Photo courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
On Saturday, Delaware (7-4, 5-3 CAA) comes to Harrisonburg in a game many JMU fans didn’t expect to see happen, especially not this weekend. After controversially missing out on a top-8 seed, the Dukes host a first-round matchup against a CAA foe. The Dukes’ side of the bracket is loaded with teams like Colgate and North Dakota State looming on the horizon. But first, JMU needs to get by the Blue Hens.
We’re going to take a deep dive into a Delaware looking to pull the road upset and end JMU’s postseason before December.
Head Coach: Danny Rocco (11-6, 7-4 CAA)
Rocco is in his second season as Delaware’s head coach after a five-year stint with Richmond. He spent six seasons at Liberty before that, and is certainly familiar with football in Virginia and the CAA. Rocco knows the JMU program well, and his team will surely be prepared for a hard-fought battle.
Points per game: 26.1, sixth in the CAA
Points allowed per game: 21.6, fourth in the CAA
Passing yards per game: 202.3, eighth in the CAA
Passing yards allowed per game: 216.1, 10th in the CAA
Rushing yards per game: 108.6, 10th in the CAA
Rushing yards allowed per game: 138.7, sixth in the CAA
Net yards per play: -0.4 (This is an alarmingly low number for a playoff team)
Net punting: 39.2 net yards per punt, first in the CAA (only category Delaware leads)
Schedule and results:
Delaware hasn’t fared all that well against good competition, especially on the road. The Blue Hens’ best wins (Elon and Towson) both came at home in closely contested games. Against Stony Brook and North Dakota State, the Blue Hens lost by a combined 55-13. Those were the team’s only road games against playoff teams.
Pat Kehoe, a 6-foot-4-inch and 240-pound redshirt junior, leads the way for Delaware. He’s a solid, but unspectacular quarterback. He’s not going to blow a game open, but he’s consistent enough to lead the Blue Hens to wins. According to Rocco, Kehoe is banged up heading into this week. It’s impossible to know if Rocco actually believes there’s any chance Kehoe sits, but sophomore Nolan Henderson played well in relief last week during the team’s 42-21 loss to Villanova.
Henderson weighs in at just 175 lbs, a good 65 lbs smaller than Kehoe. Joe Walker used to play quarterback for the team, but has excelled as a receiver this season. He’s available in emergencies. Overall, it’s a solid position for Delaware, but JMU has the stronger position group.
Kani Kane leads the way with 595 yards and 10 touchdowns, but he’s also a bit beat up. Expect him to play after not getting a carry against Villanova. Sophomore DeJoun Lee has come on strong the last two weeks and is a serviceable second option out of the backfield.
Wide receivers/tight ends
Joe Walker leads the way with 671 yards, Vinny Papale has an additional 574 yards, and tight end Charless Scarff holds 462 receiving yards to his name.
Walker and Papale are capable of big plays, while Scarff leads the team in receptions (40) and TDs (7). Combined the trio has 105 receptions for 1,707 yards and 17 TDs. It’s a good group of veteran receiving options. JMU’s secondary will be tested, especially when it comes to containing Scarff.
The redshirt senior tight end, who has a catch in every game this season, is a 6-foot-6-inch target who weighs in at 270 lbs. He’s massive, and Kehoe’s most reliable target. Unless JMU goes rogue and puts a defensive lineman on Scarff, the Dukes will face a size disadvantage when covering the big receiver. A linebacker or safety will need to find Scarff on third-down situations.
Delaware’s offensive line is big and experienced. Three redshirt seniors make up the five-man group, and JMU’s defensive line faces a tough challenge. The line has allowed 23 sacks, good for the fifth best mark in the CAA. It’s a group that isn’t perfect, but they’re a solid group.
Delaware’s pass rush is abysmal. The Blue Hens tallied just 13 sacks in the regular season, which was 27 fewer than Maine’s 40, which paced the CAA. Despite not getting many sacks, Delaware isn’t awful against the run, but it’s clear the strength of this team isn’t the defensive line. In fact, expect the Dukes to try to establish the run and take it right at the Delaware defensive line in the opening minutes of action.
I love Delaware’s linebackers, especially Troy Reeder. The Penn State transfer has excelled in his few years as a Blue Hen and gives Delaware arguably the CAA’s best linebacker in the middle of its defense. This position group needs a big day to help stop JMU’s rushing attack, especially with the lackluster defensive line play.
Surprise, surprise! The Blue Hens are experienced in this position group as well. Nasir Adderley is the player to watch. He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands and — don’t murder me JMU fans — might be more explosive than Jimmy Moreland. He has 79 tackles and four interceptions as well as five kick returns for 149 yards and one incredible touchdown.
When Adderley returns kicks, Delaware’s kick return team is explosive. The Blue Hens are 11-16 on field goals and 30-32 on extra points. They also lead the CAA in net punting. While JMU holds the edge on every CAA team in the special teams department, Delaware can hold its own. I still give the Dukes the edge, but it’s not as big as most games.
JMU is the better football team. While Delaware has a few really interesting individual players and prospects in Scarff, Reeder and Adderley, the Blue Hens don’t have the offensive or defensive lines needed to beat JMU. I like Rocco as a coach, but feel his roster is significantly outmatched in this game. While an upset wouldn’t be unheard of, it’d be more surprising than Elon’s win in Bridgeforth earlier this season. After the seeding situation, expect an angry JMU squad to use its superior athleticism and play in the trenches to win by 20+ points.
Prediction: JMU wins 35-14