Blue Hens have one goal for 2016 season: Playoffs
— 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-
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.
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Quarterback Joe Walker is set to lead the Delaware football team.