Saturday, November 24, 2007

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Rarely do sporting events live up to the hype (ask Ohio State fans about last year's BCS Championship Game), but in the case of the first ever football game between the University of Delaware Blue Hens and Delaware State Hornets, with all of the talk and expectations, who would have thought that this one would have been over before it even started with, of all things, the flip of a coin.

Delaware won the coin toss and elected to defer their decision to the second half meaning that Delaware State head coach Al Lavan had to decide whether to take the ball or defend a side. He took the ball forcing his team to navigate directly into the teeth of an eighteen-mile an hour wind to start the game. It would turn out to be a mistake.

On the first play from scrimmage, Hornet quarterback Vashon Winton tried a deep play-action pass downfield to his pro-prospect receiver Shaheer McBride. McBride ran passed Blue Hen corner Fred Andrew who had stumbled while backtracking, and was wide open near the fifty-yard line. Winton's pass, however, was knocked down by the wind forcing McBride to slow down and allowing safety Charles Graves and Andrew to catch up to him. In traffic, McBride would drop the ball (although the replay may have showed otherwise) and thwart Delaware State's hope of surprising Delaware and jumping out to an early lead. The Hornets would go three and out putting their punter, Josh Brite, in the precarious position of having to kick into the wind from his own ten-yard line. Brite would shank the punt giving Delaware the ball on the Del State forty-four yard line.

Four plays later, Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco would scramble and hit his tight end and roommate Robbie Agnone for a thirty-two yard touchdown. The Hens would never look back.

By the time Delaware State had the wind at their back in the second quarter, Delaware had already scored three touchdowns and led the game 20-0. It was 30-0 by halftime.

In the second quarter Delaware neutralized the wind by keeping it on the ground with their all-world running back Omar Cuff. It was Omar, Omar, Omar. Left, right, and up the middle. It just did not matter because the highly touted Delaware State defense could barely slow him down. It seemed like every time Omar touched the ball another record would fall. He would end the day with a UD single game record 288 yards and another four touchdowns giving him thirty-three this year and sixty-eight in his incredible career.

The final score was 44-7, but it could have been much worse for Del State had Delaware not called off their attack early in the second half.

After the game, Del State head coach Al Lavan who exudes dignity and class succinctly summed up the day's experience when he said, "Being here shows us how far we have come, but also how far we have to go." Unfortunately not all of the Del State players took their cues from their coach. On the game's last play, an inconsequential kneel down by the Delaware back-ups, Del State's Ryan Spinner leveled a horrendous cheap shot on the Delaware third-string center. Way to go Ryan; you really showed him. Spinner then refused to get in line and shake hands when it was over.

Spinner's thuggish act aside, the game went off without a hitch. The huge crowd really seemed to enjoy themselves despite the lopsided outcome. Before the game, it was great to see the two sets of fans co-mingle in the parking lots trading good-natured barbs back and forth.

Yes this was the first meeting ever between the state's lone Division I schools, but the way everyone is talking it surely will not be the last. It was a great day for the State of Delaware even if it was eighty-three years in the making, and in retrospect it would have been difficult, no matter how it went, for the game to live up to the hype.

It just would have been nice if it lasted a little longer then coin toss.

Bill Komissaroff

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Higher Learning

At the end of her show each week, Sarah Silverman always asks her dog, "What did we learn today, Doug?" After a crazy day in college football, I am sitting in my kitchen on Sunday morning drinking a cup of coffee wishing I had a dog named Doug. (Or a girl named Sarah!)

One thing we learned is that statistics don't always tell the full story. Back in 2004 Delaware ran up and down the field and dominated in their game at James Madison. The Hens out gained JMU 466-166 in total offense that day, but JMU prevailed 20-13 ruining the debut of a then unheard of Delaware running back named Omar Cuff. It was the type of game that championship teams find a way to win which is exactly what James Madison was that year finishing the season with a record of 13-2 and winning the I-AA National Championship.

Yesterday at Delaware Stadium it was JMU that was able to run it up and down the field. The Dukes compiled 403 yards rushing, the fourth most ever against a Delaware defense, including touchdown runs of 86, 48, and 55 yards; but it was Delaware who persevered this time defeating JMU 37-34. It was the type of game that championship teams find a way to win.

Another thing we learned yesterday was to play until you hear the whistle. On James Madison's second possession of the game running back Scott Noble ran what appeared to be a garden variety 2-yard run up the middle. As the pile was holding him up, Noble and several other players anticipated the whistle and stopped playing. One player who did not stop was Delaware defensive end Matt Marcorelle who ripped the ball away from Noble and started sprinting in the other direction commencing a 20-minute tirade/hissy fit on the field and up and down the sidelines by JMU head coach Mickey Matthews disputing the call.

We also learned that Delaware's defense needs both of its ends Marcorelle and Ronald Talley healthy. Marcorelle did not return to the game after injuring his shoulder on a touchdown saving tackle by JMU quarterback Rodney Landers on the aforementioned strip. Talley sprained his ankle in the first half of the Navy game last week and hasn't played since. After the game, Delaware head coach KC Keeler told us on the radio that he was certain that both would be fine and ready to go next week which I am pretty sure is what he told us last week about Talley. Delaware fans better hope so. Without either of the two playing during the second half yesterday the Dukes were able to compile 339-yards and score 28 points.

After the Delaware game, I had a chance to watch the Hens next opponent, the Richmond Spiders and their Big Daddy Long-Legs Tim Hightower take apart Villanova 35-27. You don't need a degree in Arachnology to realize that these Spiders are pretty scary. Hightower rushed for 187-yards, a touchdown, and caught 3 passes increasing his rushing yards per game average up to 154. These Spiders are far from a one-legged team however. Their quarterback Eric Ward keeps getting better. Yesterday he completed 70% of his passes, threw a score, and ran for one. Richmond also has an outstanding offensive line, a good group of receivers, a stingy defense that allows less than 20 points per game, and a young coach in Dave Clawson that appears to be on the fast track.

If Delaware is going to win next Saturday, they are going to have to play their most complete game of the year.

A couple of other things we learned yesterday. If you are going to win games in the Northeast part of the country in November and December, you better be able to run the football. Just ask Massachusetts and New Hampshire, who had to play in hurricane conditions and lost to the two worst teams in the CAA, about that.

Finally we learned that good things come to those who wait. After 44 years, Navy beat Notre Dame. Congratulations to Navy coach Paul Johnson. I hope you like the weather in Nebraska.

Bill Komissaroff

ps- See the post below for the recap of the JMU Game.