After Georgia Southern had beaten William and Mary, 31-15, in the second round of the FCS playoffs Tribe players in the post game press conference had a glazed look on their face.
It was a look similar to what South Carolina State players had the week before after been beaten, 42-17.
For the Tribe and Gamecock players part of it could be attributed to just having lost a football game, but for the most part it was due to their exasperation with the Eagles’ triple option offense.
William and Mary players, in particular, looked as if they simply didn’t have a clue about what they had seen: an offense that gashed them for 423 yards rushing, the most a Tribe team had yielded since 1999.
A lot of players may go their entire career without ever having to face the triple option. Coaches often lament a week is not enough time to prepare for the unique offense which can be intimidating.
Delaware, the Eagles’ opponent at noon today at Newark, Del., in an FCS semi-final playoff game, will not be intimidated.
The No. 3 seed Blue Hens (11-2) have a history with Georgia Southern (10-4) and the triple option offense.
Delaware and the Eagles have met four times—all games in which Georgia Southern was running the option—and the Blue Hens have won twice. Three of the games, two of them playoff contests, have been played at Delaware.
The Blue Hens and Coach K.C. Keeler have also faced Navy four times since Coach Paul Johnson installed the option, and have won twice.
In 2002, Keeler’s first year at Delaware, the Hens beat both Georgia Southern and Navy.
"It’s a great challenge because you’re playing an offense you don’t see every day," Keeler said. "Now you have to completely retool one of the best defenses in the country. That’s a challenge, but it’s an exciting challenge because you’re one of the four teams left in the country."
Keeler wasn’t exaggerating when he called his team’s defensive unit one of the best in the country.
Delaware is giving up only 99.8 yards per game rushing, and 274.9 overall. It leads FCS in scoring defense, allowing only 11.6 points per game.
The Blue Hens did not face an option team this year, but they played the Midshipmen tough last year in a 35-18 loss.
Two years ago in Johnson and Eagle Coach Jeff Monken’s last year at Navy they pulled out a wild 59-52 win.
Ten players on this year’s defense, Keeler said, played against the option last year.
Keeler’s approach to defending the option is to have a "pointman" who goes in whichever direction the ball goes in the shifty offense.
For the Blue Hens that will be strong safety Anthony Bratton who will be much closer to the line of scrimmage than he normally plays.
Bratton missed last year’s Navy game due to injury, but in the epic win three years ago he had a fumble recover and forced a fumble to set up Delaware scores.
"My role was basically to defeat one of the blocks whether it was to the left or the right side, and get to the pitchman" Bratton said of the 2007 game in which he had 12 tackles.
"They get on the perimeter real fast. In that case you have to have somebody who can defeat blocks and match their speed on the sideline so they don’t break long runs.
"The wings do a great job of blocking. You have to read blocks and come up and make plays."
While the Blue Hen defense hopes to contain the Eagles the offense will present a strong challenge.
Quarterback Pat Devlin, a transfer from Penn State, is the Colonial Athletic Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year and one of 10 finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
Devlin is the only FCS player on the Unitas list and he earned his way onto it by completing 225 of 330 passes for 2,675 yards and 20 touchdowns. He was intercepted only twice.
"He has a quick release," Monken said, "and he’s one of those quarterbacks who can see the entire field."
Andrew Pierce leads Delaware in rushing with 1,327 yards on 275 carries, and he has scored 13 touchdowns. Nihja White is Delaware’s top receiver with 53 receptions for 649 yards, and six scores.