Slumbering Hen offense eyes revival in home finale

Hens football-Blake Rankin by .

Looking for a spark, coach Dave Brock tried using junior quarterback Blake Rankin, shown above, in the second half of Saturday’s 17-6 loss to Albany. Rankin (5-of-9, 51 yards) and starter Joe Walker (7-of-10, 52 yards) ended up with pretty similar passing stats. (UD sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — They always seem to start the week with so much optimism.

Especially after one of their big wins — over William & Mary or New Hampshire — Jake Trump said Delaware’s football players feel like they’re ready to take on anybody.

“You’re so confident going into that week and you feel so good about

the team,” said Trump, a sophomore offensive tackle. “I feel like we go into those games really confident, too.

“But one thing goes wrong and another thing goes wrong … you look back at it and you don’t know really what you could have done better. I feel like all the guys leave everything they have on the field so it’s really tough when it doesn’t come out in your favor.”

Of course, nothing’s been going in the Blue Hens’ favor offensively, lately.

Delaware (2-4 CAA, 3-6 overall) limps into its last home game, on Saturday against No. 14 James Madison (4-2 CAA, 7-2), unable to find its way into the end zone.

Hens-Jake Trump-mug by .

Jake Trump

In their last three losses, including two in a row, the Hens have managed a total of just six points. They’ve gone eight straight quarters without a touchdown.

Or put it this way, in those three losses, Delaware is averaging a paltry two points and 203 yards per contest.

That’s not good.

Third-year coach Dave Brock is well aware of that, of course. It’s the first time since 1964 that the Hens have failed to score a touchdown in back-to-back games.

But, as tough as things are right now offensively, Brock said there’s still reason to believe. Delaware expects to return 82 of the 89 players currently on the roster.

“We have the right people,” said Brock. “We haven’t played well enough. My confidence level is very high in the players in the program and in what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

“This was always going to be a very challenging year. We’ve made it more challenging than it should have been. That’s unfortunate. I bear the responsibility for that.”

Looking for a spark, Brock tried using junior quarterback Blake Rankin in the second half of Saturday’s 17-6 loss to Albany. Rankin (5-of-9, 51 yards) and starter Joe Walker (7-of-10, 52 yards) ended up with pretty similar passing stats.

More importantly, the two QBs led Delaware to just one touchdown each.

On Monday, Brock said he wasn’t sure which player would start at quarterback against JMU.

“I’m going to think about it,” he said. “I felt like we needed to make a change in the game, even though, at the time, Joe was 7-of-10. He had certainly done in the passing game what we had asked him to do.

“But the reality was, at that time we had three points. … We’re searching there. At the end of the day, the identity needs to be to run the football. If we don’t protect the passer, I don’t know that it matters a lot whether it’s Joe or Blake; if we drop the ball, I don’t that it matters if it’s Joe of Blake. Those are situations that we’ve dealt with all year.”

Brock said he didn’t consider it a competition between the two QBs but that’d he’d make the decision based on who he thought gave Delaware the best chance to beat James Madison.

“Right now, we’re the primary problem,” said Brock. “When we play like we’re capable of playing … we played winning football.”

That’s the hard part, said Trump. The Hens know they’re capable of playing better — they’ve seen it.

But they can’t seem to find their way back to that point. Trump called it “confusing.”

“Sometimes you’ll block a play and you’ll feel like you’re on your man the whole time.” he said. “You’ll turn around and the play will be five yards behind you. You have no idea how the play was tackled or what happened. You have to wait to see it on film the next day.

“Even then sometimes, you’re like, ‘How can you miss this block? What was going through everybody’s mind to miss an assignment.’ There are 11 people on the field trying to play together. Sometimes one person misses an assignment and it ruins the whole play.”

Defense getting it done

“Lost in the results,” said Brock, is the fact that Delaware’s defense is playing pretty consistently good football.

“I think we’ve made incredible improvement over the course of a couple years defensively,” he said. “I think it shows up everywhere but in our record, and that’s frustrating.”

In six of their eight games vs. FCS teams, the Hens have surrendered just one offensive touchdown. Overall in those eight contests, Delaware has given up only 11 TDs,

Of course, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. The Hens’ opponents have made 17 field goals this season.

“Any time you’re keeping the opponent out of the end zone, that’s a step in the right direction,” said sophomore cornerback Justin Watson. “You never want a touchdown on the board.

“But I think the next step is going as far as stopping the field goal — keeping offenses out of field-goal range. That goes back to where the defense can help the offense. If the other team doesn’t score than we won’t lose.”

Considering that the majority of Delaware’s defensive players are underclassmen, Brock called the future on defense “incredibly, incredibly bright.” About 90 percent of the Hens’ defense should return next fall.

“I think the foundation there is what we hoped it would be,” said Brock. “Now it becomes an issue of trying to duplicate that offensively.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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