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November has arrived, and with it comes championship season in the Colonial Athletic Association. An atmosphere in which every game takes on heightened significance sets the scene for what could be a de facto playoff-elimination tilt between Delaware and Towson.
Who: Delaware (4-4, 2-2 CAA) at Towson (4-4, 1-3 CAA)
When: Saturday, Nov. 2, 2 p.m. ET
Where: Johnny Unitas Stadium; Towson, Maryland
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball
Both teams sit at .500 heading into the final month of the regular season, coming off losses and needing strong pushes to make the field of 24. The margin for error is slim, if it exists at all.
The Tigers battled No. 2 James Madison a week ago in a game that, despite the loss, coach Rob Ambrose called “encouraging.”
“I think we’re building something for the rest of the season,” he said. “The kids have been really resilient.”
Injuries have rocked Towson, and the same is true for Delaware. Just as the Fightin’ Blue Hens welcomed back lightning bug running back DeJoun Lee, they lost dual-threat quarterback Nolan Henderson.
Delaware fell in a roller-coaster contest Week 9 to Richmond, another CAA squad facing a veritable win-or-go home November.
Towson quarterback Tom Flacco faced a consistent and heavy pass-rush from arguably the best defensive line in the country at James Madison. The absence of safety net Shane Simpson, a reliable pass-catcher in such pressure situations, has left Towson vulnerable to sacks; the team’s 25 are the second-most surrendered in the CAA this season.
Meanwhile, Delaware comes to town with the fewest sacks of any CAA team at just three.
How defensive coordinator Chris Cosh opts to approach the Towson offensive line presents an intriguing dynamic. Do the Blue Hens attempt to blitz, or focus on limiting the dual-threat Flacco and hard-running, between-the-tackles back Yeedee Thaenrat?
In contrast, the only offense yielding more sacks than Towson thus far is Delaware. In both cases, playing dual-threat quarterbacks pads the numbers somewhat; a running quarterback is more susceptible to the occasional TFL recorded as a sack.
However, a Towson defense that has thrived this season bringing heavy pressure presents difficulties for the Blue Hens. Delaware counters with offensive coordinator Jared Ambrose drawing up the scheme. The brother of Tigers coach Rob and former Towson offensive coordinator knows Towson’s players in a way no other opponent can.
“Jared worked for a Rob over a decade, and was a big part of their success over there at Towson,” Delaware coach Danny Rocco said. “I had Jared offer the scouting report Sunday night in front of the team, just to talk about some of their personnel.”
Limiting The Big Play
Of that personnel Jared Ambrose addressed to Delaware, surely one name to come up prominently is linebacker Keon Paye. Paye has been key to the CAA’s second-most prolific, interception-generating defense. What’s more, he’s run a pick back for a touchdown this season, and was tackled at the one-yard line on another.
That’s notable for a Delaware team that, in losses, has been prone to surrendering big-play scores in all three phases. A Greg Liggs Jr. pick-six Oct. 12 at Elon buried any hope of a Blue Hens comeback.
Last week against Richmond, special teams misfires played a critical part in the loss with Spiders returner Aaron Dykes taking two back for touchdowns. Then on defense, Delaware’s season-long yield of 6.3 yards per play is second-most in the conference.
Wide receiver Shane Leatherbury can be an especially dangerous big-play target, but Darian Street adds additional punch for which Delaware will have to account.
Towson hasn’t been immune to surrendering big plays itself, with its defense experiencing some feast-or-famine results. The Tigers give up 5.8 yards per play, and their touchdowns allowed in CAA play include a 60-yard pass last week vs. James Madison; a 36-yard pass and 26-yard run vs. UAlbany; and passes of 31 and 27 yards against Villanova, with a 36-yard run, as well.
Delaware running back Will Knight averages a staggering 7.8 yards per carry. Balancing his workload with the speedy Lee gives the Blue Hens some potential big-play ball-carriers.
Setting The Tone Early
With the exception of an early-season win at Rhode Island, Delaware’s been at its best playing a physical, methodical style of game. The marquee win over New Hampshire, for example, saw the Blue Hens defense stifle the Wildcats then grinding them down with an efficient run game on the other side of the ball.
Towson’s style is the opposite. The Tigers look to come out with high tempo on offense, pushing the defense back on its heels, generating takeaways on the other end and creating an up-and-down pace.
Establishing its signature style early will be critical. A high-scoring first half benefits Towson; a first half with limited possessions is more Delaware’s strength.