NEWARK — His first job was getting past the James Madison defensive back.
But, since the defender was up close to the line of scrimmage, once James Collins got a step on him, there was nobody else back there.
“Once I got his hands off me, I looked up and I saw the ball,” said Collins. “I just kind of knew from there that I was going to catch it and score a touchdown.”
Collins’ 26-yard touchdown reception was a simple play but it was a big moment for the unheralded sophomore receiver from Mount Pleasant High. It was the first TD of his college career.
Unfortunately for Delaware, it was also the Blue Hens’ only touchdown in their 22-10 loss to JMU last Saturday.
Now unranked Delaware (3-4 overall) will try again to snap what has grown to a three-game losing streak when it hosts winless Dixie State (0-7) of Utah on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Collins’ TD was one of the few bright spots for Delaware’s offense, which totaled just 109 yards against JMU. It was only the third catch of the season for the 6-foot, 190-pounder from Wilmington.
“He makes plays in practice every week that get our attention and merit opportunity in the game,” coach Danny Rocco said about Collins. “He had been a little one-dimensional in how we’d been using him. But we knew we had a chance to get him the ball on a stutter.
“It was good to see. He practices hard. He’s got a lot of talent, he’s got a lot of speed. He’s one of those guys that most people don’t know very much about.”
Collins played a lot of different positions at Mount Pleasant, including receiver, wildcat quarterback, cornerback and kick returner. He came to Delaware as a preferred walk-on.
Without really any other Division I offers, and knowing he wanted to stay close to home, it was an easy decision to choose UD.
“I knew that I had the talent to play Division I, so I figured, why not just play at Delaware?” said Collins. “I’ve got all the confidence in the world in myself. And I had friends and coaches who always told me I could play at the Division I level. So I kind of just bet on myself and came here. I’ve just got to prove myself.”
Saturday’s TD catch was a big step forward for Collins. Before that, he mainly only had a few carries on speed sweeps.
Now he’s more of a full-fledged receiver.
“I go to practice and try my hardest,” said Collins. “I put in a lot of work and effort. So going out there and being able to score a touchdown and help contribute points for my team, that’s really exciting for me. It just gives me a big confidence booster. I just know that I can keep scoring points.”
Rocco sticking with Gwynn
It hasn’t exactly been a smooth transition from Nolan Henderson to Zach Gwynn as the Hens’ starting quarterback.
Delaware is 0-3 with Gwynn under center.
But, rather than give some of Delaware’s younger QBs a chance, Rocco said he thinks Gwynn is still the right man for the job right now.
“It’s a conversation that we’ve certainly had,” said Rocco. “The bottom line is that, in this moment, we feel that Zach is the guy who gives us the best chance to go out there and compete.
“Now let’s be honest. The defense we went against here on Saturday was really good. They played extraordinarily well. They made things very difficult for us. We weren’t able to get the run game going, let alone the passing game. It was just a performance that failed on a lot of levels.”
Rocco, though, acknowledged that there might come a day when he puts some of the younger QBs on the field to see what they can do.
He said one of the issues with Gwynn is that sometimes his mistakes overshadow the good things he does.
“I think for every bad picture you have in your mind, there is a good picture that you saw in a game the last three weeks,” said Rocco. “He’s done good things, he’s made good plays.”
For the season, which includes appearances before he was a starter, Gwynn is 39-of-84 (46.4 percent) for 482 yards with four touchdowns and six interceptions.
What’s in a name?
Dixie State clearly has some problems with name recognition, especially considering it is located in Utah.
Apparently, the school is located in an area known as the state’s Dixie Region. The school, which was founded by the LDS Church in 1911, has been known as ‘Dixie’ in some form since 1916.
It has already changed it mascot from the Rebels to the Trailblazers and is in the process of changing the school name to ‘Utah Tech.’
While they’re winless, the Trailblazers have played a very difficult schedule. They’ve already taken on three teams ranked the FCS top 12 with top-ranked Sam Houston State waiting for them next week.
Defense still battling
Delaware’s defense turned in one its better performances of the fall against JMU. And that’s despite the fact that the Hens are now missing veteran linebackers Colby Reeder and Drew Nickles as well as defensive lineman Frank Burton.
Linebacker Liam Trainer said it’s never easy to see your friends get injured.
“I love both those guys,” Trainer said about Reeder and Nickles. “It just hurts more seeing them go through what they have to go through. It’s part of the game. Some things you just can’t control.
“But it’s also something we can’t let distract us defensively. If someone goes down, the next man has to step up. You can’t blink an eye in that situation.”
In the same vein, Trainer said the fact that the Hens didn’t win on Saturday discourage them from trying to play just as hard next week.
“I think defensively we played better than we probably have all season,” he said. “We were definitely flying around to the ball. We were physical. We were having fun and, more importantly, we didn’t quit. We played until the very end.
“Even in the game of life, things aren’t going to play out the way you wish. The only thing you can do is keep fighting. If anything, we’re going to push harder during practice.”