Thursday, November 09, 2006

The SideByrne: Deja Vu

by Tom Byrne

There is a little sense of déjà vu for the Blue Hens heading into this week’s game at William and Mary. Just like last season, Delaware is 4-5 and needs to win its last two against William and Mary and Villanova to avoid its first losing season since 2001. The Hens turned the trick last season, but this year may be different, even though the final two games are at home in 2006 rather than on the road.

There’s just a very different vibe surrounding this team this season, and it starts at the top. Looking back at the stories I wrote around this time last season, K.C. Keeler vowed to stay with his older players and do what had to be done to win in the here and now, rather than look at young players and build for the future. This year, Keeler has already inserted younger players in the line-up for reasons beyond injuries (i.e.- the secondary last week). His weekly press conference Monday, the day before Election Day, was the closest thing to a concession speech you’ll ever get out of Keeler. He talked this week about a young team playing for “the present and the future”. He also noted the defense had lost confidence, which to me says, “We’ve tried everything there is to try and it hasn’t worked and it probably isn’t going to change in these last two weeks.” Don’t get me wrong, he also had positive things to say about his team and there was no sense they won’t show up the next two weeks, but just about every defeated candidate talks about all the hard work the campaign workers put in and vows to run again.

That defense is huge worry. Other than the return of Matt Marcorelle from injury next season, what is there to make you feel things will be better on that side of the ball in 2007? Coach Keeler talked about being “difference-makers” away from being good, but Marcorelle isn’t THAT much of a difference maker. Yes, you can bring in transfers to help immediately, but getting them on the defensive line, where the Hens need is the greatest, is difficult. Shawn Johnson is the exception, not the rule. Most schools use line rotations now. That means there’s fewer disgruntled defensive lineman not getting playing time at I-A schools ready to move to find it.

Bill Komissaroff talked about the fans’ patience in his commentary this week. It will likely be tested again next season.

There are some good things to talk about this week, and they come from downstate. I’m not sure Dover is now the college football “hotbed” that last Friday’s News Journal piece suggested its become, but football in the state capital is more interesting football in Newark right now.

Delaware State missed jumping into the Sports Network top 25 by a mere five votes, edged out by Delaware’s Atlantic 10 rival Richmond. I was tempted to call the K-Man and ask about his how he had the two teams ranked, but realized that’s probably still a sensitive area after the great JMU-New Hampshire controversy earlier this year. Having seen Richmond up close, and watched plenty of DSU tape, I think the Hornets, if the two played right now, could take the Spiders. Neither team is great, but the Hornets have a few things going in their favor. They lead I-AA in turnover margin at +13 this season. Their defense makes plays, scoring touchdowns or giving their average offense great field position.. Their special teams unit also makes plays. DSU has blocked 6 kicks this season, getting touchdowns and safeties off a number of blocked punts. And the offense, while average, has learned to run the ball (185 yards per game) and has a legitimate game breaker Shaheer McBride (see last week’s commentary) . The Hornets’ only problem would be their smallish defense matching up with Richmond’s rushing attack. Teams with size, like Hampton and Northwestern State, can push Del State around, but Delaware’s defense held the Spiders to 24 points. I can’t imagine Del State could not do the same or better and ride a couple of big plays to a 20-14 victory.

I still think DSU is a long shot to make the playoffs if Hampton doesn’t cough up the MEAC title with a loss this week to Florida A&M, but the Hornets’ at-large candidacy gets stronger every time a team like Towson loses, and DSU does not, as happened last week.

And a quick pat on the back to Wesley College. The 9-0 Wolverines should beat Morrisville (NY) this week and secure their first winning season since 1976 when they were still in the junior college ranks. More importantly, a win locks up the top seed in the South and a chance to play at home much of the Division III playoffs. The brackets for the DIII playoffs are announced Sunday. Sadly, my Ithaca College Bombers will likely miss the NCAA playoffs after last week’s loss to Alfred (NY). That ends my dream of a Wesley-Ithaca showdown. Covering the Hens keeps me from getting to see my Bombers in person. I was hoping a game with the Wolverines would give me a chance to see them and getting paid in the process. No such luck.
Tom Byrne is a Sports Anchor for WHYY-TV, Sports Director of WILM Newsradio, and Sideline Reporter on University of Delaware Football Broadcasts on The River 94.7

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