New Hampshire (3-0 CAA, 4-2 overall) at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Henderson didn’t return to the Elon game after taking the hit late in the first quarter. Now it’s just a matter of when the Hens’ starter in the last three games will be cleared out of the concussion protocol.

“It’s a daily assessment,” Delaware coach Danny Rocco said on Monday. “As he checks one box, he moves to the next box. In this moment he’s very doubtful for this week’s game. But I’m very optimistic that he’ll be returning in a timely manner.

“He’s looking and feeling better and that’s a good start.”

Kehoe was the starter in Delaware’s first three games this fall after starting every game last season. This year the 6-foot-4 left-hander has completed 59-of-98 for 654 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions.

After replacing Henderson against Elon, Kehoe fumbled at the 1-yard line late in the second quarter. He also had an interception that was returned for a TD in the third.

Rocco said it should make a difference having a week to prepare if Kehoe is the starter. Henderson is much more mobile while Kehoe is much more of a pocket passer.

“You’re obviously going to cater your game plan for your starting quarterback,” said Rocco. “We have plenty of things that Pat does very well that are in the same system. But there are things that he does differently out of a different package or a different system of plays.

“We’re going to take a big giant step back, take a look where we’re at personnel-wise and then put something together that is much more specific to what Pat wants to do. … what he’s done well before and try to create that excitement here within our program knowing that we’ve got a very experienced quarterback available for us this week.”

“I think anybody would have confidence in Pat because we’ve seen Pat,” said Lee. “Pat’s been put to the test. I have no doubts about Pat’s ability to lead us to success.”

Revamped backfield

While Lee returned against Elon after missing three games because of injury, the Hens have now lost Andre Robinson for the time being.
The senior running back, who is the team’s second-leading runner, is not with the team right now because of personal reasons. He didn’t play last Saturday.

“Andre is dealing with some personal issues,” said Rocco. “Andre is not suspended — he’s done nothing wrong. It’s just something that he’s dealing with with his family. We’re going to give him as much time and as much freedom as he needs to deal with that issue.”

With Robinson out, junior Khory Spruill saw his first action of the season, running the ball four times for 19 yards against Elon.

Of course, the Hens also have former Smyrna High star Will Knight, who is the team’s leading rusher and who is averaging 8.4 yards on his 41 carries. Lee said he and Knight work well together.

“A lot of teams have running backs where they’ll drain their running back — they’ll run them a lot, run them into the dirt almost,” said Lee. “The guys get beat up. They’re not the same running back at the end of the game as they were at the beginning.

“I think Will and I, having each other throughout the whole entire game, helps us stay at 100 percent. Like there were a couple plays where I was tired or dinged up afterward and Will would go in. There’s no stall in the offense. Everything still flows smoothly. It’s real nice to have, not a ‘one-two’ punch, but a ‘one-one’ — just keep going and going.”

What went wrong

Rocco said there were any number of reasons why the score snowballed the way it did against Elon.

Delaware trailed only 7-0 at halftime before the Phoenix scored the first 28 points after intermission.

One of the most glaring stats continues to be that the Hens still have just one QB sack this season.

“We spent a good bit of time looking at a four-man front package to try to be more productive in the backfield, more penetration defensively, more tackles for loss, more sacks,” said Rocco “And we have nothing to show for it — nothing to show for it. It’s very frustrating for all of us.”

Delaware coach Danny Rocco is disappointed in his team’s pass rush, which has just one sack this year. Delaware sports information/Donna McBride

“As a starter, this is definitely the worst loss I’ve ever been a part of,” said sophomore linebacker Johnny Buchanan. “I just walked in the building and I see things that say ‘Prepare for New Hampshire, we’re angry.’ I didn’t read it fully but I just saw red, all caps, ‘ANGRY.’

“Yeah, we’re definitely angry after that loss. We need to come back on full cylinders ready to play.”

Rocco did say that, because of Elon’s 2-4 record going into last Saturday’s game, people forgot that the Phoenix were actually supposed to be a good team this fall. They were ranked No. 21 in the Stats FCS poll — one spot ahead of the Hens — before losing to No. 2 James Madison and FBS nationally-ranked Wake Forest.

“When you started in August, Elon on the road was going to be a tough game,” said Rocco. “It was going to be a hard game to win. … Now as things played out, somehow, some way, we became the favorite in that game. We went down there and didn’t play very well. But perspective is the one thing that I have to try to continue to be able to maintain moving forward or else you can’t move forward.”

Extra points

Of tight end Bryce DeMaille’s 11 catches (for 183 yards), four have gone for touchdowns. The sophomore would have had a fifth TD but he had the ball knocked out of his hands just as he crossed the goal line late in the Elon game. Rocco said he thought DeMaille was definitely in the end zone before he fumbled. … Knight is also averaging a team-best 20.1 yards per catch. He has 161 yards on eight receptions. … The CAA has five teams in the FCS Top 25 with five more receiving votes in the poll.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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