Blue Hens eye big challenge at No. 18 Virginia Tech

NEWARK — On Sunday night, Delaware’s football players were watching Virginia Tech play on national TV.

On Saturday, the Blue Hens will be lined up across from the major-college, Top-25 Hokies.

If all that sounds a little intimidating, the Hens would rather use “exciting” to describe Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game at Virginia Tech.

It’s the first football meeting between Delaware (1-0) and the Hokies (1-0), who jumped from No. 21 to 18th in the AP national rankings after opening with a 31-24 win over No. 22 West Virginia on Sunday.

At No. 18, Virginia Tech will be the highest ranked FBS Division I team Delaware has ever played.

“Me and the other players on the team really look forward to it,” said senior nose tackle Bilal Nichols. “We go into these games with a chip on our shoulder, feeling like we can play with these guys — we can play at that level.

Danny Rocco, UD head coach, left, talks to his assistants on the sidelines as the University of Delaware hosted Delaware State in the opening game of the season. (Special to the Delaware State News/Doug Curran)

“I watched them Sunday night playing West Virginia. … They’re a good group. We’re up for a challenge but we’re up to it.”

“It’s a great atmosphere down there,” said senior receiver Diante Cherry. “We got to watch them the other day playing against West Virginia, playing against another great team, and getting to see how good they actually are. I can’t wait to play down there.

“It’s going to push us and make us give all we’ve got. If you’re playing this game, then that’s what you should love — going down there to play the best of the best.”

Make no mistake about it, though, the Hens will be decisive underdogs on Saturday at 66,233-seat Lane Stadium.

One betting line has Virginia Tech as 39-point favorites.

And Delaware has lost seven games in a row to FBS Division I foes since Joe Flacco and the Hens toppled Navy, 59-52, in 2007. That losing streak includes a 62-0 rout at Pittsburgh in 2014.

On the other hand, Delaware has also played more competitive games lately, falling 41-14 at North Carolina in 2015 and 38-21 at Wake Forest last fall.

First-year Blue Hen Danny Rocco, whose Richmond squad knocked off Virginia, 37-20, last season, wants Delaware’s players to find a way to compete for a victory.

Certainly, the experience in Blacksburg, Va. will be memorable. If Saturday’s crowd is anywhere near Virginia Tech’s 2016 average of 63,000, it will be the biggest crowd a Blue Hen team has ever played in front of.

“We’re really excited about this opportunity,” said Rocco, whose teams are 2-8 against FBS programs. “I’ve got a lot of talent on my football team here, we really do. We’ve got good size, we’ve got good physicality.

“We’ve just got to have the will to compete and the will to win, the will to finish. The conviction. When you’re in these games, every play is important. Every momentum swing in the game is critical. The margins for error on our end are minimal. We have to play with that kind of a sense of urgency.”

“At the end of the day, we’ve just got to go down there and play,” said Nichols. “We’ve to be physical, we’ve to be hard-nosed, we’ve got to play.

“We’re going down there to win. We’re not going down there just to be a part of a game. We’re going down there to win.”

Watson’s season over

As expected, the Hens have lost cornerback Justin Watson for the season.

The redshirt senior broke a bone in his right leg while defending a pass in Delaware’s 22-3 win over Delaware State on Thursday night.

Watson had started 26 games in his career and played in 34 contests.

Junior Tenny Adewusi has been penciled in as the starter for the Virginia Tech game. Redshirt-freshman Nijuel Hill is also part of the rotation along with junior Malcolm Brown, the starter at the other cornerback spot.

Rocco said there’s also been some discussion about moving junior Nasir Adderley, who switched to safety this spring, back to cornerback.

“There’s always short term and long term,” said Rocco. “There’s always the idea of the here and now and down the road. These conversations are being had right now.

“I think we’re going to be fine. It’s just a matter of getting the lineup set so you can get the reps you need to get in practice this week.”

Passing thoughts

While Joe Walker’s passing stats against DelState weren’t record-breaking, they were an improvement for the junior quarterback.

Blue Hen QB Joe Walker, #3, hands off to RB Kareem Williams, #32.

His 13 completions (on 26 attempts) matched a career high while his 192 yards in the air were a career best. He also threw just the fifth touchdown pass of his career to go with one interception.

“At the same time, there were a lot of incompletions out there that we wish we could have back,” Walker said after the game. “We’re just going to coach it up and then be sharp again during practice — make sure that we hit those things at Virginia Tech.”

“We showed flashes in the first game to make big plays,” said Cherry. “It’s just we’ve got to execute.”

Extra points

Cherry said his dropped pass against DSU, in which he was wide open for a 46-yard TD reception, was just a matter of him taking his eyes off the ball. “My eyes weren’t on it at all,” he admitted. “It was so exciting to score.” … The current record crowd for a Delaware football game is the 49,119 who came out to see the Hens play at Maryland in 2008. … Rocco’s other win over an FBS program came in 2010 when his Liberty squad beat Ball State 27-23. … Starting offensive lineman Steve Robinson, who has been sidelined since early in preseason camp with a leg injury, is closer to returning “sooner (rather) than later,” said Rocco.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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