UD notebook: Poised Blue Hens rise to No. 13 in FCS poll

Blue Hen QB Pat Kehoe celebrates during Delaware’s 40-36 upset of No. 10 Towson on Saturday. Kehoe was named the CAA Offensive Player of the Week on Monday. Delaware sports information/Jordan Burgess

NEWARK — When Pat Kehoe released the football, he thought he was in good shape.

The idea was that either tight end Charles Scarff would go up and get it or the throw would just land out of the end zone.

“I watched it, I saw them cut him off and I was like, ‘Uh-oh,’” said Kehoe, the Delaware quarterback. “We were clicking. I got kind of greedy, trying to hunt for more points.”

With Scarff blocked off, the pass floated into the arms of Towson linebacker Keon Paye for an easy, drive-ending interception on Saturday night.

Considering the Blue Hens were trailing by a point and there was only 10:38 left in the game, the turnover could have been a back-breaker.

Instead, Delaware answered with an interception of its own — from linebacker Buck Jones a few plays later — and the Hens went on to pull out a 40-36 upset of the No. 10 Tigers.

Delaware’s second upset of a Top 10 team in its last three games pushed the Hens (4-1 CAA, 6-2 overall) up eight places to No. 13 in Monday’s STATS FCS Division I poll. But the victory also shows just how resilient Delaware has become.

Coach Danny Rocco, whose team plays a 3:30 p.m. CAA contest at Albany (0-5, 2-6) on Saturday, said he doesn’t know if the Hens could have recovered from a mistake like Kehoe’s a year ago. And Delaware committed plenty of other miscues in the contest.

“I know last year and in years past, it would be like one bad play would just unravel the entire team,” Rocco said on Monday. “It didn’t matter whether it was offense, defense or special teams. It was like, ‘Oh, here we go again.’

Tight end Charles Scarff goes up to catch a ball in the end zone against Towson. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

“We’d be out there practicing in the spring, having a really good day. Something odd would happen or something would go wrong. Then we’d lose our poise. It would unravel right in front of my eyes. I’m like, ‘When and how did this happen? How did we get to this point?’

“And you saw it last year a little bit,” he continued. “You saw it (in a season-ending loss) at Villanova. … This team has had many reasons to be unraveled. But they really haven’t. They’ve locked arms and they’ve remained united and — for the most part — poised.”

Indeed, the first half of Saturday’s game may have been as sloppy a 30 minutes as Delaware has played this season.

The Hens gave the Tigers a safety on a high punt snap, missed their first PAT kick in 89 tries, committed a third-down pass interference to set up a Towson touchdown and then fumbled a kickoff so the visitors could boot a 50-yard field goal on the last play of the first half.

The field goal gave the Tigers an 18-6 halftime lead.

“We didn’t do anything right in the first half,” Rocco said after the game. “I mean, literally, we did not do a darn thing right.

“At halftime I took a hard stance. I did draw a line in the dirt. I just kind of said, ‘We’re under-achieving. This is not who we are and I’m tired of having this type of impression of our team.’ They went out in a big way and they responded.”

Blue Hen linemen Mario Farinella (77) and Connor Lutz (67) congratulate receiver Vinny Papale after a TD catch on Saturday. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

Saturday’s second-half comeback, in which Delaware outscored the Tigers 34-18 over the last two quarters, was a lot like the Hens’ 28-16 upset of No. 5 Elon two weeks ago. Delaware trailed 10-0 late in the second quarter of that contest before out-scoring the Phonenix, 28-6, the rest of the way.

Senior cornerback Tenny Adewusi said the Hens have learned how to be resilient the hard way.

“One of the messages that Coach Rocco always tells us is just to respond when things are going wrong,” he said. “I feel like a lot of guys on this team have responded — and it hasn’t just been in football, but in life. Some of our leaders, Charles (Bell) and Malcolm (Brown), had crazy injuries.

“Just watching those guys, how they responded and how they fought back to get back on the football field, shows us just because things are tough right now does not mean that you can’t come out victorious in the end.”

A QB finally honored

When Kehoe was named the Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Week on Monday, he became the first Delaware QB to earn the honor since Tim Donnelly in 2011.

Kehoe threw for a career-high 305 yards and four touchdowns against Towson. The left-hander is just the 17th Blue Hen quarterback to throw for over 300 yards in a game.

A redshirt junior who never saw any real game action until this season, Kehoe said there’s no substitute for actually playing when it comes to learning the position.

“In a couple years on the sideline, I could watch the game,” said Kehoe, who completed 18-of-32 passes on Saturday. “But when you’re sitting back there and you’re seeing it happen and unfold right in front of your face, that’s when you really start to learn.

“You can start to piece together, ‘OK, we’re in this formation, in a similar situation. The coverage looks the same, I know what’s going to happen. I know where I should go with the ball.’”

“When you get to that point in your development, you’re able to able to get the ball out with more confidence,” said Rocco. “Being able to know earlier where he’s going to go with the ball, being able to know earlier what the rotation will be, what the coverage is. … it allows him to be more definitive.

“That’s what I’m seeing now — a definitive, confident quarterback.”

Keho has 17 TD passes against only five interceptions. He’s third in the CAA in passing efficiency and fourth in passing yards peer game (208).

Not just a snap

Long snapping was a major issue for the Hens against Towson.

Not only did two high punt snaps give the Tigers a safety and set up a touchdown, but two other off-center snaps played a part in the two missed PAT kicks.

On Sunday evening, the only players who went out on the practice field were the six involved in long snapping.

“It was just to draw a little more attention to detail, a little more technique,” said Rocco. “I really want our guys (as a team) to focus in on self-improvement, self-evaluation. … There’s other conversations that are going on that address that at a different level. But, in the moment, I think that’s the best answer that I can really offer.”

Extra points

Delaware is now the third highest-ranked CAA team in the STATS FCS poll. James Madison is No. 3 overall while Elon is No. 6. Towson dropped to No. 15. … The Hens are No. 16 in the FCS coaches poll. … Delaware doesn’t know whether it will see Albany QB Vinny Testaverde, who’s been battling injuries. The son of the former NFL QB of the same name, Testaverde has also been at Texas Tech and Miami before transferring to Albany. … Ironically, Rocco was an assistant coach with the N.Y. Jets when the elder Vinny Testaverde was there.

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