The Blue Hen offense is among the most dynamic in the FCS, averaging 469 yards per game (5th in the FCS) and scoring an average of nearly 37 points per game. The Blue Hens are lead by quarterback Joe Flacco, a former Pittsburgh transfer who has thrown for just under 2000 yards this season with a 9-3 touchdown-interception ratio. Flacco has excellent size (6'6, 230) and a strong, accurate arm (over 72 % completion percentage), and was recently ranked as the top FCS quarterback prospect from DraftDaddy.com. He's surrounded by a veteran and talented group of skill position players, including wide receivers Aaron Love and Mark Duncon (both over 400 yards receiving.) Delaware's main horse however is Omar Cuff, a senior running back who led the team in rushing the last time Deleware played Navy in 2004. Cuff turned heads this year in week one in which he ran for more than 200 yards and a record seven touchdowns against William and Mary, and so far this year has rushed for 875 yards on a 5.1 ypc average. Delaware's defense would seem to be the weaker portion of the team at this point, and isn't filled with as many former FBS transfers as the offense is. Nevertheless, they've gotten the job done early this season, especially against the run. Delaware has the 8th best run defense in the FCS, led by a talented defensive line which includes former Notre Dame starter Ronald Talley.
But for as good as all these numbers and rankings sound, let's not forget the Blue Hens are in fact in a different division than the Midshipmen, and have "padded" some of those offensive numbers against the likes of a Division II West Chester team and some sktchy FCS teams. In fact, Delaware has only won one game this season against a FCS opponent with a winning record, and that came in a 49-31 win over William and Mary in the opener. When you consider facts like this, Saturday's game figures to be especially interesting not just because it's Delaware's first game against a FBS team this year, but because it's Delaware's first game against a decent team period.
Which leads me to my main point. Delaware is a good team, no doubt. But when one considers the lower division the Blue Hens are playing in and the teams they've played against this season, it certainly would appear that the Blue Hens are in no position to call this a "should win" game. We have been constantly exposed to the "history" argument of Delaware fans, who point to the team's 2003 upset of bowl-bound Navy as precedent to predict another upset. Yet this year's Delaware team is not as good as the one which came into Navy-Marine Crops Memorial Stadium in 2003 and walked away with a win. And if your going to talk about history, let's not forget the last time these two teams played, when Aaron Polanco and the 2004 Midshipmen handled the Blue hens with ease.
Had this been any under top level FCS team, I may be more inclined to view the Blue Hens as having a good shot at coming out of this game with a win, but because of the history that is there and because of the comments made by wide receiver Aaron Love earlier this week, I'm more than inclined to think the Navy players will have no shortage of motivation in the lead up for this game. Don't get me wrong, this will likely be a close, hard fought game, but when you breakdown the matchups it looks like Navy's offense should have a significant advantage over Delaware's defense. Many Delaware fans have pointed to the Blue Hens victory over Rhode Island, which runs a similar option offense to Navy. Yet last year's UConn team similarly thought a dominating performance over Rhode Island would translate into success against Navy, but as we all know Brian Hampton and the offense put up more than 600 yards on the Huskies that day.
The real challenge for Navy is going to be containing Cuff, who is a legitimate candidate for the Walter Peyton award (the FCS version of the Heisman.) Navy has struggled against running backs with the ability to break tackles, which is definitely one of Cuff's specialties. I also think Navy's defense will struggle with Delaware's offensive balance, especially when the Blue Hens come out in Shotgun formations. Still, we can't completely ignore the distinction between divisions, and while we can see that previous Navy teams were decidedly less talented to Coach Keeler's championship Delaware teams, we can say that this year's Navy team had as much, if not more, pure talent than Delaware. Combine this advantage with Navy's offensive system, Paul Johnson's coaching, and the extra motivation sparked by Love's comments, and I see the Midshipmen coming up with a critical turnover on defense and comming out on top.