Delaware vs. Sacred Heart: College Football FCS Playoffs Betting Odds & Pick (Saturday, April 24)
Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Brandon Ricketts.
- Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens. Sacred Heart Pioneers. FCS Playoffs.
- The Fightin' Blue Hens will look to move on to the FCS quarterfinals behind running back Julius Chestnut, who averages 179.2 yards per game on the ground, but Mike Ianniello sees value on the Pioneers to cover the spread.
- Check out Ianniello's full betting preview complete with updated odds and a pick below.
Delaware vs. Sacred Heart Odds
|Sacred Heart Odds||+19.5|
|Moneyline||-1667 / +850|
|Time||Saturday, 7 p.m. ET|
The Sacred Heart Pioneers (3-1), the Northeast Conference champions, will head to Delaware Stadium to face the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens (5-0), champions of the Colonial Athletic Association, on Saturday in the Round of 16.
Sacred Heart clinched its third FCS playoffs berth with a thrilling 34-27 overtime win over the Duquesne Dukes in the NEC Championship game last week.
Delaware won all five of its games in the spring season, outscoring its opponents, 164-58. The Fightin’ Blue Hens and James Madison each finished the season at 5-0, but Delaware was awarded its first CAA title since 2010 in a vote by the CAA Athletic Directors. The Blue Hens will be making their 17th FCS playoffs appearance. They won the National Championship in 2003.
Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens
Delaware is led by redshirt junior quarterback Nolan Henderson. Henderson is averaging 197.6 passing yards per game and has thrown nine touchdowns to just two interceptions.
Henderson is incredibly accurate, ranking third in the FCS with a 70.7 completion percentage. He is coming off his best game as a Blue Hen with a career-high 270 yards and two touchdowns to earn CAA Offensive Player of the Week.
Henderson’s favorite target is the big-bodied Thyrick Pitts. Pitts is listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds and is averaging 73.6 yards per game on 16.7 yards per catch and three touchdowns.
The Fightin’ Blue Hens also have a solid pair of running backs in Dejoun Lee and Khory Spruill. Lee has rushed for 99.6 yards per game and five touchdowns in Delaware’s five games this season, while Spruill has added 50.6 yards per game and a score.
Henderson, Lee and Pitts were all named to the CAA Conference First-Team honors. Lee took home Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
While Delaware ranks 16th in the FCS with 32.8 points per game, there is no doubt the strength of this team is its defense.
The Blue Hens allow just 11.6 points per game, the third-lowest mark in the country. They rank 16th against the run and fourth against the pass and in total defense. Delaware has allowed just 225 yards per game this season.
Their nickname is the “Blue Hens,” but the “Ball Hawks” might be more appropriate. Delaware leads FCS with a +10 turnover margin, forcing 14 turnovers in five games and losing just four themselves. Ten different players on the Hens defense have forced a turnover this season.
All-Conference safety Kedrick Whitehead flies all over the field and has totaled 18 tackles and two forced fumbles this season.
Sacred Heart Pioneers
The Pioneers offense is led by star running back Julius Chestnut. The junior led the FCS with an incredible 179.2 rushing yards per game. The next closest back was at 140.7 per game.
After scampering for 1,495 yards and 11 touchdowns in 12 games last season, Chestnut followed that up with 717 yards and eight touchdowns in just four games this spring. He also caught three touchdowns and added 42.8 yards receiving per game to lead FCS with 222.0 all-purpose yards per game. To put that in perspective, that would have also led all players at the FBS level.
Delaware knows it needs to stop Chestnut and has already started the trash talk, with some of the Blue Hens defenders saying they will hold the NEC Offensive Player of the Year to “50 yards on 20 carries.” You can be fairly confident the best running back in the FCS will have more than 50 yards on Saturday.
Sophomore quarterback Marquez McCray does a solid job as the quarterback of a run-dominant offense. He completed 64.1% of his passes this season for 193.0 yards per game and tossed seven touchdowns to just two interceptions. McCray also has the ability to take off when needed, picking up 21.5 yards per game with his legs.
On defense, the Pioneers are led by senior linebacker Chris Outterbridge. He leads the team with 8.3 tackles per game, including 14 in the NEC Championship against Duquesne.
The Sacred Heart defense ranked 26th in FCS, allowing 315.8 yards per game. It did a great job all year at playing “bend-don’t break” defense, allowing 14 trips to the red zone in four games but surrendering just six touchdowns and three field goals. The Pioneers had the seventh-best red zone defense this season.
SHU allowed just 18.25 points per game, tied for 18th in the country this spring. It also benefits from one of the best punters in the FCS in Noah Gettman, who averaged 46.06 yards per punt this season, pinning 45% of his punts inside the 20.
Betting Analysis & Pick
Both of these teams are incredibly well-coached. Sacred Heart head coach Mark Nofri has been the Pioneers’ head coach for nine seasons and part of the coaching staff since 1994. He was named NEC Coach of the Year for the fourth time this year after leading SHU to its fourth conference championship in the last eight years.
Delaware head coach Danny Rocco is in his fourth season leading the Fightin’ Blue Hens but has 15 years of head coaching experience, having previously led the Liberty Flames and Richmond Spiders.
The 60-year old has a 114-58 record as a head coach and just earned his second CAA Coach of the Year award, to go along with his three Big South Coach of the Year awards. The former Penn State linebacker has also spent time on the coaching staff for power five schools like Texas, Maryland and Virginia, as well as a season with the New York Jets.
I think this Delaware team should be able to take care of the Pioneers on Sunday. The question is, can it cover the 19.5-point spread? I am going to say no.
Both of these teams love to control the clock and slow the game down. Delaware is second in the country in time of possession, controlling the ball for an average of 34 minutes per game. Well, Sacred Heart is not far behind, sitting 14th at 32 minutes per game.
Henderson throws very few incompletions, which keeps the clock running and drives alive for Delaware. And despite what the Fightin’ Blue Hens players might say, Chestnut is going to be able to rush for more than 50 yards on Saturday and keep drives going for the Pioneers.
With both teams playing at a slow pace and controlling the clock, as well as being able to move the ball and sustain drives, I think the fewer possessions will keep Delaware from running up the score. Chestnut and the Sacred Heart offense should do enough to keep this close and cover the number.
Pick: Sacred Heart Pioneers +19.5.