Unlike any team the Scarlet Knights will face this season, the Blue Hens of Delaware have already played meaningful games for the better part of the 2021 calendar year. Unlike the Big Ten, the Colonial Athletic Conference cancelled the fall 2020 season and played it this past spring. The delay did not deter the Blue Hens from forwarding their resurgent program under Head Coach Danny Rocco. Delaware went unbeaten in the regular season and won two playoff games before falling in the FCS semifinals to South Dakota State.
In this fall season to date, Delaware has picked up right from the spring, at 2-0 with a 34-24 away victory win over Maine and a 27-10 beating of St. Francis (Pennsylvania) for their home opener at Delaware Stadium. The Scarlet Knights are 2-0 as well after a convincing victory of 61-14 over Temple and a not as convincing 17-7 win at Syracuse.
Before doing a deep dive into Delaware, it is incumbent that we address the elephant in the room. So far this season, eight FBS teams have been beat by FCS teams. Then there is Rutgers checkered football history of playing FCS. Villanova and New Hampshire are two games albeit almost two decades ago, that no Rutgers fan cares to be reminded of. But it hasn’t just been the losses against FCS opponents as many of the wins have been disheartening as well. The 2014 Rutgers, Howard is one game that comes to mind as Rutgers pulled away late in a 38-25 victory. So, what does this portend for this Saturday’s game? Not necessarily anything except Delaware has the tools to beat Rutgers if the Scarlet Knights go to sleep on them.
Like Rutgers, Delaware has had a long search for their quarterback. Not just a placeholder, or a game manager but a player who can be a difference maker from the most important position on the field. Delaware has that player in Nolan Henderson. He is the key to the Blue Hens offense. He is not considered a run first quarterback but has enough mobility to keep the defense honest. The fifth-year senior has paid his dues and has patiently waited for his turn. Like many Scarlet Knight kids sitting in the stands with dreams of being the Scarlet Knights quarterback one day, Henderson’s lifelong dream was to play quarterback for the Blue Hens as his family have had season tickets ordaining that Henderson would grow up a Blue Hens fan. Henderson has a big arm and can make NFL type throws. Having a strong arm and situational awareness, Henderson is dangerous from outside the pocket making him a serious threat to the Scarlet Knights defense. He is a look to pass first QB and because of his composure and pocket presence, when plays break down, he still looks to pass first and run second. And when he takes off, his athleticism is sufficient to make him dangerous.
The Blue Hens also have dangerous weapons at both running back and wide receiver. Delaware’s version of ‘Thunder and Lightning’ comes in the form of Dejoun Lee, who is a slashing running back with speed to get outside, and Khory Spruill, more of a straight-ahead runner who uses his strength and power to get the hard yards. In addition, Delaware has Quincy Watts and Joe Bruno a transfer from Penn State. Delaware rotates it’s backs and have the capability to catch balls out of the backfield adding to their offensive arsenal. At wide receiver. Delaware has three of the CAA’s best pass catchers in Thyrick Pitts, Gene Coleman and Jourdan Townsend, all of whom possess speed and ability to make contested catches
Like Rutgers, the success of the Blue Hens offense depends largely on the play of its offensive line and even as we approach game number three for both teams, questions remain unanswered. One of the major reasons that Delaware lost to South Dakota State during the spring campaign was the spotty play of the offensive line. Like Rutgers, Delaware has approximately eight players who can be used situationally and whose ability to play multiple positions on the field is a positive. But consistency remains an issue as the Blue Hens strategize with different combinations. Left tackle David Kroll is a key cog and was selected first team Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) last season.
The Blue Hens are solid on defense, finishing fourth in FCS in total defense last season. Delaware’s defense highlights two CAA first team members in defensive backs Kedrick Whitehead and Nijuel Hill. Defensive end Chase McGowan was also a preseason All-CAA selection and anchors the defensive line. The linebacking unit has been hit by graduations but there is talent, spearheaded by Liam Trainer and his brother outside linebacker, Dillon. Another player that’s older and understands expectations is Kedrick Whitehead, also a captain for the Blue Hens. The strength of the unit is in the back as Delaware’s DBs are both fast and experienced.
Delaware is a team totally capable of pulling an upset on Saturday. On paper, Rutgers is faster, deeper, and bigger. But the game is not played on paper. If the Scarlet Knights win the turnover battle and play smart football, they should be 3-0 going into the Michigan game.
- Rutgers will take on Delaware for the first time since 1973 when the Scarlet Knights won 24-7 at home. This will be the 32nd meeting in a series that began in 1901.
- Last season, the Blue Hens were 4-0 in conference play, finishing the season 7-1 before falling to South Dakota State.
- Head Coach Danny Rocco was CAA Coach of the Year and was a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award for National Coach of the Year at the FCS level.
- All-purpose back Dejoun Lee was CAA Offensive Player of the Year and a finalst for the Walter Payton Award for National Player of the Year at the FCS level.
- After a 27-10 win over Saint Francis of the Northeast Conference, the Blue Hens are ranked No. 6 in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25 Poll and No. 7 in the AFCA Coaches’ FCS Top 25 Poll entering Saturday’s game versus Rutgers.
- Joe Susan, the special assistant to Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, starred along the offensive line at Delaware from 1973-1976. He was the 1976 Newark Touchdown Club Offensive Lineman of the Year, helped the Blue Hens capture two Lambert Cups (1974, 1976) and was part of the 1974 team that made the NCAA Division II national championship game.
On this week’s podcast episode, longtime Delaware sports reporter Kevin Tresolini discussed the current state of the Blue Hens football team here.