Hens can’t stick with Rutgers

By Andy Walter
Posted 9/18/21

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — When Dejoun Lee got to the sidelines, he knew he still had big Bradly Anyanwu out in front of him.

“I told him (during the week), ‘If you engage, I’m …

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Hens can’t stick with Rutgers

Posted

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — When Dejoun Lee got to the sidelines, he knew he still had big Bradly Anyanwu out in front of him.

“I told him (during the week), ‘If you engage, I’m going to make you right,’” Lee said about the offensive lineman from Dover High. “And he did exactly what I told him. Honestly, that’s a credit to him. If he didn’t do that, I’m getting tackled right there.”

Instead, thanks to Anyanwu’s block, Lee found himself sprinting 71 yards down the sidelines for Delaware’s biggest play of the day in SHI Stadium.

Unfortunately for the Blue Hens, those kind of plays were too few and far between.

Rutgers did indeed look like the bigger, stronger, faster team as the FBS Scarlet Knights dumped FCS No. 6 Delaware, 45-13, in the first meeting between the two East Coast schools since 1973.

The Hens (2-1) certainly didn’t embarrass themselves. But they also never seriously threatened Rutgers (3-0) after the Knights erupted for 28 second-quarter points to open up a 35-10 halftime advantage, much to the delight of their red-clad crowd of 40,129 on the hot afternoon.

The Knights out-gained Delaware by a decisive 491 yards to 263 — and that didn’t even count a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown. Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral had a near-perfect day throwing the ball as he completed 21-of-25 passes for 323 yards and a pair of TDs.

“I expected us to play better, I don’t think there’s any doubt that I’m disappointed in the way the game played out,” said Delaware coach Danny Rocco. “I did tell the team at the end that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t hang your head. Don’t walk out of here feeling ashamed in any way.

“They were a really good team and they played a really good game. We had opportunities to hang around. We didn’t take advantage of those. And then they were gone, it became lopsided.”

One of those chances to keep things competitive came in the first quarter, with the Hens trailing only 7-0.

Delaware had already picked up 30 yards and three first downs on a drive when quarterback Nolan Henderson found tight end Bryce DeMaille for about a 17-yard pass to the Rutgers’ 25. But the play was wiped out by a 15-yard chop-block penalty against Delaware.

That was followed by a 10-yard holding penalty on the next play and then an 11-yard sack two plays later.

On the first play after the Hens were forced to punt, Vedral hit a 57-yard pass and then a 28-yard pass for a TD that gave Rutgers a 14-0 advantage.

Rocco thought the chop-block penalty was the right call but that it was unintentional on the part of the Delaware players.

“That was a drive that blew up in our face,” said Rocco. “At that moment, it was a game. If we went down and got some points, that would have made a big difference in our ability to stay in it, and the longer you can stay in it, the longer it would have been a game.”

The Hens did answer with Lee’s long 71-yard run to the Knights’ one. On the next play, Henderson hit receiver Thyrick Pitts with a quick scoring pass to get Delaware back within 14-7.

Again, however, Rutgers stormed right back. On the very next play, Vedral found a wide-open Brandon Sanders for a 62-yard TD pass that put the Knights back up 21-7.

Delaware never got the Knights’ advantage under double digits again.

“The one criticism after their Syracuse game was the downfield passing game according to the people that follow the Rutgers program,” said Rocco, referring to the Knights’ 17-7 win last week. “They obviously spent time on that and executed very well. They had speed at receiver. We have good corners, but those are tough matchups in a game where you don’t have a consistent pass rush.”

“Honestly, in the first half, a lot of the points that they had were self-inflicted on our end,” said safety Kedrick Whitehead, the Middletown High grad. “No discredit to them, they’re a great team. But we just have to lock in defensively — no mental errors, no coverage busts. And we have to wrap up and make our tackles.”

Besides the touchdown, Delaware’s only points came on a pair of field goals from Ryan Coe. He boomed a 53-yarder that tied his career long.

Henderson hung in against a constant Rutgers’ pass rush, completing 11-of-20 passes for 95 yards. But the Smyrna High grad was also under a lot of pressure as he was sacked five times.

Henderson did get up slowly on a few occasions before Rocco finally took him out after three quarters.

If there was a bright spot for the Hens, it was their ability to run the ball at times.

Lee finished with 121 yards on 15 carries as Delaware netted 162 yards on the ground. That’s the Hens’ most productive day in their last eight games.

Delaware also had veteran center Mickey Henry back on the field for the first time this season.

“I think today just showed how well our ‘O’ line can block in regards to run blocking when we’re healthy,” said Lee. “That was a great sign.”

The biggest fear for FCS teams playing an FBS program is the possibility of injuries. Delaware lost defensive lineman Nick Coomer to a knee injury that looked like it might be serious.

Rocco was asked if he thought scheduling FBS schools is a good decision for an FCS team. He said Greg Schiano’s return as Rutgers’ coach clearly has the Knights going in the right direction — something that was difficult to predict when the contest was scheduled.

“The timing of things is so critical,” said Rocco. “When you schedule games, you never know what programs are really going to be like. “I think these are games that our student-athletes want to be in. Every now and then you have the opportunity to dial it up right, take the game into the fourth quarter and find a way to win one. I was hoping to do that today and disappointed we couldn’t.”

As a senior, Lee won’t get the chance to play in this kind of game again. But he said he’d still welcome the opportunity.
“I’ll play these guys every week,” he said. “Same team, the same place. It doesn’t matter.

“Everybody on this team has something to prove. Our point is that we’re a great team and we can compete with the best. You’ve got to play the best to beat the best. That’s what we want.”

Extra points

Rutgers leads the all-time series 16-13-3. ... Linebacker Anthony Toro also suffered a knee injury late in the game but Rocco was more optimistic about his ability to come back. ... Linebacker Drew Nickles, who has been sidelined with an injury, made his first appearance of the season. ... Safety Joe Zubililaga and Whitehead both had a team-high eight tackles. ... After being called for a total of five penalties in their first two games, the Hens lost 50 yards on four penalties on Saturday. ... Coe is now 6-for-6 on field-goal attempts this fall. ... Receiver Brett Buckman led Delaware with four catches for 57 yards... Delaware has an open date next weekend before hosting Albany on Oct. 2.