Spring 2021 FCS Quarterfinal Playoff Preview: Delaware at Jacksonville State

The Blue Hens vs. the Gamecocks.

This game may be for the birds, but it will certainly not be for the faint of heart and it certainly has all the earmarks of an instant classic.

Both teams like to run the football. Both teams have proven the ability to be successful at throwing the football.

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Last week, Delaware and Jacksonville State won their opening round games at home. Delaware outlasted Sacred Heart 19-10, while Jacksonville State dominated Davidson 49-14.

Both the Blue Hens and Gamecocks can also stop the run and defend the pass with great success.

With two teams who mirror each other in virtually every meaningful statistical category, the outcome could very well come down to the end and favor whichever team has the ball lost. Or, equally important, which team makes the fewest mistakes.

Delaware may have the edge there as the Blue Hens are the owners of a plus-11 turnover margin on the year, which leads the nation.

Delaware (6-0) at Jacksonville State (10-2)
Streaming: ESPN3 (subscription req’d)
Radio: WDSD 94.7 FM, WLJS 91.9 FM (Jacksonville State)

Quote of the Week: “They play the same way we play. We want to stop the run, they want to stop the run. We want to run the ball offensively and so do they. It is a similar match up and both teams are good at those things.”

JSU coach John Grass

Series History: This will be the first-ever meeting between the Blue Hens and the Gamecocks.

Overview: Delaware has run its offense with great efficiency all season and will have to continue that success if the Blue Hens are to move on in the playoffs this season.

UD has averaged 169.7 yards rushing and 188.5 yards via the pass in its six games in 2021 (358.2 per game total offense). That balance has been enough to cause fits for opposing defenses to prepare for. 

So balanced the offense has been that Delaware has averaged 30.5 points per game. The Blue Hens scored at least 30 points in each of their first four games and was never seriously challenged in those games. Villanova came close to ending Delaware’s winning streak while pushing Delaware to the limit before falling 27-20 in the regular season finale.

On the other side of the ball Delaware has been stingy, to say the least. The Blue Hens are allowing just 115.5 yards rushing and are slightly better at defending the pass (more on that later). Opponents are collecting just 111.3 yards per game when they go to the air against Delaware. 

Jacksonville State, meanwhile, has also proven to have a balanced offense which gives Sunday’s clash an extra dose of intrigue and setting the stage for the potential for one of the best games of this year’s playoffs.

The Gamecocks are averaging 195.8 yards rushing per game and are racking up 203.6 yards through the air. Edge: JSU.

Defensively they are allowing just 91 yards on the ground and 184.1 through the air to their opponents. Edge: Delaware could have a chance to exploit the JSU secondary with some success.

Delaware Blue Hens: Two ball carriers have given the Blue Hens solid performances this season by combining for 838 yards in UD’s six games and providing Delaware with a nice mix of lightning and power. Speedy Dejoun Lee (5-7, 185, RS, Sr., RB) leads that tandem with 533 yards on 90 carries (5.9 ypc) and a team-high five touchdowns.

Khory Spruill (6-1, 225, RS, Jr., RB) has been the benefactor of the power out of the backfield for the Blue Hens. He has carried 68 times for 305 yards (4.5 ypc) and has found the end zone once this season. 

The solid play from Lee and Spruill has allowed quarterback Nolan Henderson (6-1, 195, RS, Jr.) to operate the UD offense with plenty of confidence. Henderson has completed 99 of his 142 passes for 1,101 yards and 10 interceptions, while being intercepted just three times. He has also rushed 44 times for 51 yards (1.3 ypc) and a pair of touchdowns.

Gene Coleman (5-11, 195, Sr., WR) and Thyrick Pitts (6-3, 200, RS, Jr., WR) have provided the Blue Hens a solid pair of dynamic players on the edge much like Lee and Spruill have done out of the backfield.

Coleman has a team-high 28 receptions for 261 yards a one touchdown. Pitts, meanwhile, is right behind with 26 catches for a team-best 418 yards (16.1 ypc) and three touchdowns, which tops the team receiving corps in that department. 

If Sunday’s game comes down to the closing moments to determine a winner, and it very well could, Delaware should have an edge in that department. Kicker Ryan Coe (6-3, 225, So.) has been perfect on all 22 PAT attempts this season and has added nine of 13 field goal attempts to pace the Blue Hens in scoring with 49 points.

Three of his four misses on the year came early in the season against Rhode Island in a game the Blue Hens won 35-21. 

Delaware punter Tyler Pastula is among the best in the nation. He is averaging 39.2 yards per punt.

Johnny Buchanan (6-0, 230, Jr., LB) and Noah Plack (6-2, 215, RS, So., DB) lead the Blue Hen defense this season with 35 total tackles each. Buchanan, who had eight tackles in the win over Sacred Heart in the first round of the playoffs, has been credited with 22 solo tackles on the year. Plack, meanwhile, has 18 solo stops and is coming off a game that saw him record a career-high 11 total tackles in the win over the Pioneers to help UD earn its trip to face the Gamecocks.

Andrew Pawlowski (6-4, 224, Sr., DB) also had an impressive performance in the playoff win over Sacred Heart with eight tackles in the game. He now has 27 (16 solo) tackles on the year.

Nijuel Hill (5-10, 185, RS, Sr., DB) shares the team lead in interceptions with Joe Zubillaga (6-1, 210, RS, So., LB). Both have two picks on the season. 

Hill, Zubillaga and Plack are at the core of a highly active defense that seems to have a nose for the football. That trio have combined for five interceptions of the Blue Hens’ nine total interceptions through the six games. Kedrick Whitehead (5-11, 195, Jr., DB), Dae’lun Darion (6-4, 215, RS, Sr., LB) and Riah Burrian (6-1, 195, RS., Jr, DB), along with Jack Dinicola (6-2, 215, RS, Jr., LB) have also intercepted passes this season for Delaware.

JACKSONVILLE STATE: Much like Sunday’s opponent, JSU has a pair of talented running backs who can certainly accumulate the yards.

Josh Samuel (5-11, 210, RS, Jr.) leads the way with 138 carries for 773 yards (5.6 ypc) and eight touchdowns. His running mate, Uriah West (6-0, 225, JR.), is not far behind. He has carried the ball 133 times for 679 yards (5.1 ypc) and seven touchdowns. 

The duo has combined for 1,452 yards and 15 touchdowns. That’s enough to cause any defensive coordinator plenty of sleepless nights scheming of ways stop them. Or hopefully to at least slow them down.

JSU quarterback Zion Webb (6-0, 200, RS, Jr.) continues his impressive first season as a starter after stepping in for injured Zerrick Cooper, who opted to sit out most of this season after being injured in the fall.

The talented Webb has responded by completing 119 of 203 passes for 1,763 yards and 13 touchdowns (8 interceptions). He has also rushed for 384 yards on 71 carries (5.4 ypc) and five more TDs for the Gamecocks and establishing himself as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the FCS.

Talented tight end Trae Berry (6-7, 245, Sr.) leads the team with 29 catches for 482 yards (16.6 ypc) and has one touchdown on the season. Wide receiver Dave Russell (6-0, 203, RS, So.) has also turned in a stellar season with his 24 catches for 351 yards (14.6 ypc) and three touchdowns.

And just like the Blue Hens, the Gamecocks are loaded with talent on the defensive side of the ball.

Nicario Harper (6-1, 205, RS, So., DB), a finalist for the Buchanan Award as the nation’s top defensive player, leads JSU on defense. He has 83 (40 solo) tackles in his team’s 12 games this season. He has intercepted three passes and has 1.5 tackles for loss.

Marshall Clark (6-0, 210, RS, So., LB) is not far behind Harper on the tackle chart. He has recorded 73 (26 solo) tackles on the year, including 8.5 tackles for loss. 

Markail Benton (6-2, 235, RS, Jr., LB) and Jeremiah Harris (5-10, 180, RS, Jr., DB) have tallied 61 and 58 total tackles, respectively, for the Gamecocks. Benton has been credited with 27 solo stops while 33 of Harris’ tackles have come without help.

One big advantage the Gamecocks seem to have against the Blue Hens comes along the defensive front. There, JSU has two of the most physical players in the FCS in DJ Coleman (6-6, 265, Jr.) and Jaylen Swain (5-10, 235, Fr.). That tandem has combined for an eye—popping 22.5 tackles for loss on the year. Coleman, who has 11 TFLs enters Sunday’s game with 52 (26 solo) tackles and Swain comes in with 45 (27 solo) tackles, including 11.5 tackles for loss to his credit.