Stony Brook football (1-3) will return home to face No. 17 William & Mary Tribe (3-1) in the annual homecoming game and Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) opener.
The Seawolves are coming off of a sloppy 13-3 loss to North Dakota. Another excellent defensive outing was marred by a couple of crucial mistakes that proved to be the difference in the game. The first, a busted coverage in the third quarter that led to a 68-yard touchdown, put Stony Brook in a three-point hole.
However, it was a 92 yard interception returned for a touchdown as the Seawolves were inside the North Dakota 10 yard line, that doomed the Seawolves. Other than those two mistakes, the Seawolves were in firm control of the game and by all accounts, on their way to a win.
On the other hand, William & Mary travels to Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium coming off of a hard-fought 33-19 win against Lafayette and looking for their fourth straight win. In their win against Lafayette, they bounced back from a sluggish first half effort by scoring 24 unanswered points in the second half, despite being outgained by 50 yards for the game.
The Tribe is not new to fast starts coming out of the locker room, as they have outscored opponents 56-28 in the first and third quarters. This means it is important for the Seawolves to avoid the slow starts that have plagued them all season.
Since both teams hang their hat on stout defenses, this game will come down to whichever offense is able to make big plays and avoid mistakes.
Four games into the season, Stony Brook’s offense has still not put together a complete game. For the first three games of the year, the quarterback position was up in the air, so the offense relied heavily on the running game, averaging 163 yards while the pass offense averaged only 107.7 yards per game on 36 percent passing. However, the running game stalled last week, gaining only 49 yards on 46 carries. The passing offense showed improvement, amassing 172 yards while completing 66.7 percent of their passes.
As for William & Mary’s offense, they are also a run-first team that looks to a deep stable of backfield contributors to set the tone on offense. Even though they have a focal point in their running game with junior running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor, the Tribe gets things going on offense with its deep and diverse stable of runners.
That depth will be especially important to William & Mary’s offense because it is still unclear whether Abdul-Saboor will be able to suit up for the Tribe after missing their last game due to injury. But even in Abdul-Saboor’s absence, William & Mary still managed to run all over Lafayette’s defense last game, to the tune of 210 yards and three touchdowns, with three different players rushing for over 50 yards.
One of the key cogs in William & Mary’s backfield is redshirt sophomore quarterback Steve Cluley, who accounted for 228 yards of total offense and three total touchdowns in their last outing. For the Seawolves’ defense to minimize his effectiveness, they will need to clog the running lanes and force Cluley to pass, which is something he has struggled with all season. Cluley has only completed 45.1 percent of his passes for a pedestrian 137.5 yards per game, something that bodes well for a playmaking junior defensive back, Naim Cheeseboro, and the rest of the Stony Brook defense. It ranks fourth in the Football Championship Series (FCS) in pass defense, allowing only 113.5 yards per game.
To pull off the upset at home, the Seawolves will need to take advantage of a generous William & Mary pass defense that has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 72 percent of their passes. It is especially imperative for the Stony Brook offense to be able rely on their air attack because dynamic running back Stacey Bedell is coming off of a minor knee sprain, though the Seawolves hope he will be available by kickoff.
The Seawolves also need to have a balanced offense to keep a William & Mary defense that boasts four preseason All-CAA selections, including preseason CAA defensive player of the year, senior defensive end Mike Reilly. Unless Stony Brook can mix in a solid amount of passing and running on first and second down, Reilly, who has already racked up five sacks on the year, and the rest of the Tribe defense will pin their ears back and make life difficult for an offense that already ranks No. 119 in the FCS in third down conversions.
With Stony Brook having the edge defensively, (ranked first in total defense in the FCS) it will be up to the offense to finally wake up, rise to the occasion and deliver a win in front of a the raucous crowd that will fill LaValle Stadium. A win in this game can mean momentum heading into the rest of conference play, while a loss would drop the Seawolves three games below .500, and facing an uphill battle in an ultra-competitive CAA.