The turnaround of the pass game has been a driving force of the early season success for Stony Brook Football throughout its first four games. Junior quarterback Joe Carbone has seven touchdowns in the air and only two interceptions after throwing five touchdowns and 12 interceptions in the first 19 games of his collegiate career.
But none of that would be possible without a robust ground game. The Seawolves forged their run game by sharing the ball, relying on a trio of halfbacks to manage the clock and set up big plays downfield. Four of Carbone’s passing touchdowns came less than four plays after a halfback ran for 11 yards or more. The other three were the first complete pass after at least three consecutive runs.
Senior halfback Stacey Bedell has four touchdowns and 243 rushing yards on 42 carries. Bedell’s cousin, junior halfback Jordan Gowins, has 32 rushes for 116 yards and a touchdown. Hardheaded junior running halfback Donald Liotine Jr. has 43 carries for 214 yards and one touchdown with only seven yards lost on tackles behind the line.
Stony Brook head coach Chuck Priore relies on Bedell for his outside runs and ability to break the big play; he has two 50+ yard rushes this season including a 54-yard run against USF, ranked No. 19 in the Football Bowl Subdivision at the time.
Liotine is instead used for runs inside the tackle box, where the 5-foot-9-inch 220 pound running back shrugs off defenders, staying on his feet as he absorbs massive hits. This is useful on kick returns too: Liotine had 97 return yards on four attempts on Saturday.
“[Liotine] is a complete player,” Priore said on Saturday. “We know he’s going to protect the ball and he’s going to drive it straight ahead.”
Take, for example, a drive at the end of the first half on Saturday against Towson. With 1:23 left on the clock, starting at the Towson 45, Carbone handed the ball off to Liotine for a three-yard gain. On second down, Liotine picked up a Towson pass rusher, allowing Carbone to complete a 21-yard pass. On third down, Liotine got another hand-off at the Towson 21 and powered through multiple defenders to get Stony Brook inside the red zone with 46 seconds left. Priore called a timeout.
Bedell, whose 27 rushing touchdowns are the second most in program history, subbed Liotine out.
After pounding the middle all game with Liotine Jr., Priore called Bedell’s name for an outside handoff that took the Seawolves offense to the three-yard line. Two inside runs inched the Seawolves’ offense closer to the end zone. Then, coming out of their final timeout, Stony Brook went back to the air attack, feigning handoffs to Bedell twice before Carbone connected with graduate wide receiver Harrison Jackson to put the Seawolves up 16-10.
Liotine got them to the red zone. Bedell got them to the one-yard line. And then, with the Tigers defense expecting the run and packing the middle, Carbone took advantage of the one-on-one matchups on his receivers to put Stony Brook ahead.
CBS Digital’s play-by-play commentator Scott Sudikoff said it best as Stony Brook was coming out of the drive’s first time out.
“Let’s see if Stony Brook kind of rides [Liotine’s] hot streak,” Sudikoff said. “And as soon as I say that: Stacey Bedell is back out there. So, the overall strategy trumps sometimes what’s on the field.”
Priore rarely keeps a running back on the field for more than four or five rushes in a row. By rotating Bedell, Liotine and Gowins, Priore can keep all his tailbacks fresh while maintaining diversity in play style and keeping defenses confused.
Liotine and Bedell will likely continue to get the majority of the carries as the season goes on – Gowins has only five carries per game outside of the 17 he had against Sacred Heart. However, Gowins and senior receiver-turned-halfback Sherman Alston Jr. (17 carries, 58 yards in three games) are capable of being a part of the primary backfield presence a drive or two per game.
The Stony Brook run game will face its biggest challenge yet next week against Colonial Athletic Association rival William and Mary. The Tribe has allowed a conference-best one rushing touchdown and 2.2 yards per carry through three games this season. Kickoff is 6 p.m. at the Walter J. Zable Stadium in Williamsburg, Virginia.