Hens have to beat ‘Nova, then hope


Defensive tackle Grant Roberts and his senior Delaware teammates have never beaten Villanova. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — In a perfect world, Delaware’s football players would see their name on an NCAA Division I FCS playoff bracket on Sunday morning.

But the Blue Hens know that, in a lot of ways, that’s not up to them.

All they can do is beat Villanova on Saturday in their regular-season finale and hope that the NCAA committee thinks their resume is playoff worthy.

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Villanova Stadium between Delaware (5-2 CAA, 7-3 overall) and the Wildcats (2-5 CAA, 4-6 overall).

Besides, the Hens have their hands full just trying to beat Villanova. They’ve lost five in a row to the rival Wildcats and are just 1-10 in the series since 2006.

“This is a different game because it’s our rival, it’s Villanova,” said senior defensive tackle Grant Roberts. “For our older guys, this is a team that we haven’t beaten yet in four tries. Regardless of the situation, just to beat them would be gratifying.

“The chance to not only beat Villanova for only the first time in my career and the chance to get into the playoffs — to show a good resume to the playoff committee — I think that we can do that all in one game is really exciting for our team.”

Delaware hasn’t made the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs since reaching the national champioship game in 2010.

The Hens certainly have to win on Saturday to have a chance at the playoffs. The problem is, even a victory doesn’t guarantee them an at-large berth in the 24-team field.

Right now, there are four Colonial Athletic Association teams ranked in the STATS FCS poll — and Delaware isn’t one of them. The Hens are still just reaching votes in the poll despite having won five of their last six contests.

That means, along with winning, Delaware can probably use help on Saturday.

Among the four CAA teams ranked ahead of the Hens, No. 1 James Madison (10-0) is playing at No. 11 Elon (8-2), No. 10 Stony Brook (10-2) is at Maine while No. 16 New Hampshire (7-3) is at Albany.

The stat that Delaware likes is that, since 2013, every CAA team with at least six leagues victories has received a playoff berth.

First-year Blue Hen coach Danny Rocco has had teams with good records not make the playoffs. In 2008, his 10-2 Liberty squad was left out — although the playoff field was smaller then.

But Rocco said, because of the difficulties of competing in the CAA, he thinks an 8-3 Delaware would deserve to be in.

“If you’re playing in the Missouri Valley or the CAA and you go 8-3 and you don’t make this tournament,” he explained, “and teams get in that are 9-2 from leagues that do not stack up as deep as these two leagues, I think there’s a failure then somewhere along the way to really communicate how difficult it is in the Missouri Valley and in the CAA.”

Of course, the Hens realize that any debate about their playoff chances has to start with them beating Villanova. If they don’t, nothing else will matter.

“Coach has told us before, ‘Get eight (wins),’” said Roberts. “We’ve got seven. Our goal is to get eight this week and then just see what happens.”

Start slow, finish fast

Delaware has gotten into a habit lately of getting off to slow starts.

But, after getting shutout in the last two first quarters, the Hens have outscored their opponents 53-7 over the last three quarters.

While Rocco likes the idea of finishing strong, he’d feel better if his team got off to strong starts, too.

“I categorically believe we have to start faster,” he said. “I’m disappointed that we haven’t. It was a huge point of evidence last week and it just didn’t happen. We’ve got to take more ownership of how all that should take place.

“We’re are revisiting that this week and hopefully we have a little better strategy.”

“That’s one thing we need to figure out,” said sophomore offensive guard Connor Lutz. “They (Delaware’s defense) have done a great job all year. They really make the offense’s job a lot easier. We kind of have to start helping them out on offense.”

Extra points

Rocco said running back Kani Kane (Sussex Tech) was slated to have an MRI on his injured shoulder on Monday and that his status for Saturday is still up in the air. … Junior Kareem Williams would likely start in Kane’s place with freshman Khory Spruill next in line and Thomas Jefferson also a “viable option.”). … Delaware has seven players with at least 142 net rushing yards this season. Kane has a team-high 573 yards.

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