Hens turn focus to CAA schedule

NEWARK — Three games into the season, Delaware is exactly where everybody thought it would be.

The Blue Hens are 2-1, with wins over Delaware State and Lafayette and a loss to Wake Forest on Saturday.

What really matters, though, is what Delaware does in its eight-game Colonial Athletic Association football schedule now.

And, with an open date this weekend before a big Oct. 1 game at James Madison, there are plenty of unanswered questions about the Hens.

The biggest question would still have to be about Delaware’s still-scuffling passing attack. A year after ranking last in Division I FCS in passing yards per game, the Hens are only second-to-last at just 65.3 yards per contest.

Even coach Dave Brock admitted on Monday that Delaware’s passing game needs to get a lot better.

“It’s not very good,” he said. “We’re really making the least of something. In some ways it would be easier if we were covered and we didn’t have opportunities to either make good throws or catch balls that we’ve dropped.

“It’s not one player that drops it, it’s not one quarterback that didn’t throw it accurately. It’s kind of an accumulation of those things. We certainly need to do better.”

According to Brock’s calculations, half of the Hens’ incompletions have been caused by self-inflicted mistakes – as opposed to good defensive plays.

Those mistakes include everything from poor throws to dropped passes to missed blocks. Delaware has dropped nine passes in the last two contests.

“The frustrating thing is that so many available plays have been there and we’ve really made very few of them,” said Brock. “I think it’s a collective thing. We have to coach it better, without question. We have to perform better.

“I think that we will. But you’ve to go out and do it. It’s got to translate to the game and to date it hasn’t.”

The results were pretty much the same in Saturday’s 38-21 loss at Wake Forest where Blake Rankin started in place of injured starter Joe Walker (foot). Rankin was 6-for-20 for 38 yards and one TD.

The Hens dropped five passes in the game.

What’s also clear is that the Hens really have only one reliable receiver at the moment.

Junior Diante Cherry has nine of Delaware’s 19 total receptions and three of its four touchdown catches. And last year Cherry had 30 of the Hens’ 82 completions.

“There’s a lot of reasons,” Brock said about the passing-game problems. “We need a little bit of momentum, we need something to go right. We need a bounce to go somebody’s way.

“When somebody is wide open and you miss them, that’s a problem. When somebody is wide open and they don’t catch it, that’s a problem. … It’s been frustrating.”

Getting his kicks

Will Stephenson has punted a football thousands of time in his life.

But until Delaware’s season opener against Delaware State on Sept. 1, he’d never actually kicked one in a college game.

What’s remarkable about that fact is that Stephenson spent the last four seasons on the team at North Carolina State, even making the travelling squad from his freshman year on.

“It was funny, the day before, I was talking to some of the guys,” said the 22-year-old Stephenson. “I said the last time I played in a competitive game was in 2011. That actually made me feel pretty old.”

Stephenson, though, has quickly proven that all that practice has indeed made perfect. In his first three games since transferring to Delaware, the fifth-year senior is averaging 38.8 yards per punt.

Of his 19 kicks, 13 have been fair caught and seven have been inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.

The Hens needed to find a transfer punter after record-breaking punter Eric Enderson decided in the off-season not to use his final year of eligibility.

“I don’t know that we could has asked for more, hoped for more,” said Brock. “We exchanged one really quality person in Eric for Will. They both have been elite students and really, really good punters. They’re guys who are weapons and guys who help you win.”

Saturday’s game at Wake Forest was especially memorable for Stephenson. The Raleigh, N.C. native, who was one of the captains for the game, punted seven times for an average of 42.1 yards. He also boomed one kick 56 yards.

Playing back in his home state, he finally got to show what he could do if he just got a chance in a game.

“I’m excited that I finally get to do this,” said Stephenson, who is studying for an MBA in marketing and finance. “It’s a really cool experience. It’s been so long since I’ve done all that stuff and now I get to do it again.

“It was all kinds of special,” he said about kicking at Wake. “Friends and family got to come. Getting to have a good game, playing at Wake Forest in my home state, everything came together.”

Return time

As one of Delaware’s top cornerbacks, Nasir Adderley is usually knocking away footballs.

But the sophomore has shown he’s pretty good with the ball in his hands, too.

Adderely is the Hens’ top kickoff returner with an average of 24.6 yards on his five returns this season.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve always liked since I was a little kid.

“It’s just vision,” Adderley said about returning kicks. “You have to use your blockers to set yourself up.

“It’s a lot different than punt returns. On punt returns, you pretty much have a free way to go. But on kick return, we have different returns that we run.”

As for having an open date this weekend, Adderley thinks the Hens could use one right now.

“I think this bye week came at a perfect time,” he said. “Especially coming off this loss. It’s very disappointing.

“There’s a lot we can correct and a lot we can do to prepare for James Madison.”

Extra points

Delaware has lost starting cornerback/punt returner Justin Watson to a potentially serious injury. The junior left the Wake Forest game early with an upper-body injury. … With starter Wes Hills (elbow) out, Thomas Jefferson is now the Hens’ leading rusher with 224 yards on 40 carries. … Delaware’s seven interceptions have come from six different players. … With the Hens’ tackles evenly divided among several players, leading tackler Charles Bell still has only 15 stops in three games.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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