Blue Hens move on from fluke fumble and loss, eye W&M

Junior running back Wes Hills was named the CAA Offensive Player of the Week on Monday after running for 242 yards and a pair of TDs against Maine. That’s the fourth-highest rushing total ever for a Delaware player. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

Junior running back Wes Hills was named the CAA Offensive Player of the Week on Monday after running for 242 yards and a pair of TDs against Maine. That’s the fourth-highest rushing total ever for a Delaware player. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — It was going to be a really good play for Delaware — maybe even a great play.

In the final minute of a tied game, the Blue Hens already had the ball at the Maine 40.

But just as running back Wes Hills was about to break through a hole, one of the Black Bears knocked the football out of his hand.

The ball bounced away from Hills, Maine linebacker Austin Brown picked it up and returned it 62 yards for the winning touchdown in the Black Bears’ stunning 28-21 win on Saturday.

“I couldn’t tell you for certain that the player who knocked it out even knew he knocked it out,” Delaware coach Dave Brock said on Monday. “He was just kind of fighting off a block.

“If he (Hills) gets through that level, I mean he’s probably out (for a touchdown). There’s really nobody there defensively after that.”

None of the Hens blamed Hills for the loss.

A Delaware defender pulls down Maine QB Dan Collins in Saturday’s game. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

A Delaware defender pulls down Maine QB Dan Collins in Saturday’s game. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

Indeed, the junior running back was named the Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Week on Monday after running for 242 yards and a pair of TDs against Maine.

That’s the fourth-highest rushing total ever for a Delaware player and also made him only the second Blue Hens (besides Omar Cuff) to have a pair of 200-yard games in the same season.

But the Hens’ goal now is to make sure that fluke fumble doesn’t end up being a pivotal moment in their season.

Delaware (0-2 CAA, 2-3 overall) goes to William & Mary (0-3, 2-4) for a 3:30 p.m. matchup on Saturday in which both squads are trying to end three-game losing streaks. With a bye week thrown in, the Hens haven’t won since their victory over Lafayette on Sept. 10.

The truth is, Delaware would probably still be an NCAA Division I FCS playoff contender if it finished 7-4 or 8-3. But, the reality is, only genuine victories — not moral ones — will get the Hens’ season on track now.

“The confidence is honestly still through the roof,” said junior linebacker Anthony Jackson. “Yeah, we’re 0-2 in the league, of course. But none of our goals are out of reach. We’re still just climbing that mountain, that’s all.”

“They’ve always responded well,” Brock said about his players. “They’ve never given me to reason to believe otherwise. They’ve never given me any reason to believe that they won’t come out and do the things we need to do.

“Really, what we need to do is win a football game and get some of the positive momentum and get some of the positive energy that comes with that. We need to kind of set our course, get in our lane and see where we can go. But you’ve got to do it. Talking about it is not going to do it.”

As for Hills, one fumble isn’t going to change what he means to the Hens.

He now leads the CAA in rushing and is fourth nationally in Division I FCS at 133.3 rushing yards per game. Hills has played the last two games with his left elbow in a brace after missing two contests with the injury.

“It’s really remarkable that he was able to come back as fast as he did,” said Brock. “He’s an incredible kid and an incredible competitor. I think his comptitive nature will carry the day, it always does.

“I think he’ll come back with more conviction and resolve if that’s possible.”

Passing thoughts

Delaware’s high-caliber running attack coupled with its invisible passing game leaves the Hens in a quandary.

On one hand, the Hens need to keep running the ball. They’re eighth nationally at 271.6 yards per game on the ground.

But, on the other hand, they may never get their passing game on track if they don’t throw more.

Delaware is ranked 120 out of the 122 teams in FCS at just 79 yards per game through the air. Brock described the Hens’ passing game on Monday as “non-existent.”

“We just haven’t been complimentary at all on offense,” said Brock. “And I think we need to be more complimentary. But our bread and butter is going to be running the football.

“We’ve just got to continue to work, try new things — maybe some different things, formationally and so forth, and see if we can get it jump-started.”

The situation creates some specific problems.

For instance, because of Delaware’s running game, opposing defenses are crowding the line of scrimmage. But that also puts them in position to stop the Hens’ short passing game.

“There’s people in every area of the field where you want to throw ‘quick game,’” said Brock. “You really have to throw the ball over that level of the defense to do it. Obviously, when you do that, the percentages go down, and we’ve been poor in that area.

“There is a challenge there,” Brock said about finding a balance between passing and running the ball.

More passing thoughts

On the other side of the ball, Maine did most of its damage through the air on Saturday.

While the Hens limited the Black Bears to just 68 rushing yards, quarterback Dan Collins threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns.

Brock was disappointed by some of Delaware’s breakdowns in pass defense. Collins completed a 60-yarder for a TD and a 38-yard screen pass to the one that led to another touchdown.

And, on the play before the 60-yard scoring pass, Collins had a 37-yard completion on a third-and-12 from Maine’s three yard line.

“We have to make people drive the length of the field without big plays,” said Brock. “Four plays is 60 percent of their passing offense. That just can’t happen. That’s bad defense. And we shouldn’t play bad defense.

“That’s a frustrating situation. I think it’s correctable but we have to find a way to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

“There were definitely plays that we saw that we could have made that we didn’t,” said Jackson. “We were in the right position but we just didn’t make the play.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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