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UNC/Delaware Preview: Blue Hens Running

Kickoff is set for 12:30pm (RSN) at Kenan Stadium on Saturday.

Getting to Know Delaware

The Blue Hens enter their first-ever matchup with UNC looking to avoid a third loss in four games after losing a heartbreaker to FCS No. 6 Villanova. Delaware is coached by former North Carolina assistant coach Dave Brock, who was part of John Bunting’s staff in 2005 and 2006. Brock took over Delaware in 2013 and has built a 14-13 overall record. Brock is 0-2 at Delaware against FBS competition, dropping a 51-7 loss at Navy in 2013 and a 62-0 defeat at Pittsburgh last season. 

Delaware has won six national titles and notched five runner-up finishes at the FCS level, but the program has been middling for the better part of the decade. The Blue Hens made it to the national championship game in 2010, where they lost to Eastern Washington, but are 26-23 since then.

Offense

The Delaware offense has struggled thus far, ranking 88th in the FCS with an average of 303.7 yards and 18 points per game. The only passing touchdown thrown by a Blue Hen this year came from the arm of wide receiver Diante Cherry. Brock opened the season with a two-quarterback platoon comprised of Joe Walker and Blake Rankin. Following the season-opening 20-14 loss to Jacksonville (Fla.), Brock scrapped the plan and gave Walker (20-of-52 passing, 204 yards) the starting nod.

These limited passing numbers, of course, comes from the run-heavy mindset of the Delaware offense, which ranks T-26th nationally with 208.3 rushing yards per game. Four different Blue Hens have rushed for more than 100 yards this season, led by running back Jalen Randolph, who has gained a team-high 150 yards and scored a team-high two touchdowns. Randolph will miss Saturday's game due to injury. Walker is second in rushing with 130 yards and one touchdown through three games.

The offense has stalled out too often in the red zone, ranking 90th in red zone scoring percentage (70.0), which helps explain the low scoring output. Look for the Blue Hens to soak up as much of the game clock as possible. Brock’s squad ranks 10th nationally in time of possession (33:48).

Defense

Defensively, the Blue Hens have fared much better, ranking 24th in total defense (321.3 yards) and T-20th in scoring defense (19 ppg). That’s a significant change from last season, when Delaware ranked eighth amongst the CAA in total defense (388.8 ypg) and scoring defense (27.2 ppg). The improvement has largely been on the shoulders of an influx of talented underclassmen. The Blue Hens play between 20-23 defenders each game with 17 of them listed as either freshmen or sophomores.

Linebacker Charles Bell leads Delaware with 20 tackles and an interception. Another player to watch is left defensive end David Tinsley, who already has 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks on the season.

Notable Quotes

“I came into the cafeteria and heard some of the freshmen just like ‘Yo, we don’t even have to play with these guys, they’re not even better than (North Carolina) A&T.’ That’s when I stopped them and said ‘Hey, did you see Ohio State’s game this past weekend?’ They only won 20-13. It doesn’t matter who you play that weekend. Saturdays are upset days.” – UNC quarterback Marquise Williams on not overlooking Delaware

“We’re very excited. Everybody dreams to play at a big-time stadium like North Carolina. I’m happy to go down there and see how we match up against a team like that.” – Delaware safety Ray Jones

“This school has a lot of tradition. I think they’ve won six national championships at the FCS level, so they know how to win. There’s a tremendous amount of pride and tradition there.” – UNC head coach Larry Fedora 

Matchup to Watch

Delaware’s Rushing Attack vs. North Carolina’s Run Defense

The Blue Hens love to run the ball, averaging 48.7 attempts per game. The North Carolina defensive line is built to play the run, and transition into the pass rush if the quarterback drops back. That’s transition has been a struggle thus far for the Tar Heels, who rank 104th nationally in run defense (212.0 yards per game). However, Delaware has been a one-dimensional offense so far this season, which should help UNC establish a stronghold at the line of scrimmage and limit the Blue Hens’ ability to run at will.


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