So much went wrong for the University of Delaware Blue Hen football team in their 35-30 loss at New Hampshire on Saturday that, at times, it was hard to imagine this was the same team that had cruised through its first five ballgames unscathed. There were just too many mental mistakes, missed assignments, and missed tackles. The team also had poor communication, poor protection, too many penalties, and one very costly turnover.
During warm-ups before the game, tight-end Robbie Agnone felt like something was off. He couldn't quite put his finger on it at the time, but, in retrospect, he felt like the team was over confident.
"There was a different attitude", Agnone said on Monday, "but I thought we could overcome it once the game started."
Unfortunately for Delaware by then it was too late.
Two consecutive plays late in the first half epitomize Delaware's problems on and off the field. Facing a fourth down and five at the fifty yard line, the Hens sent out their punt team. Head Coach KC Keeler had alerted his coaches that he might want to try a fake. The Delaware coaches up in the booth and on the sidelines, who were having problems with their headsets throughout the entire game, thought they heard Keeler call for a fake when in fact he had called just the opposite. While the Hens were confused and snapped it to the upback, New Hampshire's defense was not in the least bit confused or surprised as they tackled Fred Andrew behind the line of scrimmage for a five yard loss.
On the very next play UNH backup quarterback RJ Toman, playing for the injured Ricky Santos, brought his offense out to the line of scrimmage and as the Delaware coaches were screaming to remind their players about "sudden changes", Toman threw a lateral pass to Keith LeVan who then threw it forty-five yards downfield to Mike Boyle who was standing all alone for a touchdown. Just like they draw it up on the sandlot.
The fear for Delaware fans is not that the Hens lost, after all it was on the road against a tough conference opponent that had backed itself into a corner with two early conference losses. It was how they lost. They were unprepared to play and came out flat. Perhaps the team had become too enamored with itself and its 5-0 record, or perhaps they thought they could just to show up and win as they seemingly had in their first five games.
After the game, Coach Keeler told us on the radio that he thought New Hampshire had a "nice ball club, but they are not quite up to the level that we are."
The problem is that we are not exactly sure what that level is yet.
We know that Delaware is a good team. There is just too much talent for it not to be. But what we don't know yet is whether Delaware is a championship team.
Championship teams don't stall three first half drives because of procedure penalties. They don't let opposing quarterbacks scramble consistently for first downs and touchdowns. And they don't get stuffed on a must have fourth and one using a play that they practice so much the players must see it in their sleep.
On Monday Keeler told his team that they can't let New Hampshire beat them twice. He is right. Since championship teams rarely go undefeated, one thing they must always do is bounce back after a loss.
The Hens will have that opportunity this Saturday in front of a huge homecoming crowd at Delaware Stadium when they play a Northeastern team that gave James Madison fits and is apparently better then their 1-4 record.
If Delaware can rebound and take care of Northeastern this weekend, they would be 6-1 going into the bye week, and still be in a position to achieve everything they want and dream of this year. However they must play better. Because while championship teams can often survive the mishaps and mistakes of a game like Saturday's once.
They rarely do twice.