UD notebook: Blue Hens forcing the (turnover) issue

Linebacker Charles Bell picked up 16 yards on an interception return to give the Blue Hens an early spark in their 43-28 victory at Richmond on Saturday. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — Nasir Adderley did the hard part.

By the time the Delaware safety tipped the pass up in the air, linebacker Charles Bell simply had to pull in the floating football and run.

“I just happened to be right there,” said Bell. “I just got what I could and got out of bounds. It’s been a long time since I carried the ball — it’s been like five years since high school. It’s been a while.”

Bell actually picked up 16 yards on the interception return, giving the Blue Hens an early spark in their 43-28 victory at Richmond on Saturday.

Turnovers were big in the victory for Delaware, which had six takeways — including five interceptions — against the Spiders.

Now the Hens (1-1 CAA, 3-2 overall) have to see if they can keep the takeaways coming with No. 5 Elon (2-0 CAA, 4-1 overall) in Newark on Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. Colonial Athletic Association showdown.

The Phoenix moved up to No. 5 in Monday’s STATS FCS Division I poll — their highest ranking since 2008 — after upending No. 2 James Madison, 27-24 on Saturday.

Delaware’s six takeways on Saturday matched its total for the previous four games. Coach Danny Rocco said he and his staff had talked a lot about forcing more turnovers over the past couple weeks.

He said it was a “glaring” issue when they looked at the stats.

“I would say being aggressive and confident is a huge part in it,” Rocco said about forcing turnovers. “But I think the textbook definition would be, before you can take the ball away, you‘ve got to be ball aware. It’s amazing sometimes how unaware you might be of the ball.

“Sometimes you’re driving to make a tackle but you’re never aware of where the ball is.”

Rocco said, when the Hens looked at film of Richmond before the game, the coaches pointed out the opportunities where the ball could be knocked loose or intercepted.

Of course, a positive turnover margin and winning usually go together. That’s certainly true of Elon, which is tied for the league lead at a plus-six ratio.

The Phoenix have turned the ball over only four times this season — the fewest in the CAA — against 10 takeaways.

Delaware knows it has its work cut out for it.

Bell said the key to forcing turnovers is simply being where you’re supposed to be all the time. With his interception, he was in the right place after Adderley tipped it.

Or when linebacker Colby Reeder stripped a Spider receiver and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown, it was a matter of being aggressive when a player was already stopped.

“That’s what you’re taught — the first guy in, make the tackle,” said Bell. “Then the second or third guy in is supposed to try and rip the ball out or do what they can.”

While the six turnovers were nice, Delaware’s defensive players knows their performance left a lot to be desired. The Hens surrendered 608 yards to the Spiders in the free-wheeling contest.

“Obviously the takeaways are a big part of the game,” said Bell. “But giving up 600 yards isn’t good. We probably played average at best, in my opinion. There were just a lot of mental mistakes. … Even if we’re up by 60 we still shouldn’t give up 600 yards, no matter the circumstance.”

Catching on

Tight end Charles Scarff’s 11-yard touchdown catch against Richmond was his team-high third of the season. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

Tight end Charles Scarff’s 11-yard touchdown catch against Richmond was his team-high third of the season.

But maybe it’s not too surprising that the 6-foot-6, 270-pound senior has a good connection with quarterback Pat Kehoe.

The two are good friends and roommates.

“Whenever he wanted to go throw in the off-season, I was always with him,” said Scarff. “I think he has a lot of confidence in me. The chemistry’s good there — he knows where I’m going to be. He’s got a big guy to throw to.

“I think we’re just kind of on the same page a lot of the time.”

A former transfer from Rutgers, Scarff is tied for second on the squad with 13 catches for 177 yards. That’s already one more reception than he had in each of his first two seasons at Delaware.

Reunited

Saturday’s game will mark the first time that Rocco has faced Elon’s Curt Cignetti as a head coach.

But the two men are hardly strangers to each other.

While Rocco’s dad was a longtime high school coach in western Pennsylvania, Cignetti’s father, Frank, coached in West Virginia.
Frank, a former head coach who won 199 games at West Virginia and IUP, is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Rocco and Curt Cignetti were hired a few weeks apart in 2016 at Delaware and Elon, respectively. Rocco said he actually called Cignetti to see if he’d be interested in joining Rocco’s UD staff as offensive coordinator.

“We’ve had some interactions,” said Rocco. “I consider Curt a professional friend. We’ve known each other long enough. We’ve had the same upbringing and the same kind of background.”

Extra points

Scarff left the Richmond game with his left arm in a sling due to a shoulder injury. But he didn’t have the sling on Monday and said he’d been cleared to practice. … Delaware received votes again in Monday’s FCS poll. … The Hens had three pass plays of 45 yards or longer on Saturday. It was the first time they’ve accomplished that feat in six years.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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