Delaware at crossroads, Seawolves turning corner
(STATS) - A tumultuous turn of events has Delaware in a highly unusual position as it prepares for an unfamiliar opponent.
With co-defensive coordinator Dennis Dottin-Carter now in charge, the reeling Blue Hens enter their first-ever meeting with No. 24 Stony Brook attempting to avoid their first five-game losing streak since 1939.
It's been a whirlwind last few days for a Delaware program among the most tradition-rich at the FCS level. The Blue Hens squandered an 11-point lead in last Saturday's 24-17 loss at William & Mary to fall to 0-3 in CAA play, triggering the dismissal of head coach Dave Brock the following day.
"The players are hurt, without a doubt," Dottin-Carter said. "So my message to them was we need to be together. We need to, as (athletic director) Chrissi (Rawak) put it, we've got to pivot and move forward."
The Blue Hens' last four-game skid also prompted a change in leadership, as the administration ended K.C. Keeler's otherwise successful 11-year reign after a 5-6 finish in 2012. But while Keeler was taking Sam Houston State to consecutive FCS semifinals appearances over the past two seasons and a current No. 1 ranking in the STATS Top 25, Brock was unable to elevate UD out of its mid-level standing in CAA Football during his 3 1/2-year tenure.
Though sagging attendance and increasing fan apathy surely played a part in the decision, Brock ultimately couldn't complete the season because his team wasn't able to close out games. After being outscored 15-7 in the fourth quarter in a 28-21 home loss to Maine on Oct. 8, Delaware (2-4) surrendered 21 straight points over a 7 1/2-minute span in the final period last week in Williamsburg.
"That's what this conference is about, winning games in the fourth quarter," Dottin-Carter said. "We had put ourselves in the position we actually want to be in, having an opportunity in the fourth quarter, but we've got to finish."
Dottin-Carter's first foe as an interim head coach has had no such issues. Stony Brook (4-2, 3-0) has outscored the opposition 55-3 in the second half in winning its first three CAA games. After putting forth a sluggish and penalty-marred offensive performance through three quarters last week against Rhode Island, the rising Seawolves responded with two touchdown drives in the fourth to pull out a 14-3 victory.
"You've got to play the fourth quarter of every game and we've been able to do that two weeks in a row, come out and take charge in the fourth quarter and play through adversity," coach Chuck Priore said. "So I think we're growing up that way."
The Seawolves also rallied late to deal No. 19 North Dakota a 13-9 defeat in the season opener, one of two signature 2016 wins for a program that's stepping out of its recent run of mediocrity. After joining the CAA in 2013 following a dominant four-year stretch in the Big South, Stony Brook went 10-14 in league games over its first three seasons and didn't finish higher than fifth in any of those years.
An improved ground game headed by FBS transfers Stacey Bedell and Jordan Gowins has helped spark the revival, as has the play of an always-stingy defense coordinated by Delaware native and former Blue Hens assistant Lyle Hemphill. The Seawolves rank in the FCS top 15 in total yards allowed (306.3 ypg), rushing defense (105.7 ypg) and yards allowed per rush attempt (3.2).
Delaware, which has never started 0-4 in league play during its 30-year history of conference affiliation, hopes to combat the Seawolves' strength with a relentless rushing attack which averages over 270 yards and could have top back Wes Hills available. The junior missed the William & Mary game with a leg injury but amassed a career-high 242 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries against Maine.
"They're a physical team, so we've got to match their physicality," Priore said. "They've got some good backs coming at you in the run game. They'll control the game if you let them, so you've got to be able to make their first-down carries be one and two yards and put them in a little longer situation for second and third down."