JMU offers big opportunity for sliding Blue Hens

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NEWARK — You can look at Delaware’s current football predicament in one of two ways.

Either the Blue Hens’ current problems are about to get a whole lot worse or they can get their season quickly turned around with one really good afternoon.

Not surprisingly, Delaware’s players prefer to see seventh-ranked James Madison’s impending visit to Delaware Stadium as a big opportunity.

The No. 23 Hens (2-2 CAA, 3-3 overall) host the Dukes (3-1 CAA, 5-1 overall) for Homecoming on Saturday at 3 p.m. It’s the first time the two programs have met since the 2018 NCAA FCS playoffs.

“You look at it and say, oh, we have a hard team coming in,” said senior running back Dejoun Lee. “Or you can look at it and say it’s perfect. We have an opportunity to redeem ourselves and show everybody that we’re still the same team, we can still play at a high level.

“That’s the way I look at it. Having JMU after two losses gives us the chance to get right back on track. That’s what we plan to do.”

Delaware has to hope that last Saturday’s 34-17 loss at 1-5 Stony Brook was it hitting rock bottom. The Hens’ second CAA loss in a row certainly felt that bad in some ways.

On the other hand, Delaware did play some solid football for stretches of Saturday’s game. But the mistakes the Hens made — giving up a 99-yard run to start the game before the offense and special teams both gave away touchdowns at the end — were brutal.

It’s not like JMU is going to have any sympathy for Delaware, though.

The Dukes have had their own problems. They only beat New Hampshire, 24-22, before losing to Villanova, 28-27, two weeks ago.

And remember, JMU is probably still annoyed that the Hens were awarded the CAA’s automatic playoff bid in the spring after both teams went unbeaten in league games.

Of course, coach Danny Rocco isn’t giving up on the season, either. In situations like this, he said it’s important not to get so focused on the problems that you lose sight of possible solutions.

“Our motivation right now is that we’ve got plenty of good players — plenty of talented players ... that we should be able to find a way to win a game at home against a really good team,” said Rocco. “We’re going to have to play our best game of the season.”

“We all know what we have to do move forward,” said safety Kedrick Whitehead. “It’s just up to us to do those things. We’ve just got to lock in and move this thing forward one game at a time.”

Asked what would get Delaware’s season jump started, Whitehead’s answer was simple.

“There’s only one thing that’s going to get it turned around — and that’s a win,” he said.

Hens still hurting

Quarterback injuries continue to be an issue for Delaware.

After losing starter Nolan Henderson probably for the season, two of the Blue Hens’ top three QBs were hurt on Saturday.

Current starter Zach Gwynn had to leave the contest late in the game after taking a hard hit to the ribs. Cade Pribula, who replaced Gywnn, then briefly dislocated his non-throwing shoulder.

Rocco said he was optimistic that both quarterbacks will be available on Saturday. But he said Gwynn was listed as not available for workouts on Monday.

“He’ll be very much day to day,” said Rocco. “Hopefully tomorrow he’ll be a little closer to being in a limited capacity. I’ll know more as the week progresses.”

Rocco said Pribula’s shoulder issue was an old injury that was quickly popped back in. He also said that Delaware’s third top QB, Anthony Paoletti, would continue to get more work in practice.

After throwing three interceptions in his first collegiate start two weeks ago. Gwynn didn’t have any against Stony Brook — although he did fumble on a sack late in the game to set up a touchdown by the Seawolves.

Gwynn also threw a pair of scoring passes. For the season, he is 33-for-64 for 397 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions.

The Hens’ biggest issue offensively was not being able to put together a drive in the fourth quarter when it trailed by only three points and Delaware’s defense forced Stony Brook to punt on three straight possessions.

“You’ve got to play 60 minutes, said Rocco. “You’ve got to make plays for four quarters. I think Zach is progressing really well and did some really good things in the game.

“But he’s going to have to make plays in the fourth quarter, on those last drives, to give us an opportunity.”

Rocco pointed out that Delaware continues to shuffle the offensive line in front of Gwynn. He said the Hens are missing linemen on both sides of the ball because of both injuries and COVID protocols.

Lee putting up yards

While Delaware has lost three of its last four games, Lee continues to put up good rushing yards, week-in and week-out.

The 5-foot-7, 185-pounder had a streak of at least 112 yards in three straight contests before running for ‘only’ 91 against Stony Brook.

But Rocco said that Lee’s rushing stats are only a small part of what the co-captain and his positive attitude give the Hens.

“He’s really been an impressive human being since he got here,” said Rocco. “He’s kind of one of those guys where you say it’s a too-good-to-be-true kind of thing. He’s the same guy every day. He’s got all the energy every day.

“Sometimes, when you’ve been doing it as long as I’ve been doing it, you wonder if it’s real. ... Is this genuine? Then, the more you’re around him, the more genuine it is. It’s just who he is. And then he backs it up, not just with production but with effort and performance and commitment.”

Lee is now second in the CAA in rushing at 93.6 yards per game.

Extra points

Marcus Yarns, the former Parkside, Maryland standout, saw his first action at running back for the Hens last Saturday. He ran for 12 yards on four carries. ... Henderson posted that his hernia surgery on Tuesday in Philadelphia was successful. “Road back starts now!,” he wrote. ... Receiver Thyrick Pitts has six of the Hens’ seven touchdown receptions this season. ... Starting center Mickey Henry (back) has played in only two games this fall.