Delaware will win because ...
Blue Hens’ experience difference-maker in championship game
Jerry Trickie, NCAA.com
When you break down the FCS title game, it’s clear that Delaware will walk off the field Friday with the championship in hand. The Blue Hens will not win because they have more playmakers than Eastern Washington, which they do. No, they’ll take home their second title in eight years because of their experience in key areas.
Look across the Delaware roster and you’ll find eight players who have first-hand knowledge about the pressures of playing in a championship game. The group made significant contributions during the Blue Hens’ playoff run to the 2007 national title game and now has 34 combined career starts in the FCS playoffs (6-1 record). Seven of those players are on the defensive side of the ball -- and we all know the old saying about defense winning championships ...
A quick look inside the defensive numbers shows UD is playing at a championship level. In the most important category, Delaware doesn’t let teams get to the end zone as it leads the nation in scoring defense (11.5 ppg) after holding eight opponents to 10 or fewer points, including each of its past two playoff opponents (New Hampshire and Georgia Southern). Against six top-10 teams, the Blue Hens allowed only 12.3 points per contest while winning five times.
Delaware also ranks third in turnover margin (+1.2) and 15th in rushing defense (111.0 ypg), other areas that will be important as the Blue Hens face one of the nation’s top offenses on Friday. Eastern Washington ranks 12th in scoring (32.3 ppg) while featuring an explosive ground game behind RB Taiwan Jones, who is second nationally with 145.2 rushing yards per game.
Eastern Washington QB Bo Levi Washington, who ranks among the top 30 in passing efficiency (27th, 134.9) and total offense (28th, 231.8 ypg), will be facing a secondary that’s as good as any in the FCS. UD ranks eighth in pass efficiency defense, holding opposing quarterbacks to a 98.6 rating while giving up just 166.4 yards through the air (19th nationally). It also has collected 19 interceptions.
Delaware CBs Anthony Walters and Tyrone Grant and FS Anthony Bratton have been part of the opening lineup every game this season, and more importantly, they have been in clutch situations when it’s win-or-go-home time with 17 career playoff starts among them. Walters and Bratton -- each named to an All-America team this season -- have been two of the most productive defenders in UD history, posting more than 250 tackles apiece while combining for 23 career interceptions.
UD also has the luxury of having a mentor who has been in this situation before. Head coach K.C. Keeler will be guiding his eighth team into a national title contest, including his third at the FCS level. While his teams went 0-for-5 in championship games at the Division III level, Keeler’s FCS squads are 1-1 after winning the 2003 title in his second year at his alma mater.
With the experience his defense boasts, Keeler will push that career championship game average over .500 this weekend.
Delaware allowed only seven opponents to record more than 100 rushing yards this season. The Blue Hens won six of those games, including a 25-17 contest against Massachusetts when it rushed for 196 yards, an opponent season high.
Who to Watch
While QB Pat Devlin has earned numerous All-America honors for the Blue Hens’ potent offense, keep an eye on RB Andrew Pierce. The walk-on was named the national freshman of the year by Phil Steele after rushing for 108.7 yards per game (15th nationally) and helping UD rank 20th in total offense (400.7 ypg).
Did You Know?
With a win in the championship game, Delaware will finish the year with a 13-2 record. It will be only the third time in program history the Blue Hens have recorded 13 wins in a season, joining the 1979 (13-1 in NCAA Division II) and 2003 (15-1) national championship squads.