Blue Hens have one goal for 2016 sea­son: Play­offs

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - By SEAN GRO­GAN

sgro­gan@ce­cil­whig.com

— There is a sin­gle, clear-cut goal for the Univer­sity of Delaware foot­ball team this fall.

“Play­offs. That’s our slo­gan. Win the con­fer­ence and be a play­off team,” senior run­ning back Jalen Ran­dolph said. “The play­offs are our ex­pec­ta­tion and we’ve never had that con­crete ex­pec­ta­tion be­fore. I think that’s the dif­fer­ence.”

Senior of­fen­sive line­man Con­nor Boz­ick went a step fur­ther.

“Our ex­pec­ta­tions are laid out re­ally clear: We’re go­ing to be a play­off team this year. That’s re­ally the only goal that we have right now,” he said. “It’s Delaware. We’re al­ways look­ing to win, but since we’ve fallen short the past years, there’s an ex­tra em­pha­sis on need­ing to be a play­off team this year.”

The Blue Hens have not made the play­offs since reach­ing the FCS Na­tional Cham­pi­onship game in 2010, the pro­gram’s long­est such drought.

“It’s play­offs or bust,” senior safety Ryan Torzsa said. “It’s all we re­ally care about, all we talk about, all we think about. All we’re re­ally striv­ing for is to make the play­offs. There’s no rea­son with as solid of a team that we are that we’re not a play­off team.”

Dave Brock en­ters his fourth sea­son as head coach. Delaware’s record has got-

NE­WARK, DEL.

ten worse in each of his first three years, but that co­in­cides with two enor­mous re­cruit­ing classes he has used to re­build the pro­gram with young tal­ent. For the first time, Brock has a vet­eran team to work with.

The lofty ex­pec­ta­tions ex­pressed by the play­ers come di­rectly from their coach.

“It comes from me,” Brock said. “I feel like we should be a play­off team … You set goals that are re­al­is­tic. I’m re­ally ex­cited about the team, I’m re­ally ex­cited about the play­ers, the peo­ple that we have and I’m ex­cited about the op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“When you stand up in front of 95 guys and you look them in the eye ev­ery­day, you have to tell them the truth be­cause kids know. I want them to un­der­stand ex­actly what the be­lieve sys­tem is of the coach. I told them ‘If you be­lieve it, don’t shy away from it.’ There’s now rea­son to. We’re not mak­ing a pre­dic­tion, I’m telling you how I feel.”

Ex­pec­ta­tions could not be much higher for the Hens’ de­fense or run­ning at­tack. Delaware ranked 17th na­tion­ally in to­tal de­fense a sea­son ago, and re­turns nearly every­one from that unit.

“We feel re­ally good about what we have on de­fense,” Brock said. “We were a Top 25 de­fen­sive team in ev­ery cat­e­gory that we re­ally put a lot of em­pha­sis on – scor­ing de­fense, to­tal de­fense, run de­fense. We re­ally be­lieve that it’s an op­por­tu­nity to go from good to great and we re­ally think that we have the play­ers to do it.”

Torzsa was a vet­eran leader de­fen­sively in 2015 as only a ju­nior. He stressed that just be­cause the Hens are more ex­pe­ri­enced, they won’t be au­to­mat­i­cally bet­ter.

“The past cou­ple of years, the coaches have al­ways said that our youth is not an ex­cuse,” he said. “Now that we’re older and a lit­tle more ex­pe­ri­enced, we’re ex­pect­ing big things, but just be­cause we’re an­other year older doesn’t mean we’re go­ing to be bet­ter.”

Delaware also pos­sessed one of the na­tion’s top rush­ing of­fenses in 2015, de­spite sea­son-end­ing in­juries to Ran­dolph and Wes Hills. Thomas Jef­fer­son and Ka­reem Wil­liams emerged in the ab­sence, with Jef­fer­son be­ing named CAA Co-Rookie of The Year. Wil­liams will red­shirt this sea­son, leav­ing the Hens with a three-headed mon­ster in the back­field.

“They did a great job. It’s go­ing to be hard to match that this sea­son,” Hills said. “In our back­field, you’ve got to bring your A-game for ev­ery prac­tice. If you don’t, you could be left in the dust. Ev­ery guy un­der­stands that.”

For Delaware’s play­off pre­dic­tions to come true, the big­gest im­prove­ment must be made to the pass­ing game. Joe Walker re­turns af­ter start­ing as a fresh­man in 2015, when the Hens’ 67.1 pass­ing yards per game ranked dead last in the FCS.

Walker com­pleted less than 50 per­cent of his passes and threw just one touch­down with six in­ter­cep­tions. Brock ex­pects to see dras­tic im­prove­ment, call­ing the pass­ing game a “ma­jor em­pha­sis.”

“I cer­tainly think he’s much more ac­cu­rate. I cer­tainly think he’s got a bet­ter grasp of what we’re try­ing to do of­fen­sively,” Brock said of Walker, adding that the wide re­ceivers are also im­proved. “So many times when you look at an in­di­vid­ual player, so much of the credit or so much of the blame falls on that player. And the real­ity is that it’s very rarely ac­cu­rate, whether it’s credit or blame. No­body cares when it’s credit, but when it’s blame, it’s tough. I’m proud of Joe. When you look at the way he han­dled him­self, when you look at the way he han­dled the sit­u­a­tion, he’s in­cred­i­bly ma­ture for a young guy who played his first year. I’m proud of him for what he’s done and how hard he’s worked.”

Delaware opens the sea­son at home Thurs­day against in-state ri­val Delaware State.

Fol­low Sean Gro­gan on Twit­ter: @Sean_Ce­cilWhig

UNIVER­SITY OF DELAWARE PHOTO BY MARK CAMP­BELL

Quar­ter­back Joe Walker is set to lead the Delaware foot­ball team.

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