Sussex Tech product Kane turning heads at UD

NEWARK — Kani Kane was pretty much an unknown to his new teammates in July.

The burly running back had been a high school star at Sussex Tech.

But he spent two seasons off the radar at Lackawanna Junior College before he walked on at Delaware over the summer.

“Coming in, I had no idea who he was,” said Blue Hen offensive lineman Steve Robinson. “Until during fall camp, I saw him run someone over pretty good. Then he started making a couple plays.

“We were like, ‘Who is that guy?’ He definitely made a name for himself pretty quick.”

These days, it’s hard to imagine Delaware’s offense without Kane.

A 6-foot, 230-pound junior, Kane is now the Hens’ leading rusher (97 carries-440 yards) after posting back-to-back 100-yard games. He also leads the squad in rushing touchdowns with six.

With Delaware (3-2 CAA, 5-3 overall) getting ready to play a 2 p.m. game on Saturday against Maine (3-3 CAA, 4-3 overall) in Portland, Kane has carried the ball 48 times for 222 yards in just the last two games.

First-year Hens’ coach Danny Rocco admits he thought Kane would be a fullback when he first saw him on film.

“He’s got a chance to be really good,” said Rocco. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in Kani right now in what he’s been able to learn.

“I think some of the core runs are becoming more and more natural for him. His footwork has gotten better, his aiming points have gotten better, his eyes are in the right spots.”

When Kane first came to Delaware over the summer, it looked like the Hens already had a top-notch group of running backs in Wes Hills, Thomas Jefferson and Kareem Williams. But Hills was an academic casualty in preseason and Jefferson has carried the ball only nine times in the last five games — and not at all in the last two contests.

On the other hand, Delaware gave the ball to Kane on four straight plays to start the second half at Towson and that jump-started a quick six-play, 71-yard scoring drive. Even on short runs, Kane seems to break a tackle or two.

Kane said he wasn’t particularly interested in individual numbers after the Hens’ 18-17 loss at Towson on Saturday.

“We came out with a loss so yards don’t really matter at this point,” said Kane, who had a career-high 113 yards on 22 carries. “We came out strong in the second half, on the first drive. After that, it kind of fell off. We just have to come out in practice this week and get better.”

Rocco said Kane is faster than he thought he’d be. But what Rocco also likes is that the newcomer is able to do more than just carry the ball.

“He found ways to help us in pass protection (on Saturday) — and not always necessarily his guy,” said Rocco. “He’s got an awful lot of value. We certainly need to continue to utilize Kani and Kareem.

“We’d like to be able to use even more of our running backs. But right now those are the two guys that I do think merrit the burden of the carries.”

What’s the point(s)?

For better or worse, Delaware’s offense seems to have found its niche in scoring at about 17 points per game.

The Hens’ offense has scored exactly 17 points in three of its last four games (the defense scored one TD in Delaware’s 24-20 win at Stony Brook).

Of course, 17 points wasn’t quite enough in the Hens’ 18-17 loss to underdog Towson on Saturday.

Rocco said Delaware’s season average of 21.2 points per game makes it difficult to win any games comfortably.

“When you’re averaging 21 points a game, all your games are going to be close,” said Rooco. “You’re not going to blow anybody out because you’re not scoring enough points to blow anybody out.

“So if you’re not shutting a team out, what’s the best outcome? 21-10? 21-14? 21-17? Those are the kinds of games we’re in right now.”

On Saturday, Delaware had four possessions inside Towson territory that didn’t result in any points. That was especially difficult to swallow in a one-point loss.

“It was a little tough watching film,” said Robinson. “We had a lot of missed opportunities. Looking back, it’s truly a game of inches. And inches really made the difference on Saturday.

“It makes you more eager to get out there on Saturday knowing that we left so much on the field the week before.”

Grounded air attack

Even with a new coaching staff and quarterback, it seems like not much has changed with the Hens’ passing game.

After sitting near the bottom of the national rankings the last two seasons, Delaware is still just 120th in passing yards at 117.5 yards per game.

QB J.P. Caruso threw for only 43 yards at Towson. The Hens have gone over 100 yards in the air just once in the past five games.

Rocco said there’s a lot of issues involved in the lack of passing production.

“There are a couple things that I don’t think are in sync right now with our passing game,” said Rocco. “I don’t think the timing of our passing game is where it needs to be. I don’t think the quarterbacks are developing at the rate at which they should be, in terms of understanding the concepts and what we expect them to do with the football. And we’re not protecting as well as we need to.

“It’s very complex. I think if my only goal were to go out and throw for more yards, we could do that. That’s where I think you have to be a little bit careful. It’s about quality`.”

Extra points

As expected, the Hens dropped out of the STATS FCS Top 25 on Monday. They’re now fourth among other teams receiving votes. Delaware was No. 23 before Saturday’s loss. … Rocco was still waiting for test results to determine the playing status of receiver Diante Cherry (shoulder) and backup safety K.C. Hinton (knee). Both left Saturday’s game with injuries.

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