Delaware offense finding ways to win

NEWARK — It’s not like Delaware reinvents its offense every week.

At the same time, there is a feeling lately that the Blue Hens aren’t afraid to regularly try new things.

Three weeks ago, against Richmond, Delaware had a great deal of success running sweeps with receiver Jamie Jarmon.

Then this last week, in 31-17 week at Maine, the Hens used backup quarterback Joe Walker as a jack of all trades. The junior finished with 165 all-purpose yards while catching, throwing and running with the ball.

“We find a way to win, it seems like,” said quarterback J.P. Caruso. “It doesn’t matter if a certain person has an amazing game or this person has an amazing game. All we care about is winning.

“Coach (Matt) Simon and Coach (Danny) Rocco do an amazing job finding what works versus this defense we’re going to go up against this week. It really shows on the field.”

The fact is, Delaware doesn’t seem to have a strong offensive personality that it carries from game to game. But that also hasn’t stopped the Hens from staying in contention for an NCAA FCS Division I football playoff spot.

Delaware (4-2 CAA, 6-3 overall) needs to win its last two games, starting with Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. Colonial Athletic Association home game against Albany (1-5, 3-6). The Hens have already guaranteed their first winning season since 2013.

They’ve done it, though, despite being ranked only eighth in the CAA in total offense (313.6 yards), seventh in scoring offense (22.7 points) and 12th in passing offense (122.6 yards). Delaware, which is second in the league in rushing (191.0 yards), seems to make up for its deficiencies with creativity.

With Jarmon (bruised lung) sidelined against Maine, Delaware turned to Walker, who was its starting QB for the past two-and-a-half seasons.

Walker lined up several times at receiver — where he’d never played before this week. He finished with nine carries for 55 yards, two catches for 68 yards and a pass completion for 42 yards.

“I was talking to someone the other day on the team, Joe’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” said Caruso. “All he truly cares about is winning games. He doesn’t care about what role he plays or how much he plays.

“But you do know, when he goes in there, he’s going to play as hard as he possibly can. And he takes pride in that. He tells people every time he gets the ball he’s going to go as hard as he can and get as many yards as he can. It was exciting seeing Joe out there, finding a role with this team. It is well-deserved for him.”

Rocco said he was optimistic that Jarmon will be available to play this week. But that doesn’t mean Walker’s role will necessarily be more limited.

“Whether Joe is aligned somewhere behind the center, or he’s aligned somewhere out near a hash mark or the numbers, he’ll find himself on the field more regularly the rest of the way,” said Rocco. “

“These are all parts of the growth of your program. It’s something that we thought about earlier. But until J.P. really established himself, it didn’t make a lot of sense to move your quarterback — that’s started 20-some games — to wide receiver. As J.P. has gotten better and more comfortable in the system, it just gives us a little more flexibility on how we can look at things from week to week.”

Rocco said he even asked the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Walker last week if he’s ever played defensive back. While moving Walker to defense seems unlikely right now, Caruso said he doesn’t doubt that Walker could do it.

“Joe’s a weapon,” said Caruso. “We can use him at receiver, running back, quarterback. … if he wants to go to safety, punt return, kick return, he could do it all, I promise you. He’s probably the best athlete on the team. I really enjoy having him out there with me.”

Getting picked on

Nijuel Hill was a mix of excited and scared, all at the same time.

In just the second game of his collegiate career, the redshirt freshman cornerback got to start at nationally-ranked Virginia Tech.

“I was very nervous,” Hill said with a smile. “That’s something that a kid dreams of. The fact that I was able to play that game — that my coaches trusted me enough to give me that start — was a blessing.

“I try to make every opportunity count. That was the best experience of my life so far.”

Hill held his own that day against some top-notch FBS receivers. He’s held the cornerback spot ever since as the replacement for senior Justin Watson, who broke his leg in the season opener against Delaware State.

There’s been plenty of ups and downs for the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder. But Hill said that’s just part of life as a defensive back.

He leads the Hens with seven pass breakups and is tied for the lead with eight passes defended. Hill, though, also got beat for the last-minute touchdown that gave Towson an 18-17 win over Delaware two weeks ago.

“Obviously, I felt defeated after that play,” said Hill. “No one wants to give up the game-winning touchdown. But you’ve got to move on. You can’t just dwell on the past. That’s what my coach always tells me.

“Having that downfall, I feel like it made me better. Having that game-winning touchdown on me really humbled me. I’m far from perfect. I’ll always have stuff to work on.”

Extra points

Junior linebacker Troy Reeder was named the CAA Defensive Player of the Week after collecting a career-high 17 tackles and blocking a punt against Maine. … Delaware is the only team in the league that’s made all of its PAT kicks (25-for-25). … After not getting many carries early in the season, running back Kani Kane is now fourth in the CAA at 59.6 rushing yards per game.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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