Duquesne football leans on ground game in historic playoff run
Opposing defenses game-plan around all-everything Duquesne running back A.J. Hines each week.
That’s fine with his backup, Daquan Worley. The senior, who began his career at Penn State and played defensive back until midway through this season, has found his niche as a change-of-pace runner.
Worley averages 8.6 yards per carry and broke off a 48-yard touchdown last week, helping the Dukes beat No. 16 Towson, 31-10, for their first playoff win since joining FCS in 1993. Worley will look to make a similar impact when Duquesne (9-3) travels to No. 5 South Dakota State (8-2) at 3 p.m. Saturday in the round of 16.
“A.J. is a tough runner,” Worley said. “He brings a lot to the table. When I get in there after A.J. has run at you 10 times, I’m not trying to run you over. I’m just trying to run by you.”
Make no mistake, Hines is the bellcow. He ranks third in FCS with 1,499 rushing yards and fifth with 15 touchdowns. But Worley’s contributions can’t be minimized. Duquesne was down to its sixth-string running back in Week 5 at Hawaii with Hines and top backup P.J. Fulmore nursing injuries. Coach Jerry Schmitt needed depth, so he turned to Worley, who was a two-way standout at Coatesville High near Philadelphia.
Worley made his offensive debut in Week 7 against Robert Morris, carrying seven times for 96 yards and two touchdowns. His days on defense soon ended, and he has contributed multiple big plays during the Dukes’ six-game winning streak. Worley ranks second on the team with 292 yards to go with four touchdowns.
“He gives us a different gear than A.J.,” Schmitt said. “He’s got a burst to him that changes the way defenses prepare or try to tackle.”
Worley’s emergence shouldn’t come as a surprise considering schools such as Wisconsin and Georgia Tech talked about using him at running back when they offered scholarships. Worley, a three-star recruit, chose Penn State, which wanted him as a defensive back. However, Worley said he could never stay healthy, getting pneumonia five times during two years there. Worley transferred to Duquesne but tore his left ACL during his redshirt sophomore season.
It’s safe to say he’s finally back to full speed.
“My heart has always been on the offensive side of the ball, but I was just trying to do what’s best for the team,” Worley said. “Now that I’m getting the chance to run the ball again, it’s wonderful. I’m definitely enjoying it.”
Hines and Worley likely need to be in top form for the Dukes to knock off South Dakota State. The teams met in last year’s season opener, and the Jackrabbits rolled 51-13 en route to reaching the national semifinals. This season, South Dakota State’s offense ranks third in FCS in points per game (45.4) and fifth in total offense (511.2 yards per game). The unit is led by senior quarterback Taryn Christion, the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s all-time leader in touchdown passes (100) and passing yards (11,064).
“They know what it takes to win, and I think we do, too,” Worley said. “We have to put a full game together. … Let’s see what the outcome is when we put a full game together. Let’s see if anyone can beat us.”
Jeff Vella is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at email@example.com or via Twitter @JeffVella_Trib.