Hens, Tyler ready to take their shot at mighty Pitt

Owen Tyler

NEWARK — Apparently the conversation was pretty much straight and to the point.

Delaware tight end Owen Tyler was asking his new offensive coordinator, Jared Ambrose, if he could switch to fullback for his senior season.

“I went into his office and said, ‘I just want to knock some people’s teeth to the back of their throat on some kick-out blocks,’” is the way Tyler remembers the conversation. “He said, ‘That’s fine with me.’”

That’s how tough Owen Tyler is.

He’s so tough that he watches a highlight tape of football’s top 100 toughest players every Friday night before a game. (Bears’ great Dick Butkus is No. 1).

And Tyler’s family is so tough that, not only did his dad and two older brothers play linebacker in high school, but his sister did, too.

So while the idea of lining up against Pittsburgh on Saturday is a little daunting, it’s certainly not frightening to Tyler and his Delaware teammates. The Blue Hens (3-1) will face the major-college Panthers (2-2) at 12:30 p.m. at Heinz Field (NBC Sports Washington).

The last time Delaware tried taking on Pitt, in 2014, it got crushed 62-0. And this Panthers squad only lost to Penn State, 17-10, two weeks ago before toppling No. 15 Central Florida, 35-34, on Saturday.

They’re receiving votes in the AP Top 25.

But, like every other underdog before them, Delaware’s players say they’re looking forward to the opportunity.

Really.

“I think everyone on the team is on the same page,” said Tyler. “I mean we don’t fear anyone. North Dakota State was a great team, obviously, and we didn’t fear them. We didn’t play our best but I don’t think anyone had any fear.

“The same goes for Pitt. They’re a great team but anyone can be beaten. … We don’t have to play them 10 times, we’ve just got to beat them once. I think that’s something that we look forward to.”

‘Fear’ doesn’t seem to be a word that Tyler uses very often.

The 6-foot-4, 255-pound senior just loves playing the game, whether it’s at fullback or tight end, where he played for much of his career. Probably more accurately, Tyler seems to love running into other people.

Sophomore linebacker Drew Nickles found that out the hard way last year in one of his first practices.

“He came and knocked me over,” said Nickles. “He’s big, he’s fast — he’s just a good athlete. And he’s really smart. He’s been around the game for a while so he knows the ins and outs and how to get open and techniques and leverage for blocking. He’s just a good player.”

“He’s that one guy — I think his face is painted every week,” said coach Danny Rocco. “He’s that one guy that is always ready to go. I’ll see him out sometimes in pre-game and he’s jumping and he’s yelling and he’s fired up and he’s ready to play.

“You can never have enough of that. … This is a guy that’s old school. He loves football.”

Tyler has proven to be a solid pass catcher when he gets the chance. In his career, he has 16 receptions with 139 yards and three TDs — including two this season.

But leading by example is probably what Tyler does best.

He’s come back from having surgeries on both his shoulders that forced him to miss a season. Being named a team captain this fall meant the world to Tyler. 

“That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve ever accomplished in my life,” he said. “When he (Rocco) announced it, I kind of teared up a little bit because it means a lot that the guys on the team view me in that light. They think I’m a leader.

“You grow up your whole life wanting to play Division I football. Sometimes you’re not sure if it’s going to happen. And then it happens. Then to be named a captain, it’s just incredible.”

Delaware has never seriously challenged a Power 5 program in modern times. The Hens are 0-5 all-time against ACC schools, with recent losses of 27-0 to Virginia Tech (2017), 38-21 to Wake Forest (2016) and 41-14 to North Carolina (2015).

The UNC game is the only one of those in which the Hens led at any point.

The early line for Saturday has Pitt as 28-point favorites over Delaware.

Still, that apparently won’t stop Tyler and the Hens from taking their best shot at a major upset.

“No one (on the outside) thinks we’re going to win,” said Tyler. “But everyone in our locker room feels like, ‘Oh, I should have been in a Power Five school. I should have been recruited.’

“It’s nice. We get a chance to prove, ‘OK, I’ll show you that I could have played here.’ It’s exciting for a lot of guys.”

Henderson passes first test

Smyrna High grad Nolan Henderson is expected to start again at quarterback after leading the Hens to a comeback 28-27 win over Penn in his first collegiate start on Saturday.

The redshirt sophomore completed 20-of-29 passes for 260 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Trent Hurley in 2013 is the only other Blue Hen to throw for over 250 yards in his UD debut.

Rocco said, after looking at game film, there was a lot to like about Henderson’s performance.

“There were some things that he did really well,” said Rocco. “Managing the offense, avoiding negative plays, making good decisions with the clock, not forcing the ball a couple times. … those are things that he’ll continue to mature in those areas.

“He did some really good things that were very obvious, in terms of getting the ball out and extending some plays. … It was a really good start for him, good statistics, good result.”

In the last 26 years, Henderson is only the third product of a Delaware high school to start at QB for the Hens. He joins Middletown’s Dale Fry (1993) and Caesar Rodney’s Sam Postlethwait (2001) in that group.

Kicking it around

Delaware’s placekicking continues to be a concern.

Senior Jake Roth, who had handled only kickoffs before this season, is just 4-for-8 on field-goal attempts and 9-of-12 on PAT kicks.

“I would have said to you even last week, there was a certain line of demarcation where I probably would have run the freshman out there,” said Rocco. “Those conversations are starting to become more and more real. … (but) I’m not really ready to make a decision in that area,”

The freshman is Ryan Coe, who has handled half of Delaware’s 20 kickoffs this season and averaged a team-best 64.7 yards. He has nine touchbacks.

Extra points

Delaware stayed No. 20 in Monday’s STATS FCS poll. … Rocco doesn’t expect starting linebacker Johnny Buchanan (knee) to be ready to play this week. … Rocco graduated from Fox Chapel (Pa.) High, which is about 12 miles from Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field. There are eight players on UD’s roster from the Pittsburgh area. … The Hens are second in the FCS in fewest penalties at just 2.5 per game.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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