The Tribe entered Saturday’s game with confidence, going up against a struggling University of Delaware defense and the memory of their 29-point, 630-yard offensive performance against Towson University still fresh, but the Blue Hen defense had other plans. Delaware forced three turnovers while holding the Tribe to 324 yards on their way to a 28-14 victory. The loss ensured that the College will not reach five wins for the first time in 23 seasons.
p. “I think [Delaware] did some things pretty well, and they played well on defense. They broke on the ball and made some good plays,” Tribe Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “But [junior quarterback] Mike Potts probably made some poor decisions … I think he would like to have a couple of his throws back. He made some very good decisions, very good throws, but a couple of them were probably not what he wanted to do.”
p. Potts was intercepted three times by a Delaware team that had been ranked last in the Atlantic-10 in scoring defense, rushing defense and total defense. In addition, Delaware had allowed at least 40 points and 500 yards of offense in their last two games, both losses.
p. “I think we have been embarrassed as coaches and players the last few weeks with our play on defense,” Delaware Head Coach K.C. Keller said. “It was refreshing today to see the defense step up and make plays. That was the key to the ball game. You have to make a few big plays to get your confidence back, and that’s what we did today.”
p. Delaware and the College traded turnovers on their first possessions as Blue Hen quarterback Joe Flacco and Potts were both intercepted. Delaware’s second drive ended exactly like their first as freshman defensive back David Caldwell jumped in front of a Flacco pass for the first interception of his young career. Potts seized the opportunity and proceeded to lead the offense 71 yards on 10 plays, capping the drive with a 16-yard connection to junior wide receiver Joe Nicholas for the touchdown. Nicholas would finish with five catches for 50 yards on the day.
p. Flacco recovered from his two early blunders as the junior signal-caller rallied Delaware’s offense for 14 points in the second quarter. He was aided by the return of 2005 All-American rusher Omar Cuff, who had missed four of the previous five games due to an ankle injury. Cuff amassed 93 yards on the ground and got into the end zone on a one-yard run with just 34 seconds remaining in the first half.
p. The Blue Hens made strides to separate themselves from the College in the fourth quarter as Flacco threw a bullet to wide-open tight end Ben Patrick for a nine-yard score. However, Potts and the Tribe offense looked impressive on their ensuing drive as Potts engineered an 80-yard, 12-play march that resulted in senior full back Matt Otey’s fourth career touchdown reception, a two-yard strike to move the Tribe within seven points.
p. Unfortunately, the defense could not stop the combination of Flacco and Cuff as Delaware took the kickoff and drove downfield. Flacco extended the Blue Hen lead to 28-14 on a three-yard scamper with just 3:19 remaining. The Tribe’s fate was sealed on their next possession as Potts was intercepted for the third and final time deep in Delaware territory.
p. “[The loss was] disappointing because we were playing better and improving in a lot of areas, but we still are not putting it all together all the time,” Laycock said.
p. One of the bright spots and obvious signs of improvement for the Tribe has been the emergence of redshirt freshman wide receiver R.J. Archer. Archer led the Tribe in receiving yards for the second week in a row as he hauled in five balls for 80 yards.
p. “[Archer] is a very good athlete and he has a great knack for making plays, making catches,” Laycock said. “The thing we lack offensively with our receivers is the ability to make plays, to make a hard catch, and R.J. has done that.”
p. While the Tribe allowed over 400 yards of total offense for the fifth time in the last six weeks, the play of senior Chris Ndubueze has continued to be strong. Ndubueze recorded five tackles, including the Tribe’s sole sack of the afternoon. On the season, Ndubueze leads the Tribe with 70 total tackles and is tied for second with four quarterback sacks. He ranks third on the team with six tackles for loss.
p. “In the last part of the season, I don’t know if we have had a defensive player who has played as consistently well as Chris [Ndubueze] has,” Laycock said. “He’s played very hard and I think one of things that’s helped him is that we have turned him loose a little bit more and put him into some more blitzing situations, which has gotten him going even more so.”
p. Delaware, a perennial powerhouse in the Atlantic-10, has been suffering through a season very similar to that of the College — marred by injury, inconsistency and lost chances. Heading into the contest, the two teams compared favorably to each other, but the problems the Tribe had seen all year surfaced, giving Delaware the upper hand.
p. “We showed a lack of consistency,” Laycock said following the loss. “Too many times in one-on-one matchups, whether on offense or defense, we were not able to come out on top, and when teams are fairly evenly matched, you’ve got to win some of those matchups to push over the top. They got us more than we got them.”