Blue Hens believe in Gwynn as their starting QB

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NEWARK — To the outside world, Zach Gwynn is a brand-new starting quarterback.

But, remember, Delaware’s football players have seen him make countless throws in practice.

“I remember him specifically one time him rolling to the right and making a throw downfield,” said senior receiver Gene Coleman. “I’m just like, ‘Man, it was a really good throw.’ He’s capable of that. He’s talented.”

The Blue Hens say their confidence in Gwynn wasn’t shaken by his debut as a starter in Delaware’s 22-15 loss at Rhode Island last Saturday.

Gwynn threw three interceptions as the Hens had their six-game CAA winning streak snapped. With Nolan Henderson now sidelined — probably for the season — and undergoing hernia surgery on Tuesday, Gwynn is now Delaware’s starting QB.

No. 14 Delaware (2-1 CAA, 3-2 overall), which plays at Stony Brook (0-3 CAA, 1-5 overall) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., is optimistic that the Salesianum School grad will play better once he gets settled in.

“Once he calms down and gets into the flow of the game, he’s really a ‘gamer’ type of player,” said Coleman. “Even before Nolan was injured, there were times over the summer when we were doing competitive periods ... he’s talented. We just trust him.

“The thing with this team, everybody is so close. I’m close with Zach just the way I am with Nolan. So for me, it’s not just the backup quarterback stepping in, it’s my friend stepping in. So to be able to trust him and really believe in him isn’t really something that’s difficult for me or I think anybody on the team.”

Against Rhode Island, Gwynn completed 9-of-17 passes for 117 yards with a touchdown and the three interceptions. In the second half alone, however, he was 7-for-10 for 109 yards and a touchdown.

Gwynn’s only second-half interception came in the end zone with the Hens at the Rams’ 12 yard line with 23 seconds left. On the previous play, Gwynn completed a 20-yard pass to Coleman on a fourth-and-10.

“I do feel like as the game progressed, it slowed down for him,” said coach Danny Rocco. “I feel like he saw things cleaner, better and processed things better. I think the big thing is just not feeling like you’ve got to put the whole game on your shoulders.

“Just take what you’re given and give our other players — our running backs, our receivers — (the chance) to do things with the ball in their hands. He can make all the throws. I think that’s the one thing you can hang your hat on with Zach.”

Rocco pointed out Gwynn’s 42-yard touchdown pass to Thyrick Pitts as a good example of the QB’s ability.

Gwynn was patient enough to wait until Pitts made a double move to get behind the defense. He also stood in the pocket and took a hit after releasing the ball.

“That’s a throw that a bunch of guys can’t make because they don’t have the arm strength or the size to sit in the pocket like that,” said Rocco.

“He’ll have to have a good week of preparation,” the coach added. “Then, knowing that this is his second week of really being ‘the guy’ in practice, I think will also help boost his confidence.”

Coleman pointed out that the touchdown pass came in the same formation that Gwynn threw an interception out of in the first half.

“Quarterback is a hard position to play whether you’ve played it 100 times or this is your first college start,” said Coleman.

Upon further review

• Rocco said URI’s game-winning punt block came because punter Tyler Pastula kicked the ball when he was too close to the three linemen blocking for him.

He’s supposed to kick the ball from 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage but hit the ball nine yards back on the crucial play. That allowed the Rams’ 6-foot-3, 255-pound Andre Bibeault to reach over the blockers and get his hand on the ball.

URI’s L.B. Mack returned the loose ball 28 yards to give the Rams their 22-15 advantage with only 3:46 left.

“It’s really extraordinary that his hand was placed exactly where the ball came out and blocked in a fashion where it actually went backwards,” said Rocco. “It’s disappointing but the probabilities are extraordinarily low of that happening in that way.”

• Another close play that didn’t go the Hens’ way came earlier in the second half.

On a short pass completion near the Rams’ sideline, safety Kedrick Whitehead knocked the ball out of a URI back’s hands and recovered the ball out of the air. But the official ruled that Whitehead’s foot was touching out of bounds and replays were inconclusive.

The Rams kept possession and ended up driving for the tying field goal. Already leading 15-12, Delaware would have had the ball in URI territory.

Either way, it was a play decided by no more than an inch or two. Cornerback Justus Henley was also involved in making the tackle on the play.

“He (Whitehead) was clearly inbounds,” said Henley. “It definitely would have put us in a better situation to win the game. It’s unfortunate that the call didn’t go our way.”

Block party

On the other hand, the Hens got a big block of their own when Henley stuffed a URI 33-yard field-goal attempt at the end of the third quarter.

The block led to Quincy Watson’s go-ahead eight-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

Henley said it’s something Delaware game plans to try to accomplish every game.

“That’s something that we work on almost every day in practice,” he said. “I’ve actually had a couple blocked kicks in practice so it’s something that I take seriously. It’s a play that I want to make each week for the team.”

Extra points

Delaware dropped five spots to No. 14 in Monday’s STATS FCS poll. ... Defensive coordinator Manny Rojas wasn’t able to be at the URI game due to COVID protocols but was able to hold virtual meetings with his players during the week. Linebackers coach Rich Yahner called the defense during the game. ... Sophomore Cade Pribula becomes the No. 2 QB behind Gwynn with Anthony Paoletti still seeing time as the wildcat quarterback. ... Linebacker Drew Nickles is questionable for the Stony Brook game with a strained leg muscle.