NEWARK, Del. – With shades of yellow beginning to show on the leaves of trees, signs of fall were starting to hit the University of Delaware campus on Friday afternoon. Another sign will come on Saturday when the school’s football team takes on No. 1-ranked North Dakota State.
A bright forecast of 75 degrees with very little wind is only expected to heighten the game-day atmosphere for a much-anticipated home game at Tubby Raymond Field. Finely-trimmed hedges surround the field on the north end zone and east side.
Behind the stands on the west side is a construction zone, part of a $60 million upgrade to athletic facilities on campus, most of it being targeted to the football stadium. The local fans are hoping their football team continues an upgrade that saw the Blue Hens make the Division I FCS playoffs last year for the first time since 2010.
It’s expected to be a rare FCS road game for the Bison where they may have to resort to a silent count to run a play. It’s mandatory for every team that comes to Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome but those environments have been sparse for the Bison on the road.
The crowd has been a factor at the University of Montana and Northern Iowa and some isolated instances at the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State, but that’s been about it. Close to 20,000 mostly Blue Hens fans are expected on Saturday.
“I’m expecting a strong showing with our fan base and student body,” said Delaware head coach Danny Rocco. “We have a lot going on here with a revamped stadium and renovations that are extremely attractive and accommodating.”
Rocco said an emphasis has been creating “a new atmosphere” with home games at Delaware, a program that has a long history of tradition in the FCS. The Blue Hens have one FCS national title and six overall counting Division II.
The poster child is Denver Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco, with a large mural of his being drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens in 2008 dominating a booster club room. The school also pays allegiance to alums and former NFL quarterbacks Rich Gannon and Scott Brunner.
But since NDSU has ruled the subdivision, Delaware has been virtually non-existent in the playoff run since reaching the 2010 national title game, a 20-19 loss to Eastern Washington in the first championship clash played in Frisco, Texas.
“We’re looking forward to an active crowd and an engaging crowd,” Rocco said.
Certainly, a closer game than the one the Blue Hens played in Fargo would help. The Bison got off to a fast start in a 38-10 win at the dome.
NDSU, conversely, has been practicing this week with piped-in noise, something that is routinely used for the Bison defense with their home crowd trying to rattle an opposing offense.
“It’s going to be a very hostile environment,” said Bison linebacker Jabril Cox. “Any road game we go on is going to be hostile, but we’ll just try to feed off the energy the crowd gives.”
The old Delaware Stadium was virtually a carbon copy of the old Coughlin-Alumni Stadium at South Dakota State. A small press box sitting high atop sterile-looking bleachers dominated one side.
The new look and its crowd is expected to be rocking. The key for NDSU, then, is to try and take the crowd out of the game.
NDSU has the ball-control offense to do it. Just ask Rocco, who said the key to the Bison success the last eight years has been their execution. And they’ve been able to do it despite being on their third head coach since 2013.
“The names changed, the roster changes but the execution has remained the same and that’s the best formula for success,” Rocco said. “That’s the model we all want to emulate. They have been able to execute at a high level on a very consistent basis. When you have good players and develop your athletes, you’re going to build a good program but their ability to have precision-like execution in all three phases of the game is what I see.”