Drue AmanSports Editor
It was a season-opening game highly anticipated by players after a delayed start to the season.
It looked like they needed more time.
SDSU (0-0,0-1) played a lethargic and tentative first half en route to a 20-0 first half deficit and a 26-3 loss in Newark, Del. Saturday.
It was a general tentativeness and self-doubt that unfolded two interceptions and a punt in SDSU’s first three offensive possessions. It was unfavorable field position and a dominance at the line of scrimmage responsible for Delaware’s two touchdowns and a field goal.
“They outplayed us when it comes down to it,” senior offensive lineman and preseason all-American Ryan McKnight said. “I think our mentality going in there was “Delaware’s gonna lay down to us’ instead of taking what’s actually ours.”
Delaware did not lay down – in fact – they established a key running game with freshman runningback Andrew Pierce and forced Jacks sophomore quarterback Thomas O’Brien into making mistakes. O’Brien started the game throwing five incomplete passes – two of those interceptions – before SDSU gained their first down to start the second quarter. O’Brien settled in after a poor first quarter, finishing with 225 yard passing on 23-of-43 pass attempts.
“I think Thomas played really close to how we thought he would other than the two initial interceptions, the third one hit the guy right in the hands” said 14th SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier. “He made far more really good plays than bad plays.”
The Jacks gained only 25 total yards on the running attack with senior Kyle Minett and backup Tyler Duffy in what will most likely be a season-low in SDSU’s most important facet of its offensive game plan.
Defensively, Delaware gained 257 yards rushing with true freshman Andrew Pierce gaining 165 of those yards, often times shredding multiple tackles for yards after contact.
“We didn’t play well at all around on defense,” said senior preseason all-American linebacker Derek Domino. “I think they controlled the line of scrimmage on offense and defense – that’s where our games are won and lost.”
The Jacks simply never had the ball in their possession offensively, controlling the ball for only 23 minutes compared to the Blue Hens’ 37 minutes of offense and 9-of-15 successful third-down conversions.
About the only positives individual performances came from the special teams and sophomore wide receiver Tyrel Kool. Punter Dean Priddy rolled a career-high 72 yard punt and averaged 55 yards per kick on four punts. Kool caught nine passes for 107 yards and frequently looked difficult to tackle.
Even those performances largely did not happen until after Delaware kicked a field goal to make it 17-0 before the end of the first quarter. The hole was dug.
“When you play the way the game started you start playing tentative, and when you’re tentative you’re not thinking about doing your job you’re thinking about not doing your job,” said Stiegelmeier, whose teams have not opened the season with a road victory since 1999. “You have to be a mentally tough son-of-a-gun to fight through that and we did not, across the board we did not.”
That shaky start snowballed any bad momentum and gave the listed attendance of 19,854 in Delaware stadium reason to cheer for what could be considered a small “upset.” SDSU entered the game ranked ninth and Delaware 16th.
The Jacks will now prepare for its home opener against Illinois State Saturday at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium in the Cereal Bowl. Illinois State enters the contest 1-1 while allowing opponents to score 91 points total in those two games. The Redbirds lost to Big Ten Northwestern 37-3 on the road last weekend.
“They’re very athletic across the board, they’re receivers and defense are very athletic – they do a lot of stuff especially on defense,” Stiegelmeier said. “Our offense will be stressed and get a lot of different looks from their defense.”
SDSU has won its last two home openers by a combined 71 points and were 4-1 last season in Brookings, their only loss against eventual regular season conference champion Southern Illinois.
Starting 0-1 has not been uncommon under SDSU’s change to Division-I. The Jacks lost to Division-III Wisconsin-Lacrosse to open the 2005 season, their first year in transition to Division-I and also the last time SDSU was held without a touchdown before this game.
“Just looking at morale now, at pride now, it may have been the best thing to get hit in the mouth,” McKnight said. “To realize we can’t take things for granted anymore … you have to make things happen.”
#1.1602974:4142077372.jpg:Sophomore Tyrel Kool gets hit at the line of scrimmage against Delaware Saturday.:Sophomore Tyrel Kool gets hit at the line of scrimmage against Delaware Saturday. Kool caught nine passes for 107 yards, both career highs. SDSU fell behind Delaware 17-0 at halftime and lost 23-6. :Submitted Photo by Eric Landwehr