Blue Hen notebook: Hens get new attitude up front

Senior tackle Chuka Ezeuzoh and the Hens’ offensive line helped clear the way for two 100-yard rushers on Saturday. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — Nobody had to tell Delaware’s offensive linemen that they’d been underachieving this season.

The Blue Hens were giving up too many sacks and not picking up enough rushing yards.

But they tried to take a new attitude into last Saturday’s home game with New Hampshire.

“For the first six games, we just haven’t played how we wanted to play — how we thought we were going to play,” said senior tackle Chuka Ezeuzoh. “I guess going into this game we had an attitude, a swagger about us. We’re the baddest group on the team.”

It didn’t hurt that the linemen also knew Delaware would be running the ball a lot more.

“That’s an ‘O’ line dream,” said Ezeuzoh.

Everything went according to plan. The Hens put up a pair of 100-yard rushers, they knocked off the Wildcats, 16-10, and the offensive line shared the team’s Offensive Players of the Week award.

With Richmond (2-1 CAA, 3-4 overall) coming to Newark for a 1 p.m. homecoming matchup on Saturday, the No. 19 Hens (2-1 CAA, 4-3 overall) hope they’ve latched onto a new offensive attitude.

Delaware gained 217 rushing yards against UNH although it netted only 172 yards on the ground after losing 32 yards on three sacks. The 217-yard total would have been a season high.

“There was a conscious effort to put the game on their shoulders,” coach Danny Rocco said about the line, “and to truly make the statement that this is how we’re going to play the game — and this is where we’re going to win the game. I think both of our lines responded to that.

“I think just the ability to remain patient with the run game allowed them to really get into a rhythm, get into a routine, get into the tempo and the pace and the flow of the game.”

Not only did the line play well, but Delaware added converted lineman Brandon Nixon — a 6-foot-1, 280-pound junior from Cape Henlopen High — as a part-time fullback. The idea was to give the Hens more size against UNH’s undersized linebackers.

Ironically, Delaware’s defensive staff had just asked Rocco about moving Nixon back to the defense.

“I said, ‘Well, I’m going to think about it,’’ said Rocco. “But he’s going to be playing fullback this week so I don’t know if this is the right week to do that.

“What a neat young man. He’s making a significant contribution every day in practice and then, most recently, in the games.”

Running the ball may seem like a pretty basic thing but it is also important. The Hens are 13-2 under Rocco when they out-rush their opponent.

Now Delaware also knows it’s got to do a much better job of pass protecting. The Hens are still last in the Colonial after surrendering 24 sacks for losses of 164 yards.

“It really hasn’t been one-on-one getting beat,” said Ezeuzoh. “It’s been miscommunication by the group. But I feel we have that fixed now. It’s easy to see on film how the sack happened.

“We just want to keep on being nasty and physical every week,” the Concord High grad added. “We’re just going to keep on trying to improve every week, that’s our only goal.”

Henderson still up in the air

Quarterback Nolan Henderson’s status for Saturday is unknown.

The Smyrna High grad still has not been cleared concussion protocol after taking a hard hit at Elon on Oct. 12.

“If he’s available, then you have to start figuring out to what capacity and what roles would you want to utilize him in,” said Rocco. “In this moment, the most likely scenario is that Pat (Kehoe) will manage most of the game and we’ll see what other options we have.
“I’m hopeful that we have Nolan available. And if he’s available and cleared, then we’ll have him ready to play.”

Senior Pat Kehoe has returned to his starting job in Henderson’s absence. But he’s turned the ball over eight times this season, including four times in just the last two games.

Delaware did use redshirt freshman Anthony Paoletti for a couple plays on Saturday.

‘D’ line makes impact

Almost before his season got started, Brandan Hall found himself watching from the sidelines.

The senior defensive end managed to sprain two knee ligaments just falling to the ground in a preseason practice.

Senior defensive end Brandan Hall (44) is back at full speed after suffering a pre-season knee injury. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

“Even though camp’s a grind, watching everybody play and not being able to …. you want to be out there with your boys,” said Hall.

Hall didn’t miss any games but Rocco said it’s only been recently that the former California junior college player has gotten back to full speed.

He had one of Delaware’s three sacks against UNH. That may not sound like much but the Hens had just one sack in their first six games.
Rocco said UD’s line mainly just played better on Saturday.

“Certain things become contagious,” said Rocco. “Energy and enthusiasm, they’re certainly contagious. … Once you get something happening in a positive way, I think it just breeds confidence and enthusiasm.

“Our players on defense played with a real passion on Saturday — a real sense of purpose and physicality.”

“It was really nice,” said Hall. “I feel like this week we were tasked to step up another level. We’re kind of the older group so we’re expected to perform at a higher level. … I just feel like we let it go — we just played having a good time and it showed. It felt great.”

Extra points

Delaware moved up five spots to No. 19 in Monday’s STATS FCS poll. The Hens are one of four CAA teams in the Top 25. … Among the top running backs in the CAA, Will Knight (Smyrna) is second at 7.8 yards per carry. … Safety Kedrick Whitehead is fourth in the CAA at 9.1 tackles per game.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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